I am angry, nay, incensed that we Kenyans have chosen to live like this. A policeman in Siakago, on hearing that his girlfriend is with another man (perhaps a brother, relative, or friend) leaves his sentry post and moves from pub to pub shooting 10 innocent strangers that have nothing to do with the said girlfriend. No words can appropriately describe how repugnant this animal behaviour is. As I read this heart-rending story, I could not help note that the newspapers also reported a 2 year-old baby-girl raped and killed in Uriri; a 9 year-old boy killed for body parts in Migori; a young man killed in Ruiru for his shoes; two neighbours killed in Malindi; car-jackings in Nairobi; and many other serious crimes.
On my jogging track along State House Road and State House Avenue, it is common to find blood splattered around in the morning, evidence of a violent mugging the previous night. This is happening in this posh neighbourhood right next to the official home of President Kibaki. You don’t want to imagine what is going on in the dimly-lit, poverty-ridden and crime-infested slums and estates. People’s skulls are being cracked open by thugs for a few shillings and a mobile phone. Today, there are few families in our country that have not been affected by crime.
I have studied, worked and lived in China, Timor-Leste, the United Kingdom and Tanzania but never seen anything like the crime levels we condone here in Kenya. However, Kenyans just read the stories and go on with their lives as if nothing has happened.
Even compared to crime in countries like South Africa and the United States, the level of crime in Kenya raises very serious questions about the ability of the government to maintain law and order. Most of the crimes are never resolved because criminals are not arrested or the technical ability of police to gather evidence is wanting. Criminals are bribing their way out of the clutches of justice, which in any case is so lethargic. What makes law-breakers bold is the fact that, however heinous their crimes, there is a good chance they will not head to the noose or rot in the slammer.
Whereas poverty may be partly to blame, the main reason for this unbridled crime is a weak and corrupt state. Rwanda is relatively poor, just like Kenya, yet it has become one of the safest places in Africa after emerging from the genocide of 1994. In Timor-Leste, where I have been working for the UN, a murder is often the subject of a Parliamentary debate and provokes not just headlines, but urgent cabinet and police action. Such crimes are few and far apart in this Asia-Pacific nation. Yet the country has only been independent for less than a decade after many years of conflict and has high poverty levels. Despite recent conflict and grinding poverty, the capital Dili, and all other areas are very safe.
It is time for the people of Kenya to wake up from complacency and hold the government to account on insecurity. People cannot just sit there whimpering in the hope that they are not the next victim. The media should continue to report the crimes but also relentlessly ask the President, Prime Minister, Minister in charge of security and the Police Commissioner to act decisively against all crimes.
The emerging middle-class should not be oblivious to the fact that a good house, a high wall or even a gun can never be protection enough with such rampant crime. Do not think it is the hard luck of somebody else. It could be you next. Crime ultimately affects everyone, even the richest and most powerful, by the sheer rules of mathematical probability.
Virtuous cycle of safety and wealth
Kenya will become prosperous and achieve full potential if people can go about their business, day and night, in safety. The wealthiest and most prosperous nations are always also the safest. It is a virtuous cycle where safety engenders wealth and prosperity lowers crime with an astute state managing the mechanism. Norway, Finland, Singapore and New Zealand have very low crime levels and very high incomes per capita, healthy and well-educated populations and lofty living standards. So if there is something as important as poverty reduction and wealth creation, it is crime reduction.
If Kenya cannot drastically reduce all crimes, the investments in infrastructure, education and public services, as well as the good intentions in Vision 2030 and the new Constitution will all come to naught.
Crime reduction targets
The President and the Prime Minister should immediately set unambiguous crime reduction targets for the Minister in charge of security, the Police Commissioner and all senior officers down to the divisional commanders. These targets should be achieved on the pain of being summarily sacked for failure. For each category of crime, let them use credible data to ascertain what the levels of crime are today and then agree with these officials what reductions they must achieve every quarter (three months).
They should then provide them with the requisite men, women, money and machines they need to meet these benchmarks. Lack of money should not be an excuse. Security is imperative. If necessary, it would be better to divert some money from the other areas of expenditure to achieve this because, without stopping the runaway crime, everything else will fail. The same should be done with the Director of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission with regard to corruption investigations; the Attorney General to ensure successful prosecutions; and the judiciary to make certain that cases are concluded expeditiously. It is only through such strong and accountable leadership, coupled with successful implementation of the new Constitution that plans to create wealth and reduce unemployment will bear fruit.
Sisule has been a UN staffer advising the National Parliament of Timor-Leste in Asia-Pacific. The views expressed here are his own.