NAIROBI, October 24 – A police officer who was captured in the media pleading with rioters to stop wanton destruction of property at the start of post-election violence has been named the United Nations Person of the Year.,
Acting Senior Superintendent Joseph Musyoka Nthenge of the General Service Unit (GSU) was due to be honoured Friday afternoon at the UN headquarters in Gigiri for his contribution to peace in the country.
Mr Nthenge’s efforts to restore peace through dialogue were captured by television cameras when he successfully convinced armed demonstrators to stop destroying property in Nairobi.
UN Acting Director General Inga Klevby said in a statement that Mr Nthenge’s use of dialogue had been recognised because he played a major role in quelling possible flare-ups.
“He is indeed worthy of the title – “Kenyan hero,” Ms Klevby said.
Within a 48-hour period, she added, Mr Nthenge employed dialogue and negotiations four times to extinguish possible violent flare-ups.
In addition to being seen on TV persuading a mob away from their destructive behavior, the UN statement said, he convinced two other mobs in the city as well as dissuading a group of Members of Parliament to call off a march to challenge the banning of public gathering inside the city’s largest park (Uhuru Park) by the police.
“GSU officers are known for their ruthless reputation in quelling riots violently but Nthenge stood out of the odds to use dialogue which has now earned him the ‘Kenyan hero’ title,” Ms Klevby’s statement continued. “Amidst the scenes of bloodshed and mayhem that marked Kenya’s dark days following the disputed December 27, 2007 Presidential election, the image of peace and judiciousness practiced by Nthenge stands out.”
The policeman was seen reasoning with an angry mob of demonstrators, and successfully convincing them to stop the destruction and turn back.
He is quoted as having said: “Mnataka kuharibu Kenya kwa siku moja, nchi ambayo imetuchukuwa miaka arubaini kujenga?” (You want to destroy Kenya in a day, a country that has taken us 40 years to build?).
In a write-up detailing Mr Nthenge’s achievements in peace-building, the UN traces the hero’s past to 1991 when he reportedly used reason and words to effectively quell inter-communal violence in a part of the Rift Valley.
But it happened away from the glare of TV cameras.
Fortunately, the 2007/8 encounter was captured by a TV crew recording the violence sweeping the city, and splashed on the television screens across the country.
He became an instant national hero.
Mr Nthenge was in charge of a unit of the GSU assigned to patrol the Eastlands part of the City which was then smoldering with tension and violence.
On December 29, 2007, the unit encountered a mob of angry young men marching towards the City centre, protesting the delay in announcing the presidential results.
They had already burnt some vehicles and were poised to burn down a petrol station when they encountered Mr Nthenge and his officers.
Given the GSU’s reputation for ruthlessness in quelling riots and demonstrations, and the violent manner in which security forces had dispersed demonstrators in other parts of the city and country, what followed was totally unexpected – and now part of the folklore surrounding the Kenyan crisis.
After he was notified of the award by the UN, Supt. Nthenge said: “I am indeed honoured to be selected for this auspicious commendation on behalf of thousands of dedicated and selfless policemen and women who daily put their lives on the line for other Kenyans.”
He added that his guiding principal as a law enforcement officer is “to see the public as our customers and our role is to offer them service. People know their rights and we must respect these rights.”