Contextual Information

In 1963, Kenya declared its independence after 68 years of British colonial rule, inheriting a colonial administration. Kenya has a long history of tension between its various ethnic groups, and as a sovereign nation, it has continued to struggle with ethnic tensions and rivalries. Following the election season of 2007, these tensions culminated in riots, looting, and violence between groups resulting in an estimated 1,200 killed and 350,000 internally displaced. At least 400 of these casualties are thought to have been carried out by police who were accused of operating with an indiscriminate ‘shoot to kill’ policy, particularly in opposition strongholds in Kisumu City and Western Kenya. In the aftermath of this violence, the UN involved itself in mediation efforts. This prompted the start of police reforms and resulted in the formation of a coalition government with a new constitution in 2010.

In the new constitution, the Kenyan National Police Service (NPS) remains the chief security provider. However, the NPS has struggled with a lack of resources and insufficient training. Additionally, due to historical accusations of brutality and corruption, it is seen as being concerned solely with the protection of the government and politicians and is viewed with distrust by the Kenyan people.

In rural parts of Kenya, security is also provided by the Kenyan Police Reserve (KPR), which consists of volunteers with minimal training and equipment. In recent years, there are frequent reports of the KPR taking on paid roles as private security guards, and even of armed KPR members taking part in banditry and livestock raiding.

Various non-state security providers. exist in Kenya. Due to the perceived corruption of state security forces, individuals and businesses commonly hire private security companies for protection. Some community-based organizations may also employ youth to provide security and other basic services to communities in exchange for payment. In the informal settlements of Nairobi, gangs (such as the mungiki) may force citizens to pay tributes in exchange for security, while simultaneously constituting a source of insecurity, being involved in murder, extortion, and racketeering.

Security may also be obtained through cultural organizations, such as from a tribal chief or religious leader. Justice provision also frequently occurs through informal channels, particularly in areas where there is less police presence or legitimacy. For instance, a chief might settle domestic disputes for their tribe, or in other areas, mob justice may prevail.

Human Security Concerns

The population of Kenya faces many insecurities that vary depending upon gender, age, ethnicity, class, and location. There is a broad rural/urban divide in Kenya that is reflected in police services, with rural areas being vastly underserved. As a result, rural Kenyans face a threat to their livelihoods, with forcible claiming of land and resources by more powerful actors. In urban areas, petty and violent crime, kidnapping, and murder by gangs threaten the general population; assault, rape, and other forms of gender-based violence threaten the security of women, while youth are threatened by unemployment and may be conscripted to commit crimes. Additionally, the militant Islamist organization Al Shabaab poses a threat in the form of large-scale terrorist attacks in Kenya. Heavy-handed government responses to this threat have triggered recruitment of youth to these organizations. For more information, see this policy brief. 

It is important to note that the police are also considered to be a source of human insecurity for Kenyan civilians – in one area, citizens estimated over 25% of crimes to have been committed by police. Beyond widespread corruption, police have been implicated in a number of abuses of power, including excessive force and extrajudicial killings (particularly among Muslim youth and other ethnic minorities), sexual and gender-based violence against women, and endangering the identities of confidential informants in exchange for payment.

Status of Police Reform and COP

Since 2005, Kenya has seen multiple formal launches of COP, with community policing being designated as one of the main planks of police service delivery following the constitutional reform of 2010. Kenya currently has two ongoing programs: Community Police Councils (CPCs) and Nyumba Kumi (NK). Read more here. and here 

Formed under the National Police Act of 2011, County Policing Committees are county-level organizations under the County Policing Authority (CPA), which is mandated with making security policies and placing a civilian in charge of COP efforts. CPCs are meant to be representative of different segments of the population. They contain a civilian chair and police vice chair, allowing for the community and police to regularly meet, solve problems, and coordinate training and activities to promote security.

The second program, NK, builds on a system developed in post-colonial Tanzania, where clusters of ten houses each have a governmental representative (Nyumba Kumi means ‘ten houses’ in Swahili). NK was introduced by the President’s office in 2013 to fight terrorism and insecurity by organizing households to provide security-related information, promote local leadership, and improve communication between citizens, police, and government through an upwards reporting structure. However, NK has been accused by the local communities of being an intelligence gathering tool used by the president’s office.

This arrangement of having two concurrent COP models has led to some confusion, prompting efforts to merge the concepts by placing NK clusters under the CPA structure. However, these efforts have led to enmity between police and NK structural leaders (such as county commissioners). In 2014, the policies of the CPA were amended to block some of its important COP functions, giving powers to the executive, and slowing down people-centered policing. The adoption of a people-centered approach to policing in Kenya will require a shift from the colonial legacy of a police primarily concerned with protecting the state.

With regards to ICT, Nairobi is considered a regional technology leader. Mobile ownership is near universal. Several innovative ICT solutions meant to bolster security have been developed, tested, and used. The Kenyan police also utilize social media such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate and collaborate with the public by broadcasting police intelligence to facilitate arrests. Emergency call hotlines and increased surveillance cameras represent other ICT-based efforts to promote security. However, these are underutilized and insufficiently maintained, respectively.