Public safety is economy’s lifeline

Little law, less order is the title of an Economist article published in May 2014 that summarized the public safety concerns in Kenya. The article used examples to exemplify high insecurity in Nairobi; from extrajudicial killings, to murders by the police to robberies in suburbs where police are in their numbers to general lawlessness.

Community policing as a public safety solution to increasing insecurity was touted as the antidote ending Kenya’s misery. It was in the President Kibaki’s first term when it became the rallying call for all Kenyans. It gained momentum, especially through reduced cases of insecurity especially in towns where daylight robbery was the norm.

But the policy failed where it mattered most; the public. For the initiative to succeed, the public needed to have the ultimate trust in the police that they will act on intelligence provided and where necessary, their own security will not be jeopardized. But practise has shown that this can always be a mirage, undermining a great effort to growing the economy.

Public safety, the ability of people to move freely is the cornerstone of any economy. Today, every leading politician in Kenya talks of ensuring they realize a 24-hour economy, starting with Nairobi city. In the last two years, prominent individuals have been murdered in cold blood within the city that raises concerns over the hubris. Ordinary Kenyans are robbed every minute, casting doubt on investments in safety.

One of the basic questions the public asks is the reliability of cameras that have been installed in the city. You have the Nairobi City County that invested sh400 million in CCTV cameras everywhere in the Central Business District (CBD). But when Hon. John Muchai and businessman Jacob Juma were killed in the city, the cameras have never aided in arresting the culprits.

Safaricom was also granted a sh15 billion tender to supply security infrastructure to government, which they did. Today, a command center at Jogoo House B provides an all-round view of different spots in CBD and security officers patrol most part of it all the time. But still, negative cases of public safety have yet to evaporate.

From a simple phone theft and the robber is left to run by the crowds, a telling story is weaved of Kenyans apathy to supporting public safety initiatives. They would rather let the robber go, steal more in his other times than follow him and take him to the authorities. If they do arrest him, like it happens in downtown Nairobi, mob justice is the solution.

Today, it is called the Kenya Police Service (KPS) not the earlier Police Force, but this remains in paper. The change from force to service was meant to inspire confidence in Kenyans of a better service delivery from the same officers who were rogue when it was a force. So much for change of a name, without altering the DNA! Reform initiatives like vetting have become a public relations exercise, yielding nothing substantial.

There has to be a time when society realizes how public safety determines economic imperatives of a country. Bureaucrats will talk of wanting to see the economy grow by two digits, then they will be the suspects in public safety and economic projects thefts being rolled out in the country.

For the economy to attract the much needed investments, public safety is a prime consideration. A society that considers ways of promoting sustained security measures collaboratively works with all stakeholders. Where a crime happens or is about to happen, citizens alert the police, police take quick resounding action and the judiciary ensures these individuals are put away from the public.

Providing a safe attitude where the public can have confidence in the security infrastructure requires a multifaceted approach, from use of technology, to reduction in appetite for bribes by the police, to police better welfare to a citizen-first-driven policing approach. The end of the siege mentality, as espoused in a Kenya National Human Rights Commission report titled; Are we under siege and published in 2014 must end.

Strong institutions, as a study on Kenya’s economic growth in ten years, 2003 – 2012, has to include a strong security infrastructure for the growth to be sustainable. But certainly huge investments made in the sector over the same period are a testament that the growth is not alien.

A society that values and invests in data and research is sure of reaping huge benefits. Data informs approaches because solutions should follow numbers, phenomena. Research on the other hand highlights the trends and vulnerabilities that when addressed nip the issue. Continuous research provides lessons which can be scaled.

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