Kenfrey Kiberenge: The police in Britain understand aggression is not the only option...


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The Independent Online

Kenfrey Kiberenge works for 'The Standard' newspaper in Nairobi.

He is winner of the David Astor Journalism Award 2012 and is on a fellowship programme with 'The Independent' in London.

Here he writes about his arrival in the UK from Nairobi and the different approach both nations have towards policing.

When I arrived at the Heathrow Airport in London, UK, for my fellowship with The Independent newspaper, I anticipated massive security checks.

I figured out that since in Nairobi I have to contend with an average of ten checks per day, then it was only reasonable to expect being frisked at every corner of London streets. Shock on me. This is my second week and I haven't encountered anything similar to Nairobi's checks.

That is not to say, though, that London is unprotected. For starters, this city has one of the best security systems in the world. The UK had nearly two million CCTV cameras as of last year, and their metal detectors can tell what's in your bag.

But a keen look at the metropolitan police reveals that most (I was told 95 per cent) are unarmed, which is a total contrast to our regular policemen who always have a gun.

They are often seen with their hands tucked in their jackets or disguisedly 'playing' with what I was told is a drug sniffer dog where there are crowds. And when need arises, they will use the power of persuasion as opposed to coercion. It is therefore common to see policemen on Saturday at midnight persuading revellers to enjoy responsibly.

Motorists caught flouting traffic rules are also not ordered to immediately “hand over your driving licences and step out of the car”.

Rather, a police van will brake nearby and the offending driver gently asked to drive off.

My prodding revealed that the police here generally know that aggression is not the only option available in handling lawbreakers, a virtue deficient among most Kenyan police.

But this does not mean that if you shipped the London metropolitan police to Nairobi they would achieve similar results with such ease.

To avoid a backlash, I will not say that most Nairobians become unruly and uncouth when they get tipsy.

And since I'm not a criminologist, I will also not attempt to analyse how the thugs roaming the streets of Nairobi would react if our policemen stopped carrying guns.

What I can confirm, though, is that the ongoing police reforms in Kenya are an effort in futility if they will not be complemented by a change in the behaviour of ordinary Kenyans.

Without a prefect, people in London honestly pay for their train tickets, stand on the right side of the escalator to allow walkers to use the left side and the word 'sorry' is the norm, rather than the exception, even where it's clear the apologiser is not at fault. In Nairobi, I can't recall the number of times people have muddied my shoes and rudely walked away after checking as if to confirm their actions.

As I was writing this article, I recalled that we had a new Constitution containing our ideals and beliefs that should have helped us reform. But like most of my compatriots, I could recall none. This shows our obsession with sexy laws rather than making people understand what is contained therein.

Sincerely, I am yet to grasp how - besides the cosmetic value - replacing Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere with a civilian, bearing a new title of Inspector General -in charge of a police service as opposed to a police force- will banish police bribery and reduce crime.

We must therefore strive to transform our value system, otherwise we will end up with fancy titles and brilliant pieces of legislation but no tangible changes.

Twitter: @KenKiberenge