The recent public statement by president Uhuru Kenyatta that security is the responsibility of every Kenyan elicited a public debate from all and sundry who felt that the remark was in bad taste. ESTHER KIRAGU gets down to the nitty-gritty of what it really means to take a personal responsibility in the war against crime.
There was uproar from a section of Kenyans after president Uhuru Kenyatta made some remarks with regard to insecurity that has constantly been a thorn in the flesh for his government. While attending an event at the University of Nairobi, the president said that no matter how much the government did, there would never be one policeman for everyone and that it would require everybody in the country to work hand in hand with the security forces to curb crime.
These remarks came at the backdrop of a series of terror attacks that have been blamed on the Somali militant group Al-Shabaab. With the threat of terror hanging over its head, the Kenyan government early this year set an ambitious target to roll out 10,000 new officers annually.
As at end of 2010, it was estimated that the Kenyan police had a total population of about 40,000 personnel. Going by the 2009 national population census figures of roughly 40 million citizens, it can be deduced that the public-policing ratio is roughly 1:1000. Local dailies reported that by the month of April 2014, about 7000 new officers had been enlisted in the police force. This seems like a big number, but Kenya still falls short of the UN recommendation of a ratio of one policeman to 450 civilians.
In the face of such grim statistics, the president had a point. We need to lend a hand, where we can, to ensure our own safety and the safety of those around us. Undoubtedly, no man is an island and collective responsibility is vital in the fight against crime.
Crime thrives in silence…
Kenya can be considered by and large an individualistic country especially in today’s fast-paced society where the highest value is often placed on the interests of an individual. In such a society, an individual views himself as independent and only loosely connected to certain groups. As a result, when individuals in such societies are establishing their level of commitment to others, the balance between the advantages and disadvantages of cultivating and maintaining such a relationship, and ultimately the level of commitment, will generally correspond to the level of perceived benefit.
Self-reliance and competitiveness are some of the key characteristics of individualistic societies. And it is this self-centeredness that is largely to blame for the many vices we witness in society today. The principle of “me first” comes into play especially in urban towns where interest in the other person beyond one’s house is almost non-existent. For instance, how many people know at least five of their neighbours yet they have probably lived in that neighbourhood for years?
Many incidences are reported every now and then people stopping to stare at a horrific accident scene or at a person being robbed on the streets in broad daylight without offering any help. It is not surprising to find such people taking photos of such scenes only to post them on social media. That is how low we have sunk. This attitude is also reflected in other occurrences where incidences of injustice go unabated and those in the know take comfort that they aren’t the victims, forgetting that injustice anywhere, is injustice everywhere, as asserted by Martin Luther King Jnr.
One of the times Kenyans portrayed that indeed we can be a caring nation was during the recent Westgate terrorist attack on September 21, 2013. The despicable and senseless act left over 60 people dead, scores injured, and hundreds traumatised. The response of goodwill by Kenyans was overwhelming.
When the government and humanitarian agencies made calls for blood donation, Kenyans turned up in their thousands to donate blood for the Westgate victims and many volunteers turned up to serve tea and snacks to security agents and journalists who camped at the Westgate Mall during the three-day siege. Others supplemented the efforts of the Kenya Red Cross Society, St John Ambulance, Aga Khan Hospital and Avenue Healthcare by offering first aid to the victims.
This is a perfect example that each and every individual has a role to play in building the nation. And this is what might have triggered the Kenyan government to launch the Nyumba Kumi initiative in October 2014, a security initiative based on community policing and aimed at restoring security in the country. Nyumba Kumi is a Kiswahili phrase meaning ten households. This initiative is to encourage people to know at least ten of their neighbours, a concept that brings to the doorstep of individuals the mandate to ensure their own safety by knowing a thing or two about their neighbours.
How many people live in close proximity to their neighbours yet they don’t speak to each other and might sometimes just wave or even pass by without acknowledging each other’s existence? Yet if you were in trouble, a neighbour is the first person who comes to your aid even as you wait for the police to arrive. Have you ever noticed an individual of suspicious character in your neighbourhood? Did you bother to report to the authorities? And when you report a crime you witnessed or something you suspect might be a crime, are you willing to testify if need be?
We all want to bury our heads in the sand and assume that we live in the safest place and it is only when we are directly affected that reality dawns on us. The fact of the matter is that these men and women hide out wherever they can, often disguising themselves as responsible citizens in normal communities and may seem innocuous. Often, people tend to assume that wanted criminals hang out in certain areas or only in parts of town that have been infested with crime. This can sometimes be the case, but those who are trying to escape from the law will often attempt to blend in with regular citizens. Sometimes, these criminals are known or suspected by those who live in their vicinity and this is the tenet behind the Nyumba Kumi initiative.
Many Kenyans have expressed their scepticism at how effective the Nyumba Kumi initiative will be in curbing crime and especially in urban towns; it is worth noting that it isn’t a permanent solution to crime. However, it forms a springboard in addressing insecurity in the country. Truth is, collaborations in any venture offer the opportunity to use people for their strengths, brings more resources to the table, allows for exchange of ideas and introduces new insights and discoveries.
The power in numbers…
For the Nyumba Kumi initiative to work it boils down to individual commitment and sacrifice and Kenyans need to appreciate that the Constitution has provided them with an opportunity to participate in an initiative that directly affects them. This is in addition to a devolved system of government meaning that Kenyans are directly in charge of matters that involve them and hence can take action rather than wait for the government to do things for them.
Some of the ways communities and individuals can take a personal responsibility to fight crime is to ensure that the youth in their neighbourhood have constructive ways to spend their spare time such as through organised recreation and volunteer opportunities to minimise their chances of engaging in crime. Other ways include setting up a neighbourhood watch or patrol team working in collaboration with the elders of the community and the police.
Since many times crime is linked with conflict within oneself, it is important for individuals to have systems that provide anger management, stress relief and conflict resolution to help build an anti-violence climate in their homes, schools and in the communities at large.
The clergy, teachers and community leaders need to be at the forefront in condemning not just the violence that grips many communities, but the unwillingness of residents to cooperate. It is also imperative for parents to train their children from an early age that it is in their best interest to assist law enforcers in bringing criminals to justice than to remain silent and allow them to go scot free.
These kinds of initiatives focus on crime prevention rather than the knee-jerk reactions we are accustomed to whenever there is a crisis. When all is said and done, it is up to each one of us to help curb crime, identify criminals and provide valuable leads to the authorities. And it only takes a few moments of your time, and that one small act will go a long way in the realisation of a safer Kenya. Remember: it is better to be safe than sorry.
Published in January 2015