“The human being struggles with his environment and the hooks that catch him. Sometimes he masters his difficulties; sometimes they are too much for him. His struggles is all the world sees and it usually misunderstands them. It is hard for a free fish understand what is happening to a hooked one”

Karl A. Menning – The Human Mind


A survey carried by a local Sunday newspaper in November, 1991 listed policemen and policewomen as topping the list of those people members of the society would not wish to marry. The head line of the story screamed: “Marry a Policeman? No way. The reason was that the police force has a bad image in Kenya “Men were particularly opposed to the remotest idea of marrying a policewoman. Most said a policewoman could turn dominant in the house and even resort to threatening the “head of the family On the female side, one lady said: “Policemen are rather too aggressive”

Countless of quoted and unquoted in incidences of police brutality bear witness in these sentiments Without doubt, police brutality abounds in the Kenya Police Force. Wrongful arrests, torture, assaults are not rare practices of police officers.

While conducting an interview, the interviewer asked what I meant by police brutality. Then, this term brought to my mind scenes of a hyped-up truncheon wedding officer attacking a defenceless citizen Thinking over it, the term seems in bear a greater meaning.


Wrongful use of Police Power:

Police power is the power to preserve order and to maintain law. In exercising these powers, the police force comes into personal contact with members of the society. I assume an instant and direct superiority over members of the society. The exercise is therefore, self-assertive This state of affairs is one that causes physical and/or emotional discomfort in the members of the society who as human being have a strong self-assertive instinct. They do not wish to be debased. In recognition of this, the law requires that police powers be used only in justifying circumstances. Any wrongful use of them causes unjustifiable physical and/or emotional discomfort in members of the society and is thus brutal.

The reaction of the Kenya society to police brutality amounts to dismissing the police force as the gestopo or the schutzstiffel. The society thinks of the force as a system of institutionalised brutality. But how easily we give in to passions that prompt us to omnibus condemnations! How often we cloud our sense of judgement with outrage! How rarely we stop to make objective analysis! So much so that Dr. Daniel Kabithe, a Kenyan psychologist, once remarked “You wonder how after twenty-five years of independence our nation can ignore psychology, yet it is the only field that would help people to learn looking beyond the most obvious in a situation of in other people. Lack of ability or skill to look beyond the human mask is too dangerous for Kenya”.

Let us attempt to look beyond the most obvious of this situation and of policemen and policewomen. Let us begin at their initiation into the police force. At that time, they were no worse than we were. They came from the same type of families as we did. They had similar ambitions, a sense of morality and a con science. In short, they were no more pre disposed towards brutality than we were Just what happened to them?

“Rambo” Indoctrination


To present day, the Kenyan police training is pervaded with a “Rambo” psychology. The programme is tailored per the measurements of an armed military unit. This is due to lack of appreciation of the police officer as a social worker rather than as a soldier.

The programme consists of a six-month training period. It admits young persons of between the ages 18 – 24 years. These youths are required to have absolutely no criminal record. The six-month period is full of vigorous physical training. There is a wide range of activities from cross-country running, work-outs and parade drills to martial arts and target shooting. These activities are well supplemented by an adequate diet (The college is largely self-sufficient on food).

The teenagers are broken and slowly moulded into adults. They are given lessons in the basic laws affecting the police force eg. The Police Act (which must be memorised), the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code.

This training programme lays too much emphasis on the physical aspects of the policeman. For long, the force did not insist on certain academic qualifications for police officers. The policeman was not appreciated as a person who had to think and make certain decisions in his dealing with members of the society. Most of the persons admitted into the force were unable to receive any mental training or to apply it.

Secondly, there is too much counterproductive indoctrination. It is an indoctrination that totally removes the police officer from his society. Mutua (other names withheld) says; “I was taught never to dress like a common citizen, or march, salute, act like a common citizen”. The common citizen (raiya) is the opposite of the police officer. The further you run away from being alike him, the better a police officer you are. The “raiya” becomes, in the eyes of the police officer, an inferior non-perfect person. This is the attitude he is sent to the society with.

Supplementing this indoctrination is the total absence of Sociological studies. Lately, weak attempts have been made to introduce such lessons with no apparent success. The officers are sent out to deal with people without understanding one thing about them. The officer doesn’t know how to deal with mobs, insolent youths, difficult people, recidivists etc. All he knows is that he is a strong, physically fit and superior person.

“I was feeling big. I could not think of a situation that could beat me. I knew everything had to go my way”, says Mutua about his firt experience in the field. It is obvious that there was to much ‘Rambo’ in him.

Working Conditions:

When the police officer gets to the field, he is a committed servant. He is ready and willing to wipe out crime in society. He as vivacious as a twenty-year-old marine destined to Saigon. But alike saigon, the nature of his work soon gets the better of his him.

An officer may be attached to any of the various police branches eg. Regular Police, General Service Unit, Criminal Investigations Department (codenamed Charlie India Delta), Special Branch (codenamed Sierra Bravo) etc. The regular police are the best to discuss for the social interaction there is the highest.

The police officer is on duty for 24 hours. This means that he may be called upon at any time. Though attempt is made to maintain the overall working hours to the conventional eight of the civil service, the police stations are so undermanned that the existing force has to work beyond hours.

Overworking may not be outrageous in other callings but in the police force it is. Foot patrols for several hours under rain or mid-day sun, life threatening shoot outs with criminals, chases, following up distress calls, making arrests, answering to complaints and lamentations etc. is not work anyone would wish to engage in beyond hours. It causes acute tension, stress and shortens tempers.

This condition is exacerbated by the lack of recreational infrastructure. The choice of recreation is so limited as not to be useful. Every other station provides a darts board and usually the choice ends there. No table tennis, basketball, badminton, weights etc. Nothing to ease the tension and stress. These tensions are pent-up over long periods of time. “Sometimes you have slept for just two hours and there is an emergency. For four hours you were on patrol, walking up and down monotonously and you are tired. You keep carrying the arrears forward. At times I feel like I’ll lose my senses”, laments an officer.

There is a shortage of even more basic infrastructure, for example transport. Great reliance on public service vehicles is resulted to where distances are long. Otherwise, a lot of walking. Policing work becomes not only very tiring but also distressing. Officers cannot be shifted easily around areas of patrol or scenes of crimes. “I tried to think of it as a problem could cope with until I promised some people in danger that we’d be there to help. All along I knew there was no transport to the scene”, apologises a Nyeri Sergeant.

And where infrastructure is in abundance, it is wrongly used. “What’s happening to the unarmed policeman?” I ask myself as I see more and more officers totting rifles. The sight is emotion ally brutal. The practice is tiring. A rifle weights about 5 kg and can be a real burden when carried for several hours. The rules require that it cannot be kept down or passed over to a comrade for relief.

Added to all the fatigue; intimidation. While most senior officers are respectful towards juniors, many of the sergeants are plain bullies. They hold the happiness of the juniors in their hands, thanks to the deified concept of superiority in the Kenya Police force. Sergeants have powers to expel all visitors from the police lines, and to the chagrin of the juniors they do it. The line between what a superior can or cannot order from a junior is rather ill-defined. “Sergeants can be xxx.s. Sometimes they just want to show you matharao (contempt). Not once have I had to hold myself from turning physical”, is Corporal Kirui’s experience. In 1991 at Kilgoris, a junior constable did not have Kirui’s power of control. He hacked his sergeant.

Within their everyday duties, the of ficers encounter frustrations and distress. Some are strong enough to accommodate them. Others let them off in darts, alcohol etc. Others never let them off. They pent them up until the day someone adds the last straw.



Living Conditions

A man’s home is his castle; but for the police officer below the rank of inspector, his home was for long his working place. He had to, and many still have to, live in the police lines. Life in the police lines is conducted under stringent rules that re strict social life. Freedom to entertain visitors is restricted; sometimes by the requirement of permission, sometimes by a Sergeant feeling high-and-mighty. The officer cannot absent himself from the line without permission.

Apart from making his life one long on-duty ordeal, living in the police lines ostracizes the officer from the society. It perfects the them-us indoctrination at the training college. The officer gets to meet few social types of people. His ignorance about his own society increases. He never has chances to think of himself as a mem ber of the society who happens to work in the police force. He feels at all times as a police officer on duty.

Accommodation in the lines is also no H good deal. It is inadequate. Sharing to the is extent of over-crowding is common. In some stations, the accommodation is also deplorable. At the Industrial Area Police Station in Nairobi, the officers had until recently to live in old mud grass-thatched houses. It took the personal intervention of the President for this to change. At Muthaiga, also in Nairobi, it was a similar situation, this time with aluminium-sheet houses.

The privacy of social life gets lost and the officers step on one another’s toes in the residential quarters. The romantic lives of mature men and women become a travesty. Officers cannot sit back in comfort and let their tensions, stress and frustrations ebb.

The worst of the situation comes when one of the officers is or gets married. The process of getting proper accommodation is so slow due to lack of housing that the married couple ends up sharing with others. This becomes a potential cause of conflict. The jealous husband cannot keep his wife to himself. Night duty to him is a nightmare. It’s no better when he is not on night duty. He cannot meet his conjugal obligations without inconveniencing others extremely.

Adultery is not a strange phenomenon in these circumstances. Neither are fatal conflicts. Other conflicts arise when a wife dislikes the idea of her husband being ordered around at the police station which is only a stone’s throw away.

The officer cannot help being envious of other members of the society. His living standards are far below those of the average citizen. Some of the officers become paranoid and react with animos ity towards any display of social comfort by the citizen.

Social Ostracism:

The Kenyan society plays an active role in ostracizing police officers. The society fears the police force, no doubt. But it does not respect it. It does not show an appreciation to the work of the officers and in fact wishes to keep it away from it’s private life. “People don’t have to tell you. You see it in their eyes. You can hear it in the tone of their speech. When the people need your help they are very kind. After that they run away from you. Sooner or later you have to face the truth; they hate you”. Though corporal Mutua feels this way, he doesn’t blame the people. He accepts


that the force has brought it upon itself.

However, it is not just a question of who is the cause. It boils down to the effects. “It’s hard to accept it and live with it. When I meet a person, especially a lady, who shows me outright that she hates me, I get annoyed. I want to be respected for what I am doing for them. I once locked a woman in the cells for a night for being rude to me. I don’t know why I did it but I was very angry then”.


The Kenya police makes commendable attempts at promoting professional ism within its ranks. It trains its officers, especially in forensic aspects e.g. in fabrics, handwriting, fingerprints, ballistics etc. It has formed specialized scenes of crime departments. Recently, a highly trained fraud squad was formed and placed in the foreign exchange department of the Central Bank. It consists of young university graduates and is aptly described as “a group of Troons”, after the famous Scotland Yard detective who investigated the death of Hon. Robert Ouko.

The problem is that the use of professionalism is not overall. Professionalism is not fully employed in every de serving case. The 1960’s were full of professional police detectives but their number had dwindled over the years. The present detectives are not professional. Many are of lowly education and no proven intelligence. They do not provide the force with a think-tank.

When placed in charge of an investigation, the detective may not have many intelligent options through it. He may not appreciate some trivialities that would add up to solve his jig-saw puzzle. He may not appreciate some scientific aspects of the investigation. His predicament is accentuated by the lack of highly trained personnel in other fields. For example, there are few or no professional forensic pathologists in Kenya. There is no specialised police laboratory.

Many investigations rely on the avail ability of witnesses to testify on every aspect of the crime. Border-line cases become a headache. With a lack of wit nesses, there is little or no other evidence against the accused. The detective is confident about the arrest he had made but knows he can’t secure a conviction before a court of law. Well, unless he secures a confession.


Lack of proper legal safeguards greatly assist an investigator with an impossible case. Police officers arrest freely even on mere suspicions. They are not obligated to present their evidence before a Magistrate for a warrant of arrest. They exercise discretion in granting telephone calls or opportunity of legal counsel. They hold suspects beyond the constitutional period of detention with impunity. The law has f failed to make it impossible for police officers to wrench out confessions from suspects.

Another unfortunate aspect of professionalism in the force is the use of commando forces. The Kenya Police Force has two commando forces, the “General Service Unit” and the little known “Green berets” or “wreck battalion”, Commando forces are always an important element of police forces. Kidnappers, hijackers and other terrorists are usually only surmountable with a commando force. In Kenya, however, commando forces are frequently used against the society.


The operations of the commando forces are so enshrouding that they are hardly accountable for their misdeeds. They are run more like a secret police force. And they do not co-ordinate with the regular police. In 1980’s when street crimes and robberies were rife, the “wreck battalion” commandos were poured into the city in civilian clothing. A lot of shooting-on-sight was engaged in. Some innocent citizens died from errors in judgement. One particular incident occurred at Ambassadeur Hotel where two ‘wreck battalion commandos were on patrol. A suspected criminal carne their way and they drew their guns. So did a regular police officer in civilian clothing. He was mistakenly gunned down along with the suspect. There was no one to answer to it. There never is.

Commando forces are also used to break public unrest. They are actually unleashed. In the 1987″Buke riots” at the University of Nairobi, the General Service Unit was unleashed on the students. They entered the campus, beat up the cooks, broke all the doors in two halls of residence and amputated a student’s arm with gunfire. In the North Eastern Province, their reputation precedes them; a reputation of death and rape.

“When you are let go from the camp, you stop thinking. It’s the first time you get to do anything. All the other time you sit back, always on alert, in case something happens somewhere”, is the reason of one retired G.S.U. officer for his past reckless actions. “There is never time to do anything else”, he continues. “Every moment you may be needed. You feel like a dog in the Kernel”.

Political Interference:


Politics play the greatest role in promoting brutality. The consolidation of power requires the suppression of opposition and this is best achieved by the use of the police. House-searches, unjustified arrests, tortures, forceful dispersals, un lawful detentions etc. are methods used to suppression opposition and to create climates where domination can prevail.

In order to secure the co-operation of the police force, the political system offers immunity. While the immunity is meant to cover only political manoeuvres, it becomes difficult to ascertain the rea sons behind every misdeed. These are all pardoned as political manoeuvres. Even where other motives are evident, they may be overlooked as part of the bargain for co-operation.


“Watoe Kitu” (let them take out something) is the motto of all Police dogs and officers that appear as characters of Kenya’s popular cartoonist, Maddo. In shows how deeply the ‘Chai’ (tea) tradition is entrenched not only in the police force but the entire society.

The new police recruits are incorruptible. They come from the training camp with their morality and conscience intact. It takes the public and the older members of the police force to break them into the tradition.

“It starts subtly. While on night duty you are introduced to restaurants and bars where you can have a free meal and some beers. Next you meet prostitutes who will not charge you. Many people all around are charitable to you. Only later do you learn that you are compromised and can’t act against them”, says an inspector of police.


The “taking” is a culmination of a breaking-in process. The pro cess involves the relaxation of morality, greatly assisted by the obvious flagrancy of the act. It involves the involuntary participation in illegal or compromising actions of older comrades. The Rubicon is crossed at the presentation of an overly tempting amount or in the midst of great financial anxiety. It’s an easy crossing. Society is ever holding the money out.

Officers” on the take “begin a new economic life. Their expenditure revolves around a salary and illegal gains. Their consumption patterns change. When the illegal gains are in shortage, the officers suffer. They are no different from an unpaid worker. They have to reinstitute the illegal gain and intimidation helps. So does framing-up.

Drug Abuse:

Police officers have a relatively easy access to drugs. The police officer encounters drugs more frequently than the average citizen. The exposure requires that an active campaign against drug abuse be initiated in the police force. Such campaigns have, in any case, been found necessary for the common citizen.

The administrators of the Kenya Po lice assume that police officers do not use drugs. They do not attempt to discourage, detect or punish drug users. The use of cannabis sativa in the force is rampant and continues undiscouraged and undetected. Worse is the abuse of alcohol. Incidences have been reported where armed police men discharged their firearms on their comrades or on innocent citizens due to intoxication. Officers will be found on duty while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Yet, no active campaign has ever been initiated.

Lack of Supervision:

While all the above factors play to encourage, impel and/or permit police brutality, two factors play to enable it. The first is lack of adequate supervision. Supervision in the police force is organised The Seniors Supervise the juniors. At the station level, the officer in charge supervises the juniors under him. There is no inter-police officer supervision.

No officer has any duty to keep an eye on his comrades. It is seen us wrong for one officer to interfere with the work of his comrades. A conscientious officer has little say to the misdeeds of his comrades. Yet he is the surest observer of all these acts. He is not obligated to report these incidences.

There is also no inter- departmental supervision. ” can’t interfere with the CLD. When they bring a prisoner. Flock him up. If they don’t want him fed or seen, I see to it. When they come for him, I release him. It is not my business that he has blood all over him”, says a Nairobi sergeant who demands anonymity.

Public Ignorance:

The second factor that enables police brutality is public ignorance. To police officers, demands for rights come one in a blue moon. “I haven’t yet met a person who demanded to be released after the constitutional period. I can’t imagine how I would react to someone who demanded to use the Station phone”, the Nairobi sergeant tells me.

Police officers are wary of people who look knowledgeable and well-off. Harassment in plush residential estates is almost non-existent. Those who live in Dandora, Kawangware and such like estates will tell a different story. They do not easily tell when a police officer is acting outside his power. And the officer is aware of the ignorance.

We began with a group of innocent 18-year-olds at Kiganjo Police Training College. We trained them inadequately and taught them to look down on members of the society. We employed them in extremely distressing working conditions and totally disregarded their need for private lives and social comfort. We denied them pride and love and gave them stress and frustration. We exposed them to temptation and never kept an eye on them. To achieve political ends, we let them loose on the society, which they had already made their play-ground.

The society hated them and they in turn hated society. The two conflicted but alas, the police are ever so strong. Then we sat back over a cup of coffee and called them brutal. Can’t we understand? Of course not. Would a free fish understand what is happening to a hooked one?