Political rhetoric and the missing link to peaceful poll campaigns

Inspector General of Police Hilary Mutyambai

Inspector General of Police Hilary Mutyambai, flanked by top security officials, briefs media outside Jogoo House on December 20, 2021.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

A meeting of senior security officials that I chaired early this week entrenched my conviction that barring unforeseen challenges, this year’s General Election will be more peaceful than previous polls.

It was not the first of such meetings. Informed by the history of our trouble with elections, we have integrated advance planning into the heart of our strategy.

The Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government, the Office of the Attorney-General, National Police Service, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the National Intelligence Service and the National Cohesion and Integration Commission hold regular planning forums.

A joint command centre will now coordinate the agreed-upon activities against strict timelines. Chief among this is the close monitoring of the political landscape for security threats. Its membership has been deliberately assembled and resourced to give it the powers and the capacities for rapid intervention and problem-solving.

In its ranks are intelligence officers, police, investigators, forensic auditors and lawyers, among others.

The rationale is pinned on rapid response. For instance, acting on on-ground intelligence reports, real-time communication advising on evidence-gathering, deployment and containment tactics will be relayed and acted upon. This will be critical in mitigating security threats posed by a fluid political environment that upsets the best of careful planning.

The command centre will also synergise resources to optimize results and cut out on duplication and wastage.

Security actors are also leaning heavily on vast investments in technology to stay ahead of troublemakers.

Hate mongers, for example, have exploited the reluctance of commercial media houses to share with prosecutors audio-visual recordings of transgressions to frustrate court cases.

We have narrowed this window by hiring and kitting evidence-gatherers with the necessary equipment. They will now be embedded in political rallies.

Better and more equipment complemented by more vigilance are also yielding treasure troves of actionable intelligence.

Recruitment of more personnel across the security sector has steadily grown our numbers, affording us more hands on the deck.

The entry grades and training curriculum have also been reviewed to reflect modern global security challenges and trends.

Among the 15,000 officers who have joined the NPS since 2018, 298 are degree-holding cadets in fields such as forensic science, criminology, law and IT.

Radical mindshift

The change from a Force to a Service was meant to anchor a radical mind shift in police approach to duty.

Equally, other security agencies have undergone an overhaul in training approaches geared towards graduating friendlier, versatile and more effective agencies.

Evidence points to an unholy marriage between dirty money and politically instigated insecurity. Working closely with the Financial Reporting Centre and other banking and money transfer services players, we have pulled the plug on money laundering avenues.

Intelligence reports have also flagged motor vehicle trading as a popular laundromat for suspect cash.

We have, therefore, directed a fresh vetting and registration of all dealers in the country within 60 days.

These interventions will build on Kenyans’ wish for a peaceful poll. So far, we have no evidence of spontaneous violent political confrontations.

Without incitement, differing and seasonal political loyalties do not lead our citizens into violence against each other.

The cohesiveness of our citizens is also manifest in their willingness to share intelligence on threats to security.

On several instances, we have successfully neutralised potential trouble from synthesising information volunteered by the populace. Much of this has been anonymously given. We are grateful for this invaluable partnership whose fruition is our collective safety.

Granted, traditional insecurity flashpoints in parts of the country pose a recurrent insecurity challenge. We have an active security operation in Lamu and Laikipia counties that betray elements of political and ethnic incitement. However, compared to past election seasons, the country is relatively peaceful.

We must, however, not be lulled by the predominance of peace into relaxing our vigilance. Intelligence reports reveal a potentially dangerous enterprise of merchandised crowds and engineered chaos.

Anarchy creators

The business of political mobilisation and rapid deployment of anarchy creators is growing fast. The unhinged nature of the groupings essentially means these services are available wherever need matches the price tag.

What is fuelling the enterprise is our politicians’ fascination with crowds that defies science. Research suggests just around five per cent of voting is swayed by the rhetoric spewed in campaign rallies.

In Kenya, a measure of the obsession with turnout is the ridiculous and disingenuous ways bloggers and loyalists exploit the social media to amplify the numbers.

At the apex of the ‘supply chain’ are crowd consultants, alternatively known as crowd brokers. These are individuals from whom even the most unpopular politician can rent a crowd. For a fee, ‘supporters’ can be hired for a given duration.

Depending on your pockets, a delivery of ‘customised’ gatherings, complete with the relevant personalised branding, can be undertaken.

Typically, the composition of this group is predominantly men who have no reliable and consistent livelihood.

Their abject status makes them vulnerable to promises of quick and easy cash.

Often high on cheap liquor and donning tee-shirts and other campaign freebies, their availability and indiscriminate loyalty to whoever ‘owns’ them for the moment is a powder keg of potential trouble.

Our politics is not tethered to ethics. Theoretically, therefore, there is nothing wrong or criminal in fake crowds.

The practice, however, assumes dangerous dimensions when the hiring extends to deliberately antagonistic agendas. As we approach party nominations, rental crowds are increasingly being redirected to factional and frictional causes.

The rich vein of unmet promises from politicians is exacerbating threats to security.

Besides the common lies on what to do if elected, offers targeting instant gratification abound. It is not uncommon to, say, announce a generous cash donation for this or that group. Offers to buy motorbikes and low-end business equipment for the youth and other groups are in vogue.

Declaration of large, unseen donations to churches are common.

Incontrovertible evidence

Sadly, the incontrovertible evidence of fake promises has not sufficiently cured expectations. Instead, it has exacerbated disagreements. Now rival gangs are fighting not just for political ‘gifts’ but also over mere anticipation. There are fights when no gifts materialise. There are fights when the gifts do not measure up to the promise. In the few cases where handouts match pledges, there are yet more fights over sharing!

Our security footprint often sniffs out much of the trouble in advance. This explains why so few of these incidents have snowballed into serious security threats.

We duly share advance reports with involved players and take necessary pre-emptive measures. Where our counsel or intervention is welcomed, we are grateful to offer it.

In other occasions, politicians ignore professional opinion on security. In one of the infamous incidents, the event’s principal organiser was properly briefed on the threat posed by rival gangs feuding over his handouts. But he not only chose to ignore the advice but publicly berated the police for daring to predict violence. When the threat came to pass, he blamed the same police for standing by as goons disrupted the occasion.

The police are increasingly finding themselves in Catch-22. Assertively moving to prevent violence in political rallies is condemned as interference.

Allowing events shadowed by the spectre of violence to proceed attracts claims of biased by-standing.

As the election date draws near, the police will endeavour to secure the environment with utmost professionalism.

That behoves them to act firmly and impartially. They must also get their priorities right. Considering prevailing security exigencies, we can ill-afford committing manpower to the arbitration of campaign bribes distribution feuds. Instead of straining limited resources managing falling-outs from unmet political promises, our officers will continue to focus on more deserving security duties.

Dr Matiang’i is the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National Government


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