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Violent crime worse than terrorism

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A woman struggles with a man who allegedly tried to mug her in Kamukunji, Nairobi in 1995. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

I had a tiff with Kenyans on X over a criminal. My comment on the video on social media showing a young man (he may even have been a boy) being beaten by a huge crowd in Nairobi for stealing a mobile phone elicited all types of insults, anger and praise.

Most of them concurred with me that he should not have been beaten to death or near-death over a phone that was not worth more than his life. Instead, Kenyans should not be angry at criminals but the government, for doing nothing to deal with breakdown in law and order.

Mob justice is something I find quite appalling. It is the most common way that Kenyans deal with crimes affecting their lives and properties. It is itself a criminal offence. Murder by a mob is still murder.

Why there is no punishment for such offenders boggles the mind. Mob justice is not the panacea for ending crime. It is as barbaric as it comes. But it is indicative of deep-seated anger. Kenyans are clearly frustrated by the breakdown in law and order, which has left them living on edge at home and in the streets. They have been let down by the security apparatus, which has failed to secure their environment.

Getting help

A victim of crime in Kenya long ago gave up hope of getting help from the police. Trying to get the police to investigate your case as a victim of crime, however small a matter they perceive it is harder than attempting to bleed a stone. I would love to heap all the blame on the police. But I believe they, too, are a victim of injustice, given the conditions in which they are meant to work to maintain law and order.

Most police stations are not fit for humans, or pigs for that matter. I still remember walking into a police station to report a crime but the stench of urine was so powerful it knocked me backwards for six. I chose to give up and go home than endure it. How, then, are officers left to work in such a filthy and hazardous place meant to be motivated and perform at their optimum?

For a long time, police could only visit a scene of crime to help you if you fuelled their car. This means, Kenyans are double-taxed to keep safe or get justice. P3 forms became a cash cow for the police from victims of rape, mugging and to those reporting the loss of vital documents. I know there have been reports of police welfare having been improved by a raise in salaries but that does not seem to have made a dent in ending corruption in the service or motivating the officers.


The task force on police reforms led by former Chief Justice David Maraga highlighted a number of issues that ‘bedevil’ the police. Chief among them was underfunding. Therefore, if the government was serious about finding out the cause of underperformance by the police and was informed that the main one is underfunding, it ought to have prioritised increasing funding for the police. That would help them to focus on law-and-order issues rather than chasing bribes to top up their meagre salaries. A well-funded police service could be a catalyst to ending mob justice, and corruption among the officers and instilling confidence in the criminal justice system.

It is heartbreaking to see Nairobi slowly going back to its infamous days of ‘Nairobbery’. Muggings, violent robbery and street crimes in general have got out of hand that foreign missions are compelled to issue travel advisories to their citizens visiting Kenya because of them. That is what happens when you do not prioritise safety for your own citizens. It ends up having far-reaching implications, such as scaring visitors away from the country.

While crime is getting out of hand, the government is focused on what, I believe, is ‘artificially created’ and exaggerated terrorism fears. I am not a terrorism denier but something is not adding up, given the way the government is going about its anti-terrorism policy.

I believe the areas supposedly over-run by terrorism could be nothing more than planted fears justified by kidnapping of innocent Muslims to paint a picture of a terrorist-infested country. The narrative, in my opinion, is nothing more than justifying huge expenditure to purchase expensive military ammunition and vehicles the country does not and may never need.

Bullet-proof vehicles

Bullet-proof vehicles should not be driven in a country deemed a beacon of peace but in those known for gangland violence and full-out war. We may have our social problems. But we are neither a gangland state, where drive-by shootings are the norm, nor in a full-scale war to need expensive armoury and equipment.

For checks and balances, there is a need for transparency around purchases of military wares. Excuses based on national security lead to abuse of governance systems and human rights violations.

The biggest threat to national security is, in fact, runaway crime, which has spilled onto the streets, affecting day-to-day lives. Not terrorism. The billions being spent on the military—whose job now seems to whack every police officer they meet—should be used to support the important job that the police need to do—keep Kenyans safe at home and on the streets.

No young person needs to be killed by an angry mob that has lost faith in the police because of a mobile phone. Adequately fund the police service to maintain law and order. After all, it is the job of police officers, not angry mobs, to tackle crime.

Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected]. @kdiguyo