Police officers in the new uniforms. Backstreet tailors in Nairobi's Huruma estate and Luthuli Avenue are making full police uniforms.

| File | Nation Media Group

A set for Sh4,000: Shock of police uniform on sale

What you need to know:

  • Fearing for their jobs, and with the uniform not available, the officers were referred by colleagues to various tailors in the central business district, Huruma and Kawangware.
  • Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i said the country would no longer import police uniform.

  • In February this year, Interior Principal Secretary Dr Karanja Kibicho said it would take the government at least three years to have all police officers in the new uniform.

Today I am supposed to visit a dingy tailoring shop in Huruma, in Nairobi’s Eastlands, to pick up my police uniform, which I fitted earlier in the week.

 I am trying to remember the nooks and crannies I passed, and the sewer lines, ditches and puddles I jumped over on Tuesday to get my measurements taken by a shifty fundi; and I am psyching myself up for another journey down Juja Road.

My assignment stems from a police memo last week in which the city police bosses demanded that all general duty officers go to work in the new Persian blue uniform introduced in 2018. When those who reported to work in the old uniform were turned away, panic struck.

The law enforcers, who had been waiting since 2018 for the government to issue them with the new-look gear, were threatened with disciplinary action if they failed to wear the new uniform, never mind that no one supplied them with it.

Fearing for their jobs, and with the uniform not available, the officers were referred by colleagues to various tailors in the central business district, Huruma and Kawangware. The outfits would set them back between Sh4,000 and Sh6,500. For a constable, whose monthly salary is Sh32,000, and with family obligations in this economy, this was a tall order.

Persian blue look

President Uhuru Kenyatta unveiled the Persian blue look — to mixed reactions from Kenyans, some of whom said the previous uniform looked better — on September 13, 2018 as part of reforms in the National Police Service.

The President then ordered that the materials used to make the new uniform be locally sourced. But the particular fabric has been scarce, with reports that the initial ones were imported from Turkey.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i said the country would no longer import police uniform.

“We have led from the front and we are going to continue. A while ago, our overall coats used to be imported from China but never again. These coats are locally made and they are warm enough. So, all coats, gear and even boots for the National Police Service will be made locally so that we continue promoting businesses and creating employment in the country,” the CS said.

In February this year, Interior Principal Secretary Dr Karanja Kibicho said it would take the government at least three years to have all police officers in the new uniform.

But then Nairobi regional police commandant Rashid Yakub, in an internal memo dated September 11, asked all officers to wear only the new uniform.

Disciplinary action

“All officers must be in the new medium blue uniform, except for the formed-up units who have their own order of dressing. In addition, all officers are cautioned against mixing uniform, or wearing non-uniform items alongside the uniform. Failure to comply with these instructions will attract serious disciplinary action,” the memo stated.

And that is why hundreds of police officers spent the week queuing, not in a parade, but at tailoring shops in Nairobi as they frantically sought the new Persian blue uniform.

I joined the queues and witnessed first-hand the frustration of officers negotiating prices with the busy outfitters, with some pleading to clear the bills at the end of the month.

I had been contacted by one officer who had been turned away from the station on Monday.

“Please help us,” she pleaded, “We are not in a position to afford the uniform right now. My friends and I have been in the house for two days.”

On Wednesday, she borrowed her colleague’s spare pair and went to work.

“Every officer should have at least been given a pair and asked to find another. How do you give such a short notice without any allowance?” an officer from Parklands Police Station told the Saturday Nation.

When the Nation reported the challenges that officers were going through, the police headquarters issued a statement denying that there was a shortage of the new uniform and directed officers who had not collected theirs to do so immediately. Spokesman Charles Owino said there were 6,000 outfits for male officers and 2,000 for female officers at the stores.

Civilian tailors

By then the Saturday Nation had contacted four civilian tailors of “contracted” to supply the uniform to officers at their own cost. We had got their mobile phone numbers from police sources.

The Saturday Nation is not revealing their identities to protect them from harassment, and also for their own security.

I called the first one, based in Kawangware: “Hallo fundi, do you have the blue uniform?” He said he did. I then called the one in Huruma and the others on Luthuli Avenue in the CBD and all responded in the affirmative and guided me to their shops.

I decided to start with Mike* in Kawangware, but he said he was busy supplying uniform. He was returning from Karen and would head for Kiambu next, he said.

Business was booming and the prices had increased from Sh3,000 initially to Sh4,000 for a top and a trouser. Badges cost Sh300 each, up from Sh100 initially. A pair of uniform requires two badges.

“You know the police supply us with the (Kenya Police) badges at Sh500 for two. I am just a civilian; I can’t do much (about it),” he said.

Promising to visit Mike in Kawangware and take my measurements, I set off for Huruma, where I met Jacob* by an electricity transformer near a line of carpentry sheds. A chatty fellow, he sympathised with me for the short time “we” were given to get the uniform.

“We have been under so much pressure,” he said. “You people have been queuing here all weekend. Although the business is good, I think mkubwa (boss) should have given you a reasonable time. How do you just direct all these officers to have uniform by Monday?”

He told me about his busy weekend as he led me past the Redeemed Gospel Church, down to clammy stalls in the market. We jumped over a puddle and entered the first 10-by-10-metre stall, now a busy industry churning out blue trousers and shirts.

The earlier customers kept coming and picking up their orders. All the time, Jacob was fielding calls on his cellphone on enquires and follow-ups by distraught officers.

The outfitters say they get the material from specific stalls in Eastleigh, which are “not easy to locate”.

“Most have resorted to sending their measurements via WhatsApp instead of coming here physically. We also make deliveries,” the tailor explained. “I have stopped all other contracts to focus on blues for now.”

As he took my measurements, Jacob was as precise as possible to avoid spending time adjusting ill-fitting clothes. He asked if I prefer high or low waist, mid or side-zip and loose or tight fit.

On the phone, I had requested him to accept a Sh500 down-payment for the uniform, which he accepted without a fuss, promising to have the clothes ready in three days. Today is my day of collection.

Fitting clothes

Like many other tailors, he has chosen to focus on the basics —shirts and trousers — leaving jackets for less busy days, once everyone has at least a pair.

“It is serious. Some traffic officers at the roundabout here in Huruma were sent away by their boss for not being in blue. One rushed to my stall and found somewhat fitting clothes. He did not even ask me to adjust them. He stepped out in them saying we would talk later,” Jacob said.

He asked where I am based and I told him I was taking the uniform on behalf of someone close to me.

That did not even raise any red flag. Seeing that it didn’t, and thinking how easily a criminal would buy the uniform and start extorting and harassing wananchi, I asked if what he is doing does not leave a loophole for criminals to take advantage of the situation and acquire police uniform. He said no one would dare.

Later on Thursday, when the police spokesman Charles Owino issued a statement saying there were uniform for everyone, we sought to establish whether indeed there were any uncollected pairs at the Police Central Stores in Industrial Area. We found officers commanding stations from Nairobi and beyond, including Ruaraka and Muthithi in Murang’a, queuing to collect uniform for their juniors.

From there we visited the tailors on Luthuli Avenue, who seemed busier than ever, with five of them laboriously taking measurements, cutting garments, sewing and seaming in turns. The room was Persian blue.

Samuel*, whom we had contacted, stepped forward to welcome us.

“Following the coverage of the story in the newspaper, your fellow police officers used it to bargain for a price review. So we’re now charging a flat rate of Sh3,500 across town, from Muthangari, and Westlands to Kamukunji, Central and others. Our profit margins have reduced to only Sh300 because the suppliers of the badges have increased the cost to Sh600 for two,” he said. “Wanatukulia sana. (They are ripping us off).”

Samuel took the measurements as he explained their losses after they were left with stock of the old khaki uniform, now neatly draping the wall.

He was the second tailor after Jacob to confirm that the business with the police has been going on for long before the new uniform was introduced. They said officers always preferred private tailors because their uniform fit and look better. They used to pay Sh2,000 for the old uniform.

Samuel asked where I was stationed and I said Kabete. His face brightened.

“I was there the other day,”he said. “I make uniform even for your bosses, including the one who left.”

He asked for my rank and I responded with a question — on whether that was necessary to have my uniform done.

“It actually matters. You know, if you’re a corporal or sergeant, I will need you to bring your chevrons to be fixed,” he said.

I told him I am a junior.

I left the shop promising to send downpayment via money transfer for him to begin the process. I also promised to return for a jacket, which costs Sh3,500, “because it has a lining”.

In 2018, the Head of State announced a merger of the Kenya Police Service with the Administration Police.

“In order to eliminate waste, duplication, and overlap, we will integrate 39,680 police service and 24,572 administration police into general duty police officers under the command of Deputy Inspector General Kenya Police Service, leaving a total of 64, 252 police service general duty police given the unified command to offer better security for Kenyans,” he announced. Their numbers give an idea of the uniform required to clothe the Service.

In March 2019, CS Matiang’i, during an inspection tour of the textile industry at the National Youth Service headquarters in Ruaraka, said the police uniform was ready and that the plant produces 1,000 units daily.

Exclusive rights

But PS Kibicho, in April this year, announced that the NYS, who were originally given exclusive rights to source the local fabric and make the police uniform in Ruaraka, would be helped out by the private sector in order to speed up the process.

“This week, we signed contracts so that the uniform will be ready by June 30, 2020,” he said while receiving a donation of jungle green police jackets from Sachen Gudka, chairperson of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, and Pankaj Debi, chairperson, United Aryan Limited.

In December 2018, police chiefs went to various local textile industries in search of the Persian blue material ahead of a week’s deadline that had been set for officers to wear the new uniform.

Former Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet and Dr Kibicho visited Rivatex factory in Eldoret and its Nakuru outlet in search of the fabric. Several factories in Thika and another in Nairobi were also on their radar.

President Kenyatta had wanted all officers to wear the new uniform during Jamhuri Day celebrations (2018), but that was impossible as only a handful of senior officers had been issued with them, with the juniors waiting until the new order that forced them to tailor-make came calling.