How service has changed from colonial time guards

A past passout parade. Top officers during the colonial times were mainly white. FILE PHOTO

What you need to know:

  • The first police service was set up informally by the British company that was mandated to run the colony.
  • Unknown to many, the force was established to enforce laws borrowed from India.

Two pillars and an engraved marker stand outside Machakos Police Station at what was once the entrance to the Machakos Fort — the first inland colonial citadel of commerce and administration.

The significance of these pillars and their relationship to the history of the police has faded.

Yet, the Kenya Police Service tale starts here. It is a story of colonial adventure and buccaneers sub-contracted to collect taxes while conquering new territories for Britain and suppressing uprisings.

It started in 1888 when shipping magnate William Mackinnon’s East Africa Trading Company got the royal charter to administer territories that Britain acquired following the 1886 Berlin conference on the partition of Africa.

The charter allowed the company, which later changed its name to Imperial British East Africa, to establish a police force.

Machakos Fort, under Mr John Ainsworth was the first interior headquarters of the new company. From here, Ainsworth started recruiting askaris to guard the fort and trade caravans. With time, Machakos became a garrison.

Machakos was among the many stations — Kikuyu, Naivasha, Sotik and Mumias being the others — that had been established by Mr FJ Jackson who was sent by Mackinnon to make trade and peace with local chiefs.

Mackinnon’s main empire was not in East Africa, but in Bombay where his East India Company was raking in profits.

Here, he had his own guards, police, accountants and managers whom he shipped to Mombasa where he had leased the Sultan’s coastal strip for £10,000 a year.

To control his monopoly, he needed guards. IBEA askaris were ruthless. An attempt to establish a fort in Dagoretti had backfired and for years it remained under siege, forcing the company to abandon it for a new one known as Fort Smith.

Even here, locals clashed with soldiers. In August 1892, local leader Waiyaki wa Hinga was arrested after a scuffle with a Captain Purkis. His death, enroute to Mombasa for trial, sparked mistrust between Kikuyus and British soldiers.

With its limited resources, unpopularity and ambitions, IBEA went under and its charter was cancelled in 1895.

Thousands of company guards and the unpaid administrators were put under the new protectorate. The term askari was reserved for locally recruited police.

The first police station was opened in Mombasa in 1896 and brought in Indian officers who had previously been employed by the company to protect banks and storehouses.

Before it became bankrupt, IBEA company inspired something else: The construction of the Uganda Railway.

The Railway Police

The building of the railway saw the arrival of British engineers who had been working on a similar project in India. They brought with them a contractor, AM Jevanjee, who had won the tender to supply labour, material and personnel. By the time the railway reached Nairobi, he had brought in 18,000 Indians.

At first, railway engineers were at loggerheads with the protectorate administrators like Ainsworth, who had been working for the collapsed IBEA.

In 1900, the railway engineer established his own Uganda Railway Police to man Mombasa’s Salisbury Bridge. This was independent of the protectorate police and its work was to deter pedestrians from crossing the railway-bridge and protect the harbour and stations.

By 1902, the police service units were in Mombasa, Nairobi and Kisumu.

Recruited from India, the railway police also controlled the movement of travellers and operated as a police force. But they were not answerable to the railway superintendent. They were later incorporated into British East Africa Police, but in 1926 a new Railway Police unit was established.

Kenya Police

In 1902, Sir James Hayes Sandler established the Kenya Police. Its work was to enforce laws borrowed from India, including the Indian Criminal Procedure Code and the Evidence Act.

It was this committee that recommended the establishment of a Police Training School in Nairobi. A new fingerprint bureau was opened at the headquarters with European inspectors and mainly Indian assistant inspectors. This also saw the appointment of an Inspector-General.

The modern force was, however, formed in 1920 when Kenya became a colony. More blacks were recruited to fill the low ranks.

The police became a tool for the settlers and administrators to enforce their will on Africans, concentrating on minor offences like vagrancy and payment of tax.

Despite its motto Salus Populi, which translated to “Safety of the People”, the force was seen as anti-people. It was due to this that it was later changed to Utumishi kwa Wote (Service to All).

Administration Police

The administration police can be traced to 1902 following the enactment of the Village Headman Ordinance, designed to bring locals into the money economy, enforce tax and movement of people and livestock.

Chiefs used the Native Police to enforce rules. In 1929, it got legal backing with the passing of the Tribal Police Ordinance. In 1958 the ordinance was changed to the Administration Police Act. Today, they protect government buildings and VIPs.

Criminal intelligence

The Criminal Intelligence unit was established in 1926 to collect and tabulate history and data of criminals and suspicious people. Experts were brought from South Africa and Britain to set up this unit. In 1927, its mandate was extended to include registration of firearms and ammunition.

During the Mau Mau war, the department worked parallel to the Special Branch. While the CID was more of a civil unit, the Special Branch was the political wing. Today, it is known as the Directorate of Criminal Intelligence.

Anti-Stock Theft Unit

This was a division of the Kenya Police which was established to deal with the cattle-rustling menace. In the pioneer days in 1970s, it was accused of being a political tool. The accusations saw Rift Valley Police Chief James Mungai flee into exile.

General Service Unit

This is the paramilitary wing of the police. It is usually deployed in emergency situations and was first established in 1948 as the Kenya Police Emergency Company. In September 1953, it was renamed General Service Unit to deal with the Mau Mau.
The Israeli-trained Recce Squad is the best known unit within GSU.

Special Branch

Initially established to extract intelligence, its work was compounded by the formation of a Criminal Investigation Department in 1950. During the crackdown on Mau Mau, Special Branch became the torture squad, a notoriety that they continued in post-independence years.

After independence, it was used to torture political activists and anti-establishment politicians. In the 1990s it became the Directorate of Security Intelligence and in 1998 it changed to National Security Intelligence Service. Unlike its predecessors, NSIS does not make arrests.

Kenya Police Reserve

It was formed in 1948 and armed settlers. Although it was open to all races, it was only functioning in “undisturbed” areas. It was disbanded in 2004 after “it became a rogue unit”.

(To be continued on Tuesday)