President William Ruto’s administration has allowed the police to wear uniforms phased out by former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government four years ago, reversing yet another key policy decision by his predecessor.
Poor quality and shortage of the widely unpopular, all-royal blue uniforms have been cited as the reasons behind the reintroduction of the old uniforms.
Saturday Nation has also learnt of a plan to review the design of police officers' and prison wardens’ uniforms, hand-in-hand with a proposal to introduce the use of body cameras by the officers.
The internal directive will see general duty Kenya Police Service (KPS) officers operating with two sets of uniforms, the old and the new.
The arrangement to have in use two sets of uniforms at the same time for general duty assignments is expected to continue until a task force on police reforms set by President Ruto gives its final recommendations on which uniforms will stay in use.
National Police Service spokesperson Dr Resila Onyango told Saturday Nation the new directive was issued to address the problem of the unavailability of the new uniforms as well as the poor quality of the fabric.
“There are some officers who do not have enough of the blue ones or they have faded as you may have seen in the streets. Since they still have the old ones, they can wear them. We are wearing them concurrently,” said Dr Resila.
Already, police officers on duty have been spotted donning the old sky blue shirts and navy blue trousers for male officers and white shirts and navy blue trousers for female officers.
Officers in the senior command ranks of Inspector of Police (IP) and above will be allowed to wear their traditional beige uniforms as well as the new ones.
The directive is the clearest indication yet of the impending review of police uniforms barely four years after the last one.
In 2018, NPS introduced the new royal blue uniforms that were to be worn by all officers under Kenya Police Service, for all ranks.
The uniforms were met with harsh criticism from officers and the public who termed them as ‘ugly’.
The matter became the subject and part of campaign pledges by the Kenya Kwanza coalition, with Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua likening the deep blue uniforms to those worn by the Women’s Guild of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA).
While criticising the blue uniform last year, Mr Gachagua said that upon taking over, the Kenya Kwanza government would withdraw and donate them to the PCEA Women’s Guild.
“Polisi wetu wametumiwa vibaya na Matiang’i. Hata ile uniform wamesukumiwa hawataki. Tutawaondolea turudishe ile ya zamani. Na hiyo ya blue tutarudisha kwa kanisa ya PCEA, ni ya Women’s Guild. (Our police have been misused by Matiang’i. They have even rejected the new uniform that has been forced on them. We will revoke that blue uniform and return it to the PCEA church; it belongs to the Women’s Guild),” DP Gachagua said on the campaign trail.
Top security officials at the time, however, argued that the royal blue colour was picked to enhance the visibility of the police as well as for uniformity across all ranks during the merger of the Administration Police and the Kenya Police.
Former Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho had said at the time that the decision by the previous administration to change the uniforms was arrived at through a review by the Uniform Committee.
This position was also backed by then-Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet.
The review was also done as part of a plan to revive Kenya’s cotton industry by halting the importation of police uniforms that was touted to save the country Sh700 million.
Former Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i at the time hit out at critics, insisting that the decision to manufacture police uniforms locally was final.
“Is it not simply outrageous for someone to say that we do not have materials in Kenya with the kind of textile industry we have? Why would the government put budget resources to revive Rivatex and provide jobs in Eldoret then proceed like fools the following day to import police uniforms from Turkey or China? We will not import uniforms,” Dr Matiang’i said in a past interview.
For Dr Matiangi, the fight over the change of the uniform was all about money, and the millions of shillings at the centre of the tender.
“IG Mutyambai rejected a bid to purchase police boots for Sh13,000 that were being sold by the politicians’ friends, instead opting to buy the same boots for Sh2,900 from local manufacturers,” Dr Matiang’i said at the height of campaigns in July last year.
“Mutyambai’s problem was declining to purchase police bulletproof vests sold by your friends at $900 and opting to buy the same directly from manufacturers at a cost of only $90,” he added.
The former Internal CS then accused the disgruntled ‘tenderpreneurs’ of targeting the Inspector General as a result of their frustrations.
The new uniforms order was, however, met with criticism and protests from officers that the materials were of very low quality, which has been compounded by shortages.
The shortage has seen officers having to purchase the uniforms from their own pockets.
This week, President Ruto made yet another key directive on the uniforms, asking Inspector General of Police Japheth Koome to ensure all officers are clothed by the government.
“I do not expect what has been happening in the past that officers are asked to buy uniforms using their own money,” Dr Ruto said.
“It is my expectation that these officers will be given uniforms by the Government of Kenya. I expect that the uniform that these men and women will be given will be of the quality that meets the required standards so that they execute security functions in the Republic of Kenya,” he added.
The Ruto administration has promised to review police uniforms as part of its campaign pledges to police officers.
The Head of State has constituted a 23-man task force that will review the uniforms and, if the latest directive is anything to go by, officers are likely to get new uniforms within the next 90 days.
Besides colour change, the new police uniforms could see the introduction of policing gadgets, including body cameras.