Policing chaos: Kenyans struggle to understand Nyumba Kumi

Nymba Kumi dilemma

Do you know what methods police are using to fight crime in Nairobi?

Could it be ‘Community Policing’, the ‘Metropolitan Police Unit’ (Security Compliance and Disaster Management) or ‘Nyumba Kumi’?

You probably have no idea what they are all about. Take heart. You are not alone.

After several weeks of ‘schooling’ on government methods of fighting crime, this writer has remained equally confused.

The reason is, government bureaucrats have introduced many ‘initiatives’ and policies to arrest the soaring crime in East Africa’s largest capital that even the police and the public seem to be losing track.

Shallow knowledge

 None seems to be working, at least going by the latest Annual National Crime Report, which shows that, except for a slim drop in the rate of armed crimes in the city, the situation seems not to be different from the previous years.

The culprit for the sad state of affairs in Kenya’s security machinery is the government.

The confusion over the management and prevention of crime was exposed last month when a senior officer lifted the lid on how the police seem ill-prepared at adopting some of the latest methods of arresting runaway insecurity.

While answering questions from a vetting panel on December 18, Omar Shurie – the Administration Police Training College (APTC) Commandant – appeared to be at a loss over the exact purpose of the latest programme launched by Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku.

This latest unit is the Metropolitan Command – a military unit created to supplement police work.

But even when the Metropolitan Command was being created, the government was already spending taxpayers’ funds on other ‘old’ strategies – Community Policing, the Metropolitan Police Unit (Security Compliance and Disaster Management) and Nyumba Kumi, which has somewhat attracted public attention but is still largely misunderstood.

“Give me a model on this Nyumba Kumi. If the Inspector General (David Kimaiyo) gave me a manual I will implement it immediately through a team of my instructors,” Shurie said when he appeared before the police vetting panel that aims to reform the Police Service.

The Senior Deputy AP Commander appeared to suggest that officers have shallow knowledge on the new government concept.

 Nyumba Kumi captain

And this is the same quagmire facing a majority of ordinary citizens, more so, after the inclusion of the military into civil policing.

Security expert and committee member of Nyumba Kumi Captain (Rtd) Werunga Simiyu however defends the decision by President Uhuru Kenyatta to create the Metropolitan Command tasked with the responsibility of dealing with emerging security threats.

The crimes the metro unit is concerned with include terrorism, drug trafficking, sale of small arms and sophisticated crime trends in urban areas especially in Nairobi.

Interestingly, in the Annual Crime Report 2013 – released by the Police Service – terrorism was not prominent apart from the mention of 111 victims collectively killed in Nairobi, Mandera, Garissa, Wajir and Mombasa.

Strange concept?

“There is no confusion, the problem is that of communication and the terminologies used. Nairobi Metropolitan will remain autonomous while the Metropolitan Command will work will all other security agencies,” said Simiyu.

He said it is not a strange concept, since it has been tested and proven in America, Asia, the Pacific and even some parts of Central Africa where the military is actively involved in upholding internal security.

According to the executive director for Centre for Policy Analysis Boaz Mbaya, even though the government can use various tactics to keep law and order, such methods must be relevant and well understood.

In his view, the Nyumba Kumi programme, which he described as a foreign ideology borrowed from a socialist state, is not likely to succeed in Kenya where many people, especially the urbanites, value their freedoms.

“In a society like Kenya, I don’t know if it will work, maybe in rural areas where people know each other unlike in towns where people prefer privacy. It is not going to be easy to implement it,” said Mbaya.

The analyst said by including the military in fighting crime, a dangerous precedent is being set.

“The army has its external role to play. The army should be deployed only during extreme circumstances,” he told The Nairobian.

Samjim Manyasi, the secretary general of National Association of Private Investigators, said he is also sceptical about government strategies for fighting crime in Nairobi.

Manyasi told The Nairobian that since insecurity is a societal problem, it requires a multi-pronged approach that should not be abused.

“The initial initiative might be good, but the only problem is how to implement it, for example, how to synergise the efforts of the military and the community. Another problem is that of creating harmony among these institutions that will not understand it is complementary,” he said.

He said a strategy similar to Nyumba Kumi was successful in Tanzania because it fussed well with the Ujamaa (African socialism) system that was dropped by the country in the 1980s. Ujamaa was an ideology aligned to former USSR’s socialist system, but Kenya remained a capitalist state throughout the Cold War period.

Guessing mode

Manyasi said he doubts if Nyumba Kumi will be successful in Kenya. 

“Public acceptance is also another issue. There is a lot of apprehension. People are doubting the seriousness of the idea,” Manyasi said.

Japtheth Ogutu, a programme officer at the Kenya Alliance of Residents Association (Kara) agreed that there is an element of confusion since most government agencies involved in security matters do not have clear roles.

Ogutu said he has doubts about the success of Nyumba Kumi.

He said the members of the new initiative are clueless about government’s intentions, hence leaving the public in a perpetual guessing mode. He said the efforts to streamline the goals of Nyumba Kumi in the fight against crime cannot succeed because the government has sidelined his association in key security meetings.

“There is a lot of confusion because people don’t understand who is to do what and how. The committee has no idea of their role and therefore a lot needs to be done to actualise the initiative because there are no proper guidelines on implementation,” said Ogutu.

When members of the committee headed by former PC Joseph Kaguthi were appointed in October, an official of Kenya National Private Security Workers’ Union contemplated going to court claiming the concept had been ‘hijacked’.

Isaack Andabwa, the union secretary general, still believes that the concept was hurriedly implemented with the government ignoring some of its key security partners and officers, including a former chief who has been praised for successfully implementing it in Makadara sub-county last year.

Narrow the police

“According to me, somebody somewhere is not doing his work, why hijack something that had already been tried? Nyumba Kumi can succeed only if the owners are given the chance to participate. Security guards must also be involved since they man most premises (in Nairobi),” he said.

Police say factors contributing to insecurity include poor laws, easy sale and distribution of light weapons, unemployment and poverty.

In their annual report on crime, the National Police Service is recommending that for Kenya to narrow the police/public ratio, the government must equip officers with modern weapons, introduce latest investigation techniques and invest in ICT/CCTV.

Kenya’s police to population ratio is currently 1:1,000, far below the United Nations-recommended ratio of 1:450.