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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Shock of shockers... but then again We knew it all along

Gang infiltrates Kenya police
By Juma Kwayera | Nairobi


A quiet rebellion and near-total collapse of the chain of command has exposed Kenya’s police force as incapable of dealing with the growing national crisis in the country, amid growing fears that it has also been infiltrated by the outlawed pro- government Mungiki sect.

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian on condition of anonymity following the chilling murder on last Tuesday of an opposition MP, a senior police inspector and an officer in the criminal investigations department admitted that all was not right in the police force. “The police are angry that they are being used to solve a political problem. Our remit is maintenance of law and order, but we are being dragged into politics. It is known that the election outcome was manipulated; who does not know that?” asked the officer. Despondency in the force is the latest twist in Kenya’s political imbroglio, which former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan said was an international priority on Tuesday when he formally launched the mediation process between the government and the opposition.

Annan, who is heading an African Union panel of eminent persons, said that the escalating violence put the country on the precipice of large-scale upheaval, which the “state must use all the means at its disposal to forestall”. Annan added that the electoral dispute was now mutating into ethnic hostility and inflaming long-suppressed passions. The AU-mandated team also includes former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa and Graça Machel.

Gangs of youths believed to be members of the Mungiki sect claimed responsibility for the killing of Mellitus Mugabe Were, the opposition MP. Youths suspected of being members of Mungiki also took control of the highway linking Nairobi with the nearby town of Nakuru, a scene of much of the recent violence. Most members of the much-feared Mungiki sect hail from the Kikuyu tribe, the same ethnic group as President Mwai Kibaki. They rose to prominence last year after a string of grisly killings, particularly in Nairobi’s slums. Police efforts to break up the gangs late last year led to days of violent clashes in which several people were killed.

Were’s death on Tuesday co-incided with the formal launch of international mediation and reinforced the perception that Mungiki, which allegedly enjoys the patronage of influential politicians and businessmen in the government, is on the rampage again after a six-month lull. Police have confirmed that 20 out of the 115 people killed in Nakuru and Naivasha towns in the Rift Valley province were beheaded in grisly circumstances reminiscent of Mungiki’s decapitation of 200 people in Nairobi early last year. Human rights groups, including United States-based Human Rights Watch, estimated last week that nearly a quarter of the 900 people shot dead post-election were executed by Mungiki gang members disguised as police. The senior police officer complained that the infiltration of the police by the criminal gang had exacerbated tensions in the force, leading to fears of an imminent falling out. “We are being misused. We are resisting the public perception [that] we mop up politicians’ dirty work,” the inspector said. Two other police officers said last week’s reshuffle in the police force was precipitated by growing tension among high-ranking police officers who felt they were being misused to crack down on opposition supporters.

The opposition says that it has also received reports of Mungiki’s infiltration of the police force.“We have been receiving reports about despondency in the police force and the military that has been forcing the government to resort to criminal gangs to control escalating violence,” Orange Democratic Movement MP Omingo Magara said. He added: “The same sources told us about how two weeks ago the government acquired 4 000 guns and armed Mungiki to kill protesters in Rift Valley. I leave it to you to judge who is running the show in the police force,” he said.

Tensions in the security forces began to appear after Internal Security Minister George Saitoti told the police to refrain from using live ammunition, only for police to open fire on unarmed mourners in Nairobi last week, injuring several. “The chain of command has collapsed,” Magara said. The government began deploying the military at violence flashpoints last week, fuelling the public perception that the police force is no longer obeying the command structure.

Responding to charges that the police force was no longer capable of maintaining law and order prompting the intervention of the military Police Commissioner Major General Hussein Ali said the presence of the army is “temporary.” According to the Kenyan constitution, the army can only be called out of the barracks after a state of emergency is declared.

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