Having a friend visit from a different country always elucidates different questions. They have an inquisitive mind and try to ask as many questions as possible so that they can adequately prepare themselves.
Some of the questions are expected, especially if it is the first time visiting Kenya or Africa. Genuine questions to say the least. Forget the “do you have internet?” or “do you have coffee shops?” type of questions; The question that always makes me pause a bit and feel a bit philosophical is the “how safe is it”?
At times I answer that Nairobi is just like any other metropolitan urban city and it is plagued by urban crimes and that we as a nation have put in place measures to deter and prevent crimes, case in point the naked eye security search that is done by guards as we enter buildings either by foot or car.
Oh yes!! I can tell you how safe I feel when I know that our guards (the police men or otherwise) have x-ray vision and can see any dangerous weapon inside the bag.
Estates are protected by watchmen who are meant to fight against robbers who come with guns and machetes. For those who are wealthy, they can hire their own private guards from security firms that are thriving in providing security services to citizens.
According to a 2006 UN report, it is recommended that there should be 300 police officers for every population of 100,000 which means 1 police man for more than 300 people. Still that number is too low which equates to having understaffed security authorities who end up being overworked. Kenya stands at 1:550 just barely below the accepted number.
But then again who desires to join the police force? The young, unemployed and motivated people are looking for ways to grow and make money and putting their lives at risk isn’t a priority. Take into comparison developed countries where young people actually look up to the police force and the army for the work they do and they feel patriotic to serve their country.
But how do we expect our citizens to take the honour of serving their country while putting their lives at daily risk while the Government fails to pay them well?
Police business is a hell of a problem. It’s a good deal like politics. It asks for the highest type of men, and there’s nothing in it to attract the highest type of men. So we have to work with what we get…
― Raymond Chandler “The Lady in the Lake”
But does having more police force and seeing them visible guarantee security? A country might have a ratio of 1:1 but that means nothing if the police are not well trained or equipped to face challenges in dealing with modern crime. This brings me to my other answer.
At times I answer that “no where is safe” which is a true answer if you are to consider all the numerous attacks that have happened in France, Germany, Turkey and Belgium in the last six months. But then again, have you seen how the security and law enforcement agencies are quick to respond to these attacks.
Literally no stone is left unturned and they are able to catch the culprits within months if not week or days. The police men are well trained and provided with the skills and know-how when it comes to handling a situation.
Their trainings focus both on use of physical force and as well mental capability. Their technologies are advanced and they are able to track and monitor their citizens. Bear in mind that Germany and France population individually is more than Kenya.
I only use Germany and France as examples because for them to reach where they are now they had to learn from their past mistakes and learnt to become better. I do applaud the police service though because they have tried to keep abreast with changes.
They do have an up-to-date website, have set up different units to tackle different crimes, have a functioning hotline number (well the one day I called, it went through) and are also setting up gender service desks.
It is estimated that by 2017, the police forensic laboratory should be complete. These are definitely steps in the right direction….small as they maybe but it is something.
Do Kenya and the rest of Africa have what it takes to become safe countries? Yes I do believe so. Cities such as Gaborone, Kigali and Addis Ababa give hope to the rest of Africa. We just need to focus our resources and money on the security issue rather than waste it on less matters of priority.
The truth is that our government is comfortable with providing the bare minimum. We do have police patrols but honestly, citizens and foreigners are more afraid of the police than they are of criminals. A case of better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know. This is because of testimonies from different people who have encountered, experienced or seen police brutality and how they handle matters.
What makes a country safe? For me it is such a complex question. In Amsterdam you can walk at 2am with no police officer or car in sight and feel safe while when it clocks 9pm in Nairobi you keep looking left and right as you hurriedly walk to your bus stop though you can see the men in blue patrolling in the city with their AK47s. At times you are forced to even just take a taxi cause of a gut feeling…better safe than sorry I say.
But deep down inside I know my answer. It is the answer that reminds me that whether I am in Somalia, USA, Nigeria or Poland, anything can happen anytime anywhere. It is the answer that comforts me at night and relaxes my worries, because as far as am concerned, Jesus walks with me.
Well, I dare not deny the fact that we rank poorly when it comes to security. But on a lighter note, at least the weather and climate in Kenya is in the top 10
People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
― George Orwell