Why a police job has little dignity

Tuesday August 19 2014

Young people who turned up for recruitment to the police service in Eldoret East Sub-County at Kipchoge Keino Stadium on July 14, 2014. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Young people who turned up for recruitment to the police service at Kipchoge Keino Stadium in Eldoret on July 14, 2014. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By LARRY MADOWO
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What makes a perfectly well adjusted youth wake up early, queue up interminably and then run around a field half naked, often in the cold, for a chance to land the worst job in the country?

Poverty, that’s what. Police recruitment in Kenya is a demeaning, heartbreaking process akin to a modern-day Animal Farm, where some would-be recruits are more equal than others.

The jaw-dropping corruption, intemperate favouritism, inordinate unprofessionalism and general mayhem that each recruitment season leaves behind are the stuff of legend. Is it even remotely worth it?

A policeman’s job doesn’t pay well, the hours are horrendous, the benefits almost non-existent and you could stop a bullet any time. By all objective measures, being a cop is a pretty terrible job, and that’s not even counting the ever-looming danger of sudden painful death, or permanent injury if you’re lucky.

CANCEL RESULTS

Well aware of the unglamorous nature of what they were potentially getting themselves into, thousands still turned up around the country on July 14, from Kimilili to Kandara, from Narok to Njoro, and everywhere else around the country; all 289 different centres.

It was supposed to be the biggest ever recruitment — picking 10,000 cadets — and its failure was just as spectacular.

For all its faults, at least the police service knows that if you’re going to do something bad, do it on such a large scale that it will consume national attention for at least several weeks. In other words, they failed so badly, they succeeded.

In their endless wisdom, the National Police Service Commission had the good sense to cancel the results of the recruitment in 36 locations.

That affects only 12.15 per cent of the cadets that had malpractices, so obviously not nearly enough to ruin the whole thing.

REAL WINNERS

I’m sure the youth from these 36 bad apples can’t believe their good luck: they get to go through the entire primitive drill of standing dreamy-eyed so close to other hopefuls that you can smell the sweat of anticipation while they systematically lose their dignity again.

Open your mouth, raise your hands, stand on one foot, jump around, wink at me with one eye, now dance like a horse. Rinse and repeat, ad nauseam.

The real winners are the senior officers who will confidently take bribes of up to several hundred thousand shillings in exchange for a ticket to Kiganjo Police Training College.

There were only 621 complaints, so the commission is likely shooting for a nice round figure of 1,000 complaints.

The Kenyan police recruitment style is firmly frozen in time, seemingly aware of its own obsolescence, yet unable, or unwilling, to modernise and evolve from a conveyor belt of bad behaviour to something praiseworthy.

SERVICE VS SELF

“If you want to do something worthwhile, like give something back to your community, then a career in the police service could be for you,” enthuses the UK police recruitment website.

“Whatever you choose, you will be guaranteed a varied, exciting and challenging role.” The largest police department in the United States, the much-fancied New York Police Department, also romanticises the work of its officers, promising applicants that “The police profession offers benefits, varied work assignments, and unlimited opportunity.”

In contrast, many Kenyan police officers hope that the bribes they had to pay to get their low-paying jobs pay off with a “profitable” posting — Traffic in a major town is everybody’s favourite — with an “understanding” supervisor.

Like those before them and in the fine tradition of the service, “it is our turn to eat.” Having already gone through the indignity of the recruitment and the rote training at Kiganjo, they are left to their own devices in the big bad world, often with nothing more than a hole in the wall not good enough for a rat in the name of official housing.

ENCOURAGES CORRUPTION

In due course, they marry and have children and bring relatives to live with them on a salary that’s only marginally higher than an American high schooler’s weekly allowance.

There are many upright, brave men and women in the police service, and to whom we owe a debt of gratitude as a nation. They work in extraordinarily difficult environments, putting their lives at risk and serving diligently for little to no appreciation because it is the right thing to do.

We do these virtuous officers a monstrous disservice because the police set-up in Kenya is designed to be dishonourable, encourages corruption and covers up for misconduct.

It says something about us as a society that the people we expect to help us enforce the law mostly get their jobs through less than legal means. But the desperate poverty weighing down millions across this nation doesn’t allow them the luxury of theorising about the ethics of paying a bribe to be a policeman.

How, then, would you expect anybody who came up through a recruitment system so embarrassingly flubbed like this one to do a straightforward job? Maybe our expectations of our police are too high.

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SO LONG, DERRICK AMUNGA

I never had the honour of meeting him in person, but I did encounter him countless times in character. Derrick Amunga was a television and stage actor for whom the word range was invented.

His portrayal of Master Sugu in the old KBC show "Tausi" remains one of the most memorable roles on Kenyan television for my generation.

Derrick was in nearly 200 plays, including two roles in "Trapped" just a week before his demise. His death was nothing more than a blip in the mainstream and social media radar.

But when the excellent American actor Robin Williams passed on, the sport of public mourning on social networks reached almost acquired mass hysteria status.

Amunga bid the world adieu at 42, not nearly enough for us to have enjoyed the full extent of his talents. He had none of the global fame and fortune of Williams, but deserved better in life, and in death.

He was buried on Saturday in Mwiyenga, Kakamega.

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MUST UHURU ALWAYS BE MET AND SEEN OFF?

State House does not publish official visitor logs to the house on the hill. If it did, and were truthful, it would be a telling study of the power brokers, kitchen cabinet, hangers-on and the favoured of the Uhuru administration.

In the absence of these critical records, we have the gift of pictures and video of the president’s comings and goings in and out of the country.

Like his father, his political mentor after that and his predecessor, the president always has a small crowd to receive him when he returns from travels abroad, or when he leaves.

This practice remains one of the enduring mysteries of our time. The deputy president is usually there, a Cabinet secretary or three, an assortment of security chiefs and an ever-growing number of politicians (maybe that’s the inside trick to an ambassadorial appointment).

In some cases, there’s even a traditional dance troupe to tempt the president into a jig. For the long-suffering residents of Nairobi, they are a wasteful hour or two spent in heavy traffic while the rich and powerful get clear roads to rush to their photo-op with President Kenyatta. Viva la revolucion!