Mediamax Network Limited

Government must deal firmly with raging impunity

As the battle against corruption finally seems to have taken off, an even more sinister monster must be tamed to bring Kenya back on track. This is the monster of impunity, the conviction that one can do whatever they want to do and damn the consequences. What will you do anyway?

A few examples will illustrate this.

Students at Chalbi Boys High School in Marsabit decided they were unhappy with certain teachers. They organised a pogrom, stormed the staff room and beat the non-local teachers thoroughly. Nine students have been arrested. Even more shocking is the arrest of the school’s deputy principal, which suggests that the assault was planned by the school administration.

In another incident, trucks moving Kenya’s crude oil to Mombasa from Turkana were blockaded by residents who broke into the Ngamia 8 oil fields. That stalemate persisted for almost two weeks , as Government officials wringed their hands and agonised.

The “blockade” was later lifted after  “negotiations” with the blockaders. The message is loud and clear— if you are unhappy about anything, or just want to be a nuisance, take the law into your hands. Nothing will happen to you, and you can keep up whatever protest you want irrespective of the cost to others  and the country.

Kenyans vividly remember a case in which a prominent personality was thoroughly beaten up at a city hotel by goons in the full glare of the cameras. They did not care whether anybody recognised them or not.

It  took police forever to arrest the goons. And when after huge public outcry some people were arrested, one of the suspects, a politician, started invoking political schemes against him. This is how a sense of entitlement has become grounded into the country, and people are now acting with complete impunity. Nobody fears anything anymore. They don’t even fear being arrested. People know how to manipulate the system to get themselves freed or any court case to “disappear.”

In two of the most heart-rending cases of impunity in recent days, a student was thrown out of a moving matatu on  Thika Road by touts. She died immediately. The type of mindset that would tell a person to push the other out of a moving vehicle to certain death, is one that knows absolutely nothing can happen to them. There can be no other explanation.

A similar case was the notorious one where a matatu hit a private motorist’s vehicle on Kamiti Road. The matatu touts then came out and assaulted him with crude weapons. The innocent motorist died soon after.

It took public outrage for the authorities to do anything about it, and even then, it was not until almost a week later that the two culprits were arrested and charged in court. This is the kind of official lethargy that is the bedrock of impunity.

And these are just the cases that come to the public limelight. Myriad other cases are go unreported, and therefore, affording the culprits absolute shielding from accounting for their actions. What has gone wrong?

First is that political expediency has been exploited by many to do bad things. When something happens, politicians from the area are quick to justify the actions by the culprits, defend them, or even bail them out. This has emboldended people to act as they want, knowing they have a bulwark in case things go wrong.

War on graft

Corruption in the police has been a major driver of impunity. Culprits have been able to bribe their way to ensure they are either not arrested, or even if arrested, are released soon after etc.

All these machinations mean that people know they will not be brought to account. How else do you explain suspects who are well known and are in the country “disappearing” for almost a week even as the police are “leaving no stone unturned” looking for them.

In Kenya, if the police want you, you will not last the night before they get you.

Judicial indulgence, which has seen culprits get away with slaps on their wrists for very serious offences. Others manage to get their cases extended indefinitely, until it finally becomes like a chronic disease which they have to manage in their lives as they await an opportune moment to get the file to “disappear.” Their lives go on. Speedy trials, convictions and heavy penalties are needed to deter others. Every act of impunity is a poison to the country. It poisons the environment even further by empowering those who might have been hesitating because they were afraid of the consequences.

Further, the country now has a coterie of “impunity brokers” who know how to manipulate the system to get away with crimes.The authorities need to make people know and believe that if you commit a crime, you will pay for it. Runaway impunity will make Kenya completely lawless.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Noordin Haji, even as he battles corruption, must now put the spotlight on impunity as an area of special focus. He must face this ogre frontally, recognise it for what it is, articulate it, and expose it.

After all, impunity is part of the shield that the corrupt have used in Kenya over the years. A body blow to impunity will do wonders to the battle against corruption.

There’s a new quartet in town, comprising Haji, Attorney General, Paul Kihara, Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI), George Kinoti, and Director of National Intelligence Service (NIS), Maj Gen Philip Kameru, who are moving things in a completely different direction to change the course of the country. Impunity is one ball they need to put in play.

gathukara@gmail.com