Involving governors in security matters could be the best option for peace and stability Featured

A couple of weeks ago, Mombasa governor Ali Hassan Joho presided over the passing-out parade of law enforcement officers who had just completed a security

training course for purposes of enforcing county by-laws. During the ceremony, the governor pointed out that the graduating class was unique in that it had been trained for more than just enforcing county by-laws like laws against littering, illegal hawking, operating without a licence, environmental policing, dog pounding, etc. The governor said that the officers had also been trained in responding to other challenges given that Mombasa county finds itself faced with security challenges that include violent crime, narcotics trafficking, drug abuse and terrorism.

Those who like splitting hairs may argue that the extra training that Joho’s officers underwent was illegal because crimes such as narcotics trafficking, drug abuse and terrorism are the preserve of the National Police Service, hence a no-go zone for officers whose mandate derives from the county executive. However, governor Joho made a good case for the choice to equip his officers with extra skills to deal with other forms of crime.

The governor said that in theory, crimes such as terrorism, drug trafficking and other violent crimes are a preserve of the National Police Service. But the reality
on the ground is that the governor’s office and his executive are nowadays the first people to be contacted whenever the common citizen is confronted with violent crime even before they contact the police. He pointed out that as governor, he is more in contact with the people in his county than any other state officer. Said he: “If someone makes a distress call to the governor and it turns out that the person making the call suspects that a terrorist activity is likely to take place, does the governor ask that person to look for the anti-terrorism police? Certainly not. The governor can respond in an appropriate manner and then contact the police later.

We don’t intend to take over the work of the police, but ours is to complement the work of the police and this is why we have equipped our officers with such skills because they can come in handy in emergency situations.” Indeed, governor Joho makes very good sense. In 2014 when over 20 police officers were ambushed and killed by suspected Pokot raiders during a rescue and recovery mission in Kapedo area on the border of Turkana and Pokot countries, distress calls to their commanders went unanswered but West Pokot governor’s office was the first to respond to one of the distress calls that came its way. In fact, it was the governor’s office that dispatched the first form of assistance to the scene despite the fact that the assistance came too late. From the lessons of Kapedo, both laymen and security experts now agree that governors are in a position to take charge of security matters in their counties in a manner that is more efficient than the centralized command of the National Police Service. Hence the persistent call that governors should be empowered to get involved in security matters at the county level.

Back to Mombasa, during a recent consultative meeting that involved the governor’s office, elected leaders, religious leaders and other opinion leaders, it was acknowledged that the Majengo neighbourhood in Old Town is responsible for the highest number of violent crimes occurring in Mombasa County. Majengo was fingered for producing the highest number of youth who have been radicalized and recruited into violent extremist groups that are blamed for the various terrorist attacks that have rocked the coastal county and its neighbours.

Because of this, governor Joho and other leaders in the county feel that they need to be empowered and supported to play a more responsible role in responding to and dealing with the push and pull factors that feed into radicalization and violent extremism. Such support may include equipping county law enforcement officers with the right skills to respond to this challenge. In this regard, given that the governor’s office is where the rubber meets the road with regard to almost all issues affecting the counties, this may be the right time for Kenyans to ask their leaders in government to rethink the national security strategy and command structure by demanding a system that empowers governors to play a more central role in security matters in their jurisdictions. Given the examples cited above and other realities on the ground, governors involvement in security matters could just be what the doctor ordered to salvage our national security from the gutters.

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