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Kenya’s New Police Chief to Curb Terrorism, Secure Election

Kenya swore in its first inspector- general of police, who vowed to fight terrorism and help prevent a repeat of ethnic violence that erupted in the country after the last general elections in 2007.

David Kimaiyo, a 32-year veteran of the force, takes over from Mathew Iteere, the police commissioner, Kenya’s Chief Justice Willy Mutunga said today in Nairobi, the capital.

“We shall spare no effort in our quest to restore security in our country,” Kimaiyo said at a ceremony in Mutunga’s office. “I promise the Kenyan people that the National Police Service shall deal very firmly with any person attempting to sabotage the holding of peaceful elections in Kenya.”

Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, is preparing for general elections in March, the first since a vote five years ago in which allegations of rigging sparked two months of ethnic clashes that left 1,100 people dead. Growth plunged to 1.5 percent in 2008 from 7 percent a year earlier, as farmers who generate a quarter of gross domestic product left their fields and tourists fled. The shilling weakened 8.5 percent against the dollar and the NSE 20 equity index fell 11 percent during the 60 days of violence.

Calm returned to the country after President Mwai Kibaki signed a peace deal with then-opposition leader Raila Odinga. The accord included a commitment to enact a new constitution that came into force in August 2010, and to overhaul the police and courts. The constitution created a National Police Service, headed by an inspector-general, who is vetted by an independent commission and serves a fixed four-year, single term overseeing three units including the paramilitary wing. Previously, the president selected the head of national police.

‘Fig Leaf’

“The inspector-general of police is independent and takes neither instruction nor direction from anyone, except on policy matters and even then, only in writing,” said Mutunga, the chief justice. “In short, the Kenyan fig leaf called ‘orders from above’ has been shredded.”

Kimaiyo takes the helm as increased inter-clan fighting this year in the Tana Delta between ethnic Orma livestock herders and Pokomo crop farmers has sparked condemnation from the U.S. and the U.K. In the latest incident, at least 39 people, including children and women, were killed in a Dec. 21 raid by Ormas on a Pokomo community near the Kenyan coast.

The United Nations says the groups are jostling for power as constituency boundaries are redrawn and the introduction of a devolved system of government creates more political seats for people to fight over.

Islamist Militants

The country is also facing an increased threat of terrorism after sending troops a year ago into neighboring Somalia to drive out al-Qaeda-linked rebels. The Islamist al-Shabaab militia vowed to retaliate and a string of deadly grenade and bombing attacks that have killed dozens of people since the incursion have highlighted the growing security risk.

Kimaiyo faces the task of improving the police’s image and boosting morale. He pledged to increase salaries and move officers from behind desks or at posts guarding prominent people back to the streets. Police abuses run the gamut from arbitrary arrest and detention, excessive use of force and reports of torture, most commonly beatings, as well as the unexplained deaths of suspects in custody, according a 2011 human rights report on the U.S. State Department’s website.

Bribery Prone

The Kenyan police force is perceived as the country’s most bribery prone organization, with officers receiving an average pay off of 3,557 shillings ($41.70) per incident, according to Transparency International’s annual corruption index for 2011.

Low-paid Kenyan police experience “deplorable living and working conditions,” harming morale and resulting in poor service, Irene Ndungu, a consultant researcher with the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, wrote in an October 2011 research paper. Any changes to top management must be accompanied by salary increases, refurbishments to police stations, new equipment and skills training, Ndungu wrote.

Philip Alston, a UN human rights investigator, in 2009 accused Kenya’s police force of extra-judicial killings during the 2007-08 post-election violence.

Former Kenyan police Commissioner Mohammed Hussein Ali was one of six Kenyans investigated by the International Criminal Court on charges of directing murder, rape, forcible transfer and persecution during the clashes. Prosecutors at the ICC gathered evidence they said showed Ali upheld orders by politicians to ignore attacks by their sympathizers. The charges against him were dropped after a pre-trial hearing.

There are frequent news reports of police gunning down criminals in broad daylight, while fed up citizens lacking confidence in the police often try to protect the community through vigilante justice. At least 49 police officers were killed in attacks last month in the remote northern districts of Kenya, an area that’s been the site of banditry, smuggling and lawlessness for decades.

To contact the reporters on this story: Sarah McGregor in Nairobi at smcgregor5@bloomberg.net; Eric Ombok in Nairobi at eombok@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nasreen Seria at nseria@bloomberg.net

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