DOI: 10.12924/johs2020.16020044 |Publication Date: 18 June 2020

Protecting the Citizenry—or an Instrument for Surveillance? The Development of Community-oriented Policing in Kenya

Stian Lid 1, * and Clifford Collins Omondi Okwany 2
1 Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research, Oslo Metropolitan University, Oslo, Norway
2 Department of Political Science and Public Administration, The University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya
* Corresponding author

Community-oriented policing (COP) has become an important innovation in policing throughout the world, with variations among countries and regions, and over time. We identify and discuss contextual factors that determine the formation of COP policies, by investigating two contradictory national COP policies in Kenya: Constitutional Community Policing and Nyumba Kumi. Our study draws on primary data collection and secondary literature on contextual factors. The two competing Kenyan COP policies show, first, that there are significant variations in the nature and content of policing policies defined as COP; secondly, that the diversified and competing local contexts in transitional countries, involving reform processes while key elements of the past regimes are maintained, create significant room for manoeuvre for the actors involved. That enables the formation of radically different COP policies, in Kenya represented by a reformative COP policy as well as a repressive COP policy. Thirdly, the Kenyan case illustrates the risk of subversion of core intentions of COP: government actors have promoted COP policies focused more on information flow than on democratization and police reform. As a result, COP in Kenya has become more of an instrument for surveillance than a tool for protecting the citizenry. This development demonstrates clear historical continuities with colonial policing, significantly enabled by the emerging threat of terrorism. We argue that COP policies building on such criteria are counterproductive and are likely to fail. To avoid the misuse of the label ‘COP’ and legitimation of repressive policing practices, a common coherent definition of COP is required—one that at least ensures the needs and rights of citizens and local communities.

Keywords: Africa; community policing; Kenya; policy formation; security reforms


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