Reforms and Kenya’s Security Sector Debates

Feb 13, 13 Reforms and Kenya’s Security Sector Debates

An integral aspect of institutional changes taking place in Kenya are the ongoing security sector reforms. Individual liberties and extended freedoms have been guaranteed by an advanced Bill of Rights in the Constitution of Kenya 2010. This is bound to transform the republic’s perspectives on the precautions, safeguards and sanctuary provided for by the state within the confines of the law. In the Kenyan context security reforms are meant to prevent a re-occurrence of past injustices and to address prevalent challenges faced due to emerging threats, ineffective administrative practices or managerial deeds. These alterations are moves towards enhancing accountability, professionalism, institutionalism and legislative efficiency.

New legislation facilitating this process at various stages: some having been passed into law; some awaiting publication after being approved by Cabinet; some currently under review as stake holder consultations are being conducted; and others being put on hold. Their purpose is to establish a democratic, institutional command structure for the country’s security apparatus. In this sense state security is perceived through the logic of the defense and policing of the republic. State security being the maintenance of a country’s survival through the projection of economic, diplomatic political power, whereas state policing is the enforcement of the rule of law, the protection of property and the limiting of civil disorder.

In giving effect to the constitution; legislation on the former, has granted functions to appointed organs while setting up roles for proposed participants. Meanwhile, in facilitating the latter; legislation has provided for additional functions and powers in law enforcement by setting new standards in the qualification for appointments and in allowing civilian oversight over procedures by establishing an independent authority.

However, both have drawn considerable opposition. In the case of state security, resistance is primarily due to the exceptional nature of provisions that exclude elected officials from security planning and management at lower levels and allow infringements on privacy. This has raised fears of arbitrary and unlicensed acts of force and pervasive acts of cruelty or torture by the security apparatus in any regime. This is particularly due to a lack of procedure in the drafting of the laws, which may perpetuate impunity through the rejection of meaningful, open public scrutiny and deliberation of its operations or institutions. Debates on state policing have largely been a clash of institutional vs principled perspectives; with the establishment arguing for the integrity of security operations and structure, while extended entities are demanding a shift in the policing regime that is more responsive to public expectations.

The scrutiny of security should not fail to examine its actions, decisions, and political consequences. This should help determine levels of accountability, legitimacy and public judgment through societal mediations that address the collective and individual fears in the country. It therefore demands a combination of embracing the fears of possibilities with institutionalized positions, principled capital and public insights in the politics of security, that claims rights in the formulation of appropriately answerable decisions.

Ultimately, debate should explicitly acknowledge the local nature of threats and an end to prevalent ‘denialism’ and a shift in the country’s perceptions at all levels – from being a victim to becoming a source of insecurity. An acknowledgement of this wider context should encourage inclusiveness. The outcome and long term viability of such debate is fundamentally hinged on how these reforms should extend coordination; not only within the security services but also with other agencies and authorities. Accomplished security policy should collaborate proactively in the development and expansion of mechanisms into trustworthy security communes that will consequently shape the nature of work, the remit of oversight, as well as influencing declassification so as to explicate what should or should not be considered as activities befitting our national security.


Image from US Army Africa