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Election in Kenya to test nation’s police

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Saturday, March 2, 2013 - 9:30 am

NAIROBI, Kenya – One of Kenya’s most vilified institutions – its police force – will be in the spotlight next week as it tries to prevent the same type of postelection bloodbath that Kenya suffered during its last presidential election.

The campaigns of Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Prime Minister Raila Odinga were upended today after the Financial Times quoted Odinga as saying his rivals are planning to rig the election and that the consequences “may be worse than the last time.”

Kenya on Monday holds its first presidential vote since the 2007 election devolved into tribal violence that killed more than 1,000 people. At least 405 of those were killed by police when citizens took to the streets to protest a flawed election because they did not trust the judiciary to fairly resolve problems.

A statement from Odinga said the candidate denied talking about violence in the interview and said he felt “absolutely slandered” by the story.

Kenyatta’s camp condemned the interview and called Odinga’s quoted words dangerous and inflammatory.

Since the last election Kenya has revamped its judiciary, and in December a new inspector general of police, David Kimaiyo, was appointed.

Kimaiyo acknowledged, in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, that he has not had enough time to carry out all the needed police reforms ahead of the election. But he said the police are ready to tackle any election security challenges. One way to do that is to get people to leave polling areas after voting, he said.

“They should vote and go straight home and wait for results from the television and radios and celebrate the next day. We have noticed before the people waiting around the polling station cause problems when results are announced that they do not like,” Kimaiyo said.

Kenya’s police force has long been accused of abuses. A United Nations expert, a government-funded human rights group and other rights groups accuse the police of extrajudicial killings. The groups have said the police ran death squads, which killed suspects they are unable to build cases against.

The police have been ranked as Kenya’s most corrupt institution for more than a decade, according to the local chapter of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.

A culture of shake-downs is endemic in the force, former police spokesman Eric Kiraithe admitted last year. This culture has made enforcement of traffic rules difficult because the public chooses to give police bribes instead of paying hefty court fines.

But the police have not been given the resources to succeed. Police are under-equipped, poorly paid and live in deplorable conditions, a combination of factors which have led to low morale. The country’s emergency number – 999 – does not work because its telephone bills have not been paid.

And experts say the years of political interference have led to breakdown of professional standards. This was exposed in January when a man was arrested because he had pretended to be a senior police officer for at least five years and allegedly robbed residents.

Unlike previous police chiefs, the office of inspector general has been given autonomy that shields it against political interference. But for now the immediate challenge for Kimaiyo is to ensure peaceful elections.