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Badrudeen Shariff looks into some of the reasons for police corruption and unfair treatment of Somalis in Kenya – and questions whether giving fair treatment to police in the first place would not prevent such problems.

A story is told of two Somali women who visited Kijabe hospital for medical treatment. At the gate, they met a uniformed watchman. They underwent the usual security check up and proceeded to finish their business in the hospital. As they were waiting to start their journey back home, the watchman approached them and asked “Mama ni saa ngapi? (Mum, what is the time?). One of the women opened her purse and handed him a Ksh500 note. The watchman was surprised and delighted. He then said, “Asante sana mama, lakini nilikuwa nataka kujua ni saa ngapi?”(Thank you mum, but I was asking about the time). The women looked at each other and concluded that he was not satisfied with the amount already given. They added another Ksh1000. The watchman walked away surprised at the womens’ generosity. Unbeknown to him, the women were refugees from the camps, who had come to Nairobi through a UNCHR program. And they had assumed he was a police officer asking for a bribe.

The story reveals the uneasy relationship between the security apparatus and Somalis in Kenya. A mutual mistrust dates back to Kenyan independence, when the state ostracized the Somalis as third-class citizens. For a Somali to obtain a service from any government office, money must exchange hands. This is now an accepted norm. I remember when I was applying for a passport; I attached all my documents as required. The immigration officer started asking me questions such as: “What is your name? Which school did you go to?” I was incensed and told him that the information he was seeking was on the papershe held.. He replied, “These mean nothing; you could have obtained them from river road”. Eventually, and only after a fight, i obtained my travel document, but until today I have problems at the airport due to that passport: they had then used my documents to issue a new passport to someone who must have paid them, and issued me with a replacement passport. Even the dates of its first issue and its replacement are almost the same, raising suspicions. I am also regarded as a frequent traveller since I have a replacement passport, but there are no records to show that.

I had a similar story with the national identity card. When the people with whom I had applied were collecting theirs, I came to the registration offices to collect mine. To my surprise, my file had not even been forwarded to Nairobi. The reason I was given was that I had not signed. It did not matter that everyone else had “xxxxxx” in the place of a signature. Nobody had told me to sign anywhere. Only God knows the noise I made. This is simply one of the ways that officials make the process hard, to convince you to part with something - and I knew I was paying for not having paid a bribe.

So when I see Kenyans cheering the police crackdown and mass arrests in Eastleigh, which have targeted the Somali community in order to “flush out” terrorists, I cringe in pain. Any sane person would support an operation to rid criminals from our midst. But I can bet my life that the operation in Eastliegh will not rid us of any criminal. It is just a means for the police to extort money from both the criminals, and the innocent majority. Have you ever asked yourself why the police are always so trigger happy to conduct swoops in Eastleigh and Northern Kenya? It is all about money, and the perceived lower status of Somali citizens. In Baragoi, 40 police officers were massacred in a single day. Nothing was done. To the opposite extreme, in northern Kenya, one officer is killed and somehow that justifies the massacre of locals and collective punishment.

Most of those who were arrested paid for their freedom. The criminals would havebeen the first ones to pay up because they have financiers. Many people were not arrested from the outset, because they knew what they were expected to do. They paid up before “tufike mbele”. I know of someone who paid Ksh20,000 despite having all the requisite documents to show his citizenship. Most of those in the concentration camps in Kasarani are the poor who could not afford to bribe their way out.
The officers taking part in the operation are “kurutus” who had their pass out parade just a day before. They are young men and women who swore in front of the president to be of service to their country and people. I saw them yesterday with new and neatly pressed police uniforms. They had cheeky smiles on their faces and to the undiscerning eye, they looked happy in their service. I don’t know why, but maybe it was the allure of earning handsomely in their first assignment. Using new officers for such an operation was wrong. They have started their service on the wrong footing. They have tasted the sweetness of bribes, and they will never look back.

Rape, looting and harassments have been reported. We may not be able to verify all the reports, but it just takes one to look at what our officers did at the Westgate shopping mall in September. In the middle of a disaster, after a shooting by disguised gunmen, and in the glare of local and international media and with CCTV cameras mounted in the mall, our officers shamelessly looted the place. The government denied everything despite the overwhelming evidence. So there is very little to make me doubt when I hear that police officers in the ongoing operation found a lady alone in the middle of the night, and started harassing her sexually while mocking her: “Mrembo mzuri kama wewe unakaa peke yako”(How come you are alone and you are such a beauty).

Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. Those who killed innocent worshippers in churches need to be brought to book. It is the best we can hope for at the moment. But injustice cannot count as justice for another injustice.

Inspector General Kimiayo and his cohorts should stop abusing our intelligence and playing with our lives. If what they are telling us is true, where were they when Alshabab was migrating to Eastleigh? Why can’t somebody take responsibility? Why are we not asking questions instead of following these guys blindly? These are things that can be solved through proper intelligence and policework. But unfortunately, as journalist Boniface Mwangi said, intelligence gathering requires police officers with intelligence. Instead, we hire our officers based on a lack, rather than an abundance, of intelligence.. To have proper security we need to improve the conditions of officers who currently earn peanuts and live in squalor. Otherwise, they will continue taking bribes and harassing the innocent while working in league with criminals.

* Badrudeen Shariff blogs at

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