KENYA: Pastors want guns for personal security, but the flock?

gunsFrom “normal” robberies, murders and muggings to rampant sexual violence, inter-ethnic skirmishes, cattle raids and “terrorist” attacks, insecurity is a critical national challenge in Kenya. Now some church leaders want to carry a gun.

Last week a group clerics in the coastal city of Mombasa said they want the government to give them firearms to protect themselves. They spoke at the burial of a pastor killed by unknown gunmen.

This week the Secretary General of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) Rev Peter Karanja urged President Uhuru Kenyatta to improve security in the coastal region where suspected Muslim militants have attacked churches, but also advised priests to carry firearms if they felt threatened.

Rev Karanja’s suggestion comes days after the Inspector General of Police suggested the government could consider putting more guns in the hands of civilians to improve security.

“We are not saying that all pastors should carry arms but those who feel threatened should be able to get licensed arms,” Rev Karanja said.

But the pastors have not offered any suggestion about whether the faithful should buy guns as well. Only a small number of private citizens in Kenya are licensed to carry a gun. It is a security measure many Kenyans struggling to get by cannot afford.

All they can do is rely on the much maligned, ill-equipped and corrupt police officers to protect them. It is believed that rogue police officers collude with criminals, including hiring out their firearms, hence the high level of insecurity nationally.

Yet every time, security chiefs and politicians keep urging members of the public to assist the police to curb runaway insecurity. Currently the government has announced “Nyumba Kumi” initiative, whereby citizens are urged to know at least ten people in their neighbourhood and to inform the police whenever they notice suspicious characters around.

But whether the initiative will succeed is anybody’s guess. Kenyans generally dislike police officers as most conduct themselves unprofessionally and are, even now, used by the government to brutally repress dissent.

The Kenya Police Service is regularly ranked as the most corrupt public institution in Kenya in various surveys. A recent study by the statutory Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) indicated that one in every three people interviewed during the survey on police services had been a victim of police malpractice — like assault, brutality, falsification of evidence, bribery and threat of imprisonment.

And whereas police stations around the country are run down and lack basic facilities to provide effective security, and the officers on duty are usually inadequate, the best-trained and armed police officers in Kenya are those that guard the country’s political and bureaucratic elites, from the president down.

Last year, Kenya’s second largest daily, Standard, reported that then President Mwai Kibaki had a 200-member police force, supplemented by another standby unit wherever he visits, complete with air evacuation and armoured protection. Then Prime Minister Raila Odinga followed, with round-the-clock security of about 60 officers.

Police sources quoted by the paper revealed that 2,500 police officers out of the national total of 40,000, some of whom are in traffic department, guard ministers, members of parliament, politicians, and top government officials. Insiders said about 1,600 officers from the 30,000-member Administration Police complement them.

If they get firearms, the priests will guarantee themselves some measure of personal security. But what about their flocks and the rest of the citizenry?

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