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Gangsters now control the lives of every citizen

Who runs this country? The government, you say? Really? Ask yourself this: who has control over your physical movements, your social and economic opportunities, your investments and your peace of mind? The answer, I’m afraid, is that this control is in the hands of the violent gangsters who are still rampaging unchecked across the land.

I wrote about the issue of security in July last year, and hoped it would be for the last time. Alas! Violent crime is still rampant. Last week’s headline incidents: a senior corporate manager is executed; a deputy police commissioner is attacked outside his house; and a former minister and his family are held hostage in their home for hours. And that’s just one week’s worth of crime news.

It beggars belief that the Narc government still seems unable to give this issue the importance it deserves. We really don’t need any police statistics to realise that we live in what is effectively a war zone. Over the past few years, nearly every single member of my extended family and circle of friends has been involved in a violent attack of some sort or other. If you, the average reader of this column, carry out the same assessment I wager it will be true for you as well. Statistically, this tells us that the situation is truly out of control. When nearly everyone you know has been affected by violent crime, you know we’re in deep trouble.

But does the government know it? It shows us no evidence that it does. We do not need smug and smiling ministers telling us about committees, sub-committees and 10-year plans; we need action! And we need it now. How many more random deaths are necessary? How many more skilled and gifted people need to leave the country for safer pastures? How many more victims need to carry the psychological scars of trauma through the rest of their lives? What will it take, an attack on Citizen No. 1 before this government wakes up?

Perhaps an economic justification is necessary? Right, I’ll give you one. This is what a prevailing atmosphere of fear of violent crime does to an economy. It causes a dramatic loss of productivity, through loss of life, migration of skills and by reducing the incentive to work hard. It causes a loss in investment, both from victims who leave the country and from potential investors who shy away. It introduces unnecessary social costs into the economy: additional burdens on justice and anti-crime systems, and the costs of private security arrangements. It reduces the quality of life in the country by instilling a mood of fear, hatred and paranoia into everyday activity.

World Bank research published in 2002 estimated that in the Latin American region the cost of crime could be as high as 19 per cent of GDP. I have not seen any similar research done in this part of the world, but do not have any reason to believe the figures would be any different. A fifth of our national income: does anyone in government wish to pay attention now?

There is no doubt that chronic insecurity is a serious drag on our economic development. Professor Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, and possibly the world’s most widely respected economist, equates development with the provision of personal and social freedom. We are not just free as a country when we are developed; we need to be free first in order to develop. Thus, if we give our citizens certain basic freedoms – economic opportunities, political freedoms, social facilities, transparency guarantees, and protective security – we will have laid the foundations for our future success.

Unrelenting insecurity attacks all of these freedoms. Is our failure to develop this nation over 40 years a surprise, when viewed in this light? We have given the common people of this country – who are the engine of the economy – a crippling loss of freedom for at least a decade. The poor have no choices when it comes to insecurity. They cannot choose to move away from their hovels when gangs target their areas. They cannot engage private security firms. They cannot construct large walls and electric fences. They cannot change jobs because they are attacked every time they come home late from work. For them, the problem is not sporadic; it is an everyday, remorseless affliction.

Why should we have any hope that this economy can take off one day, when we refuse to address the basics of personal freedom?

The government does, of course, have a plan. It plans to increase the police-to-population ratio. It plans to retrain the police force. It plans to provide modern equipment and technology. It plans to improve policemen’s terms and conditions of service. All of these excellent things will happen in due course, in the fullness of time, as funds become available.

When your house is on fire, as our city fathers found out this week, it does not help to run around waving a plan for future fire prevention. What you need is water to put the damn fire out first! The government may indeed have a long-term plan for improving the security of this nation, but what it has singularly failed to do is to also provide some ‘quick wins’ – easy-to-do measures that yield immediate results.

This is how any manager worth his salt might have attacked the issue of providing quick results:

Firstly, declare insecurity to be a national emergency (which it is). Pick out the best police bosses in the country and form a small, focused task force headed by the minister for internal security. Ensure that this team has vocal and regular backing from the president himself.

Secondly, focus on the handful of organised gangs that are at the centre of the worst violent crimes. Gather intelligence, offer rewards (always a winner in Kenya), plant informants. Lay traps for them and search out their hideouts. Attack them remorselessly.

Thirdly, set some performance targets: number of gangs dismantled, number of hard-core criminals captured, etc. Review results against these measures on a weekly basis, holding the police chiefs accountable for these results.

Fourthly, immediately sack and imprison any police officer found aiding and abetting criminals. Dismantle mercilessly the network of crime that exists within the police force.

Lastly, double the number of armed patrols on our streets and in our slums for a six-month period. Spend the money to reassure the public until some sanity returns.

All of this can be done today, while the longer-term plan unfolds itself. It is a humble layperson’s common-sense approach to providing immediate results. It is basic and simplistic. It is what is needed. It does not require vast sums of money, just focused attention. The Narc government took power from Kanu with relative ease. It now needs to wrest power from the criminals who control all our lives.

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