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Volume 13 Number 2
New Delhi, Summer 2006

The Police, the People, the Politics: CHRI Launches 5 reports on Policing in East Africa

Daniel Woods
Consultant, Access to Justice Programme, CHRI

Over the last four years, CHRI has been involved in researching the police in three countries of East Africa – Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The research has focussed on two main issues. The first is the level of illegitimate political control that is wielded by governments in each of the countries and the impact that any such control has had on the community’s experience of the police. The second is policing budgets in the region and the impact that budgets have had on police performance, crime management and community safety.

Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania share geographic borders and a common colonial history. Each of the countries experienced life as a British colony – in Kenya and Uganda, first as trading posts of the East Africa Trading Company and later as British colonies, and in Tanzania after the fall of the Germans on the mainland and the British role in the abolition of the slave trade in the islands of Zanzibar. The British left East Africa with a legacy of regime-style policing – police forces that were put in place to protect foreign settlers and keep the British firmly in power.

Kenya Police Accountability Report 2006

Kenya won independence in 1963, with democratic politics negotiated with the British and based on the British system. However, Kenya quickly became a one-party state, and the police were able to make full use of the lessons learned from regime policing under the British by supporting the government, suppressing dissent and focusing on the strict maintenance of law and order. In Uganda, independence in 1962 quickly led to decades of political instability, coups and violence. The army was a major player on the political stage and the police became more and more militarised as time went on. In Tanzania, independence of the mainland in 1961 and of Zanzibar in 1963 led to the creation of a political union and the building of a one-party agrarian socialist state. Again, the regime-style police left behind by the British was used to support the ruling regime with little regard for democracy, accountability or transparency.

The community’s experience of the police in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania is also similar. In each country, the police are characterised by violence, torture, brutality, impunity, partiality, corruption and abuse of process. These are all hallmarks of the regime policing system handed down by the British and cultivated by the single party states.

Today, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania all profess to adhere to basic human rights principles and the ideals of democracy. Each country is at a different stage in its democratic journey, with various levels of success. However, a common theme is that the police that are in place are the old style regime police forces, not the kind of democratic, accountable and community focused police service that will help support the development of democracy in each country and the region more generally.

Community, civil society and international calls for police reform in East Africa are growing, and CHRI is adding its voice with the release of five reports produced by its East Africa Project. The first three reports look at police accountability in each of the countries of East Africa, covering the history of the police, the community experience of policing and the police experience of policing, while setting out a reform agenda for each country. Two further reports analyse policing budgets in Kenya and Uganda. The reports will be launched in Arusha, Tanzania, on 12 June 2006, during a regional conference “The police, the people, the politics: Police accountability in East Africa” facilitated by CHRI and the East Africa Law Society. For a copy of any of the reports, further details regarding the East Africa Project or more information about the conference, contact Daniel Woods at CHRI headquarters

CHRI Newsletter, Summer 2006

Editors: Mary Rendell, Aditi Datta & Clare Doube , CHRI;
Print: Ranjan Kumar Singh,
Web Developer: Swayam Mohanty, CHRI.
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to all contributors

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The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) is an independent international NGO mandated to ensure the practical realisation of human rights in the Commonwealth.