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Kenyans Divided Over Surveillance Camera Plans

  • Gabe Joselow

A closed circuit television camera (CCTV)

A closed circuit television camera (CCTV)

NAIROBI - Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga says the country has received funding from China to install surveillance cameras in an effort to fight terrorism in Kenyan cities.

Odinga told Kenya's parliament Wednesday the government will soon be installing the closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras across the country, starting with the capital Nairobi.

"We are going to start the installation almost immediately," said Odinga. "And this is going to spread to other cities, Mombasa is next, then Kisumu, and other cities, Mr. Speaker."

He said Kenya received a $100-million grant from China for the project, and that the goal is to stop terrorism and improve security.

On the streets of Nairobi, Kenyan citizens had mixed reactions about the project.

Kenyan Albert Bwire expressed support for the cameras.

"I think that is a good idea, because CCTV camera will be able to capture any criminal activities, especially in this moment of elections," said Bwire. "I think security forces will also be able to curb certain plans by the criminals, the gangs are planning to interrupt the election. So I think I do support that issue of CCTV cameras."

Benson Njunguna was also supportive.

"You have heard of so much money being used somewhere and it does not help, but I think this can help," added Njunguna.

But Jimmy Kariuki was against the plan.

"I do not think so. Why are they targeting only big towns? I usually go to church, it is outside Nairobi, it is only in the village, what are they deciding about us? Those people in the village. I do not think - it is not worth the money, definitely," Kariuki noted.

Alois Gitonga expressed worry that corruption would sideline the surveillance program.

"You know we have been experiencing so many such scandals before. So I cannot tell you the truth how it is going to succeed or whether somebody is going to pocket that money. Because there are so many projects, where money has been pocketed. So there's no guarantee for this one," said Gitonga.

The Kenyan government's counter-terrorism efforts have focused in large part on the Somali community.

Militants from Somalia have staged a number of cross-border raids in the past year, abducting tourists and aid workers, and attacking Kenyan police.

A Kenyan-Somali who works in marketing, Ibrahim Mohammed, told said that he thinks the CCTV could actually be a good thing for Somalis.

"Every crime that happens it is blamed on Somalis. So the camera might put clear who exactly is doing the wrong things," Mohammed said.

Abdi Shekih Mohammed, another Kenyan-Somali has similar feelings.

"I support that initiative, by the China government, Kenya government, to install CC - is it CCTV? - yeah, but the issue of taking Somalis as terrorists, I think it is a negative perception," he added.

Surveillance cameras are used widely in cities around Europe.

In London, there are an estimated 600,000 cameras for a population of 7.5 million, which is one camera for every 13 people.

CCTV footage played a large role in Britain's investigation of the 2005 London subway bombing that killed 52 people.

But a 2008 study commissioned by the British Home Office concluded that CCTV cameras have had little impact on crime, except in parking lots.

The widespread use of cameras has also raised privacy concerns among civil rights groups.

Whether it serves as a comfort or a concern, Kenyans will soon be going to sleep knowing the government is watching.
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