Kenya President Mwai Kibaki has removed the head of Kenya's much-criticized police force, Mohammed Ali. A police reform task force recommended to the president last month the top leadership of the institution be overhauled.
The police force has come under fire for a number of alleged human-rights violations, including extra-judicial killings and a violent clampdown on post-election protests in late 2007 and early 2008. The watchdog group, Human Rights Watch, also accused the police in June of using methods of torture in sparsely-populated northeast Kenya.
Kenya's police force has repeatedly denied the accusations.
A report released by Kenya's Transparency International chapter listed Kenya's police as the most corrupt institution in all of Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya.
Elements of Kenya's civil society have been calling for Ali's removal for a while. But the fact that the outgoing police commissioner has been moved to a new position as Kenya's postmaster general irks those who might be expected to applaud the move.
Kenya Human Rights Commission Executive Director Wanyeki Muthoni found the switch especially unsatisfying. "I think the changes are another slap in the face. You do not reward a police commissioner whose force has been implicated in human-rights violations with a new appointment. You charge the person," Muthoni said.
Those advocating for reform are also dismayed that Ali is being replaced with Mathew Kirai Iteere, previously head of the nation's General Service Unit, a police subdivision that protects the president and responds to acts of civil disorder. The General Service Unit has been accused of many of the same abuses that has plagued the police force as a whole.
International Center for Conflict and Policy Director Ndungu Wainaini described the move as "musical chairs." "In Kenya one of the things I know for fact is that there is a high level of entrenched interest within both the security apparatus and the civil service, which means that for you to be able to carry out substantial and far-reaching reforms, I think you have to look at a radical vetting of the public officials. Otherwise, moving one public servant from one corner to another one does not help at all," Wainaini said.
According to Muthoni, what is really needed is for the police leadership to face legal action for alleged abuses. Otherwise, she says, changing the names on the doors will have little ultimate effect. "Reforms have to start with the possibility of accountability, internally and externally. Everything else, although necessary, will not change the culture of policing in this country, which is what we fundamentally want," she said.
The U.S. embassy released a cautiously-worded statement saying the president's actions represented a "potential first step" in reforms. It urged the government to seriously consider all the recommendations made by the police reform task force.