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Kenyans Take Up Arms as Crime Surges - 2002-07-29

In Kenya, a study shows large numbers of people in Nairobi are arming themselves because of rising crime.

Levels of violent crime in Nairobi have soared during the past ten years. Carjackings and armed robberies are now a daily occurrence.

In response, about 10 percent of people in Kenya's capital told researchers they now carry a weapon to protect themselves from attack. The most popular weapons are guns, knives, sticks and clubs.

But the analysts, from a private research group, the Institute for Security Studies, say they believe the real figure probably is much higher, maybe as much as 20 percent.

People say the reason they are arming themselves is because police are not providing the protection they need. Many say police forces are trigger happy and corrupt.

Police complain they do not have the resources they need to effectively fight the rising numbers of crimes.

Taya Weiss of the Institute of Security Studies says most of the people questioned by researchers say they recognize that part of the solution is to cooperate with the police. "When you see firearms within your communities, it's a collective attitude to say, that's not okay, she said. "Or if you see a crime being committed, instead of protecting somebody or having communities that harbor criminals, even within their own families, that putting the security of the community first, and looking at human security first would be a real shift, and it seems people have supported that idea."

Simiyu Werunga, of the Nairobi Central Business District Association says businesses have sponsored public meetings to try to rebuild trust between the police and private citizens. "As we talk to the community we tell them the few policemen who are supposed to assist you in maintaining security cannot honestly achieve it because we have figures," he said. "The ratio is one policeman to 1,000 Kenyans. It extremely impossible even in any country for that kind of ratio to work. So we said, Let's put the people and the police together. We want you people to be partners with the police force."

Officials say one of the most successful examples of community-police cooperation is in Kenya's coastal Watamu district. Local residents in Watamu have provided police with four-wheel drive vehicles and mobile phones.