Of Guns, VIPs And The Watus

Sonko guns

Internal Security CS Joseph Nkaissery is developing a penchant for issuing threats and ultimatums. He wields his big stick, swatting perceived threats to national security with the fervour of a man pursuing a mosquito with a hammer. Recently, Mombasa governor Hassan Joho was caught in Nkaissery cross hairs. In Nkaissery assertion, Hassan Joho is unfit to own a licensed firearm due to his latest public outbursts which is a reason that could equally apply to the Internal Security CS.

As Kenyans were treated to another public spat about the right of our leaders to bear arms for their own protection, I could not help but marvel at the captive nature of our big man syndrome. Gun ownership in Kenya is a study in class disparity. Out of the 80,000 members of the police force, 11,000 are dedicated to the security requirements of our VVIPs. Cabinet Secretaries and Governors are entitled to between 6-15 members of the police force for protection. Members of Parliament are eligible to two policemen at a bare minimum while High Court judges have access to up to a 5 person security detail. The attainment of the recommended ratio of police officers to civilians has become another laptop dream, deflating public confidence in the police.

It is illegal to own any type of firearm without a valid gun ownership licence issued at the discretion of the Chief Licensing Officer who has the power to deny or revoke an ownership license.

The irony, is the elites of our society who probably never get to use their firearms outside a target range thanks to the privilege of security paid for by taxpayers, enjoy the almost exclusive civilian right of bearing arms.

Sources indicated that they are averagely 6 000 licensed gun owners and God knows how many unlicensed ones exist in the country. In a TV interview in February this year, police spokesman Charles Owino alluded to a suspected criminal gang behind issuance of firearm licences outside the official security procedures.

Owning gun has become a status symbol and even two bit pop celebrities have been caught in episodes of misuse of personal firearms. Gun licensing proportionately increases with the high net worth of private citizens. The recent unchecked terrorist attacks and the ever constant threat of armed criminals, has increased the demand for guns in civilian hands. Owning a gun has now become as equally sensible as getting health insurance.

Meanwhile, the hoi polloi, 40 million strong have been conditioned to accept the ineffective status of an overstretched and demoralized police force whose primary mandate is VIP security. Unarmed private security personnel who are supposed to help us sleep better at night, specialize in manning gates, running errands and washing cars. The working classes most in need of personal protection that a firearm seemingly guarantees are explicitly banned from the thought of gun ownership unless has one has no qualms getting branded a criminal, bandit or terrorist.

Poor people cannot be trusted with guns. Most residents of rural Kenya see no need to challenge the status quo and make do. No real man in shags goes to bed at night without a panga or a rungu beside his bed. In the Nairobi’s informal urban settlements, self-defence and prayer are the only options. Paradoxically, legally licensed guns are killing more youth than criminal and terror elements. In places like Mathare, a young Kenyan is more likely to be felled by a police bullet than by a criminals’. Hip hop pioneers, Kalamashaka in their hit number Tasfiri Hii stated back in the day, of the zero difference between polisi and jambazi in urban ghettos. Not much has changed since those poignant lyrics were dropped.

To be young and poor is to be born a crime. Policing of informal urban settlements profiles all young men as potential criminals to be neutralized at the slightest hint of suspicion. Public apathy towards the government lip service commitment to national security has created a space for extrajudicial executions of poor young men all over the country on the grounds of fighting crime and terrorism.

These are relics of Britain’s colonial legacy that created a police force to protect the interests of the elites and keep the masses in their place. Class privilege has always underlined gun ownership in Kenya, quieting the fears of the haves against an uprising from the have-nots. One hundred unarmed civilians can be controlled by a single individual with a gun.

Those who control the economic or material forces our society, commandeer the priorities of the nation. The interests of the wealthy few at the top have become the dominant ideology of the country. Personal interests of the leadership are packaged as common interest of all. Like in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, some of our animals are more equal than others and the security needs of the masses cannot take precedence over the safety of our wahemishwa. And, that is just the way it is.

Oyunga Pala is a Kenyan writer, curator and editor. This blog examines the texture of everyday Kenyan and African life and the challenges of modernity and disillusion. The writings commonly feature the struggle of the Kenyan male to maintain integrity in contemporary society.

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