|Georgian example shows that police can actually be reformed|
|February 20, 2012|
By MAINA KIAI
I recently visited Georgia, a former Soviet Republic that got independence in 1991. Like any other country, Georgia has its problems and issues, including a cold/warm war with its larger and more powerful neighbour Russia.
But it also has some amazing successes that we would do well to learn.
One of these has been the way it transformed its police, reduced violent crime drastically and increased safety and security across the country in a period of about five years.
It is so secure now that one can walk about easily at 2am without fear anywhere in the country.
After independence, Georgia degenerated into civil turmoil, which ended with the election of Eduard Shevardnadze as President, accompanied by a new generation of young politicians, many from civil society, determined to change the course of the country.
But Shevardnadze dilly-dallied, playing off factions against each other, in the old Soviet way.
Crime and insecurity soared: violent robberies, muggings and insecurity reigned, coupled with a serious economic crisis, commonly referred to as “the hunger years” where getting one meal a day even for professionals was a struggle.
Corruption was rampant for any state services. The police were the worst, setting up road blocks every 200 meters or so to demand bribes.
These bribes, like in Kenya, trickled upwards, with senior officers demanding their cuts each day. Not even internationals in diplomatic vehicles were exempt.
A friend recounted, while accompanying a European anti-corruption mission in 1999, how they were stopped by the police numerous times, only allowed through after parting with kitu kidogo.
Frustrations mounted against Shevardnadze, and the young cadre around him abandoned him, disillusioned, setting up opposition parties to challenge him in the 2003 elections.
These elections became the turning point, and like many old politicians of that era, Shevardnadze rigged them, sparking off the Rose Revolution, as hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the streets in the capital Tbilisi, as well as in other cities, demanding that he resign.
One of the leaders of the protests was Mikheil Saakashvili, then about 36 years old, who had been among the young leaders around Shevardnadze.
After weeks of massive protests, Shevardnadze resigned and snap elections were held that Saakashvili and his allies easily won.
He came in with a new generation of young untainted leaders, sweeping out the old Soviet-trained and linked ones.
Today, finding a leader in their 50s is rare, with majority in senior decision making positions in government, parliament, and even civil society, clearly below the age of 45, with an average age of 35 or so.
In a matter of months, the entire police force was sacked, and road blocks abolished.
Saakashvili and his allies had prepared for this, and a small group of young police officers had been identified as the core of the new force, under the command of a new civilian police chief, with the rank of Minister.
They cleaned out, started fresh recruitment and re-training and a policy of zero tolerance against police corruption instituted.
Corrupt former senior officials were arrested in the full glare of TV cameras and bundled to court to show there were no sacred cows.
Citizens got involved, too, identifying former corrupt officers to be arrested, and a new approach to policing was started, focusing on serving citizens rather than extorting from them, beating them up and oppressing them. And it worked.
Today, the police force is the most respected institution in Georgia. Positions in it are highly sought after, with many people joining the military first to make themselves more competitive.
Officers are well paid, internal and external accountability is strong, and transparency is so vital that police stations are mainly made with glass!
Civilians still command the police: The current police chief is a former businessman, and his primary deputy is a dynamic young woman, aged about 30 years old. There are five other deputies to the police chief, two of whom are trained police officers.
It was political will within the ruling class, as well as new mindset and approaches that proved crucial. While tedious and painstaking, the technical part flowed from that political will and new mindsets.
This is the challenge we face in Kenya, and unless there is real and total support for a transformed, fair and apolitical police force that serves Kenyans, we are simply marking time.
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