Who is Policing the Police? Kenya’s Lame Duck Oversight Mechanism

Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: Kenya

Organisation: The Elephant (www.theelephant.info)

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 12 May 2019

Credit: Mwalimu Mati

Project description:

After years of clamoring by the civil society and other actors within the human rights fraternity, Kenya eventually established a civilian led statutory Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) in 2012. The agency was mandated to oversee the working (and reforming) of the country’s police service, its core designation being receiving complaints from vicitms of police excess. At the end of its inugiral six year term, IPOA had received nearly 10,000 complaints against the police, and had secured a paltry 3 convictions, a performance which elicited heavy criticism from the Kenyan public. This piece investigates the workings of IPOA using data

Impact reached:

No individual piece of journalism either by a Kenyan or foreign journalist has ever reported on the workings of the country’s Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) the way this piece of longform reportage did as will be evidenced in its ten parts, where each segment speaks to a specific component of what makes IPOA what it is, bottlenecks and all. For starters, in the course of researching on the piece, I made contact with the leadership of the agency requesting evidence based answers as to how IPOA is working to address the now over 12,000 complaints by aggrieved civilians against the Kenya police, seeing that the agency now has a new management board which took its leadership in late 2018. These querries forced the agency to compile a 15 page report, which was an exclusive. As such, since the release of IPOA’s 2018 end of term report when it’s inaugural board was exiting office, the report given to me by the agency was the second comprehensive communication the agency was giving to the Kenyan public, albeit through a journalist. The leader of the agency’s technical committee told me as much. This means that apart from being the go to piece of journalism by anyone looking to read on Kenya’s struggling police oversight mechanism (including by a UN Special Rapportuer who commended the reporting), this project became the trigger which jolted IPOA back into action, a reminder that the public is watching, and that if they imagined no one was questioning their workings, then my querries were a reminder that someone had an eye on them. The project forced IPOA to do what it is supposed to do but it wasn’t doing, which is to release substantive progress reports, the one instigated by me being their second comprehensive report in 8

Techniques/technologies used:

The push for the establishment of a civilian led police oversight mechanism in Kenya had been in the works for decades before the country’s 2010 inaugurated new constitution provided for such a provision in law. It however took a further push and pull for the agency to finally take shape two years later in 2012. As such, reporting on this subject meant going back memory lane, meaning speaking to civil society players who had been part of the journey and revisiting tens of relevent reports, including WikiLeaks cables which evidenced the push by both the American and British embassies in Nairobi for the establishment of such an agency while the Kenyan state resisted. I therefore dug up a lot of historical references to illustrate the long journey travelled.

The second step was for me to assmeble data collected since the 2012 establishment of the agency, where up to date there have been over 12,000 verified reported cases of police malpractice, a good percentage being cases of extrajudicial killings in Nairobi slums. This data was then juxtaposed with the historical demand for IPOA, yet upon its establishment, the agency has so far managed only 6 convictions, to mean that either the agency isn’t fit for purpose, or as some suspect, it was set up to fail.

After visiting the archives and connecting the dots from the need for IPOA, its establishment, the monumental number of cases in its hands, and its documented poor performance, I then investigated why the agency was under perfroming, backing this up with corresponding data including low budgets and a lack of adequte members of staff. I then concluded by weaving in recommendations, based on police recruitment data, which showed a flawed recruitment pattern. The project therefore not only reported IPOA’s failures, but offered a way forward. 

What was the hardest part of this project?

One of the hardest element in this project was the opaqueness of both the Kenya Police and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), such that no individual employee of either the police or IPOA (including their spokesmen) wishes to be quoted on record for speaking for their respective institutions. This therefore meant canvasing through the use of personal referals and the likes, to a point where the IPOA had to convene a board meeting for them to respond to my querries since non of its board members wished to be seen to be the ones speaking on behalf of the agency.

After going around the opacity, the other lingering challenge remained the eternal threat to journalists seen to be poking their noses in police malpractices, since it exposes both the police as law breakers while simultenously blowing the cover of mitigating agencies such as IPOA and the Kenya police’s internal affairs unit, both of which receive thousands of complaints against the police annually but are forever dragging their feet in prosecuting wrong doers. Tackling this subject is therefore seen as threatening the peace within the police and the oversight agencies, thereby putting the journalist’s safety at risk.

Lastly, working on this project and looking at the attendant risks confimed the limited cover journalists have, since depite reporting these potential dangers to editors and grant givers (the project was as a result of a grant awarded to me by the Institute of War and Peace Reporting), it remained apparent that for the most part, journalists are left to their own devices. All that was offered were half hearted promises that in case of any danger some form of intervention would follow, yet there was no evidence or written commitment about the same, including their declining to offer relevant insurance policies.



What can others learn from this project?

The big take away from this project is that no matter how voluminous, sensitive and complicated the data is, applying the skill of narrative and weaving through the data set a step at a time eventually yields a readable, informative and enjoyable piece of journalism, even if the subject matter is sad and heartbreaking. This project reminds journalists that in staying true to the profession’s primary role of informing/educating/entertaining the public and holding power to account, it is important to not forget that these should be coupled with the need to employ language, technology and similar aids so as to remain a good storyteller. For without getting audiences hooked/enagged to a story, then the story may not serve the purposes its meant to. The project therefore illustrates the need for getting the right mix of facts and figures and marrying them to elaborate storytelling, what one may call a win-win scenario. The second point the project presents is that data has to be made accessible to diverse audiences in the most simplified version possible without losing its essence and legitimacy. Sometimes, the whole concept of data journalism may seem inaccessible to either journalists or audiences, something which this project has successfully demystified through proper step by step context building in an informative and entertaining/readable fashion, eventually giving the heavy data a soft landing since it comes cushioned in relatable and accessible enablers. The other point this project enhances is that a lot of quality data is under ultilized. This is because in countries such as Kenya, a lot of governement agencies release piles of data domiciled in their websites, which no one hardly capitalizes on. This is therefore a reminder of the huge volumes of readily available data t utilization doesn’t have to be boring or limited to . under

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