Kenya: ICTJ Paper Calls Failed Police Reform a Missed Opportunity to Restore Public Trust


Nairobi, November 22, 2017—A new paper from the International Center for Transitional Justice on police vetting in Kenya charges that the Kenyan government has failed to undertake needed reforms to root out corruption and abuses from the National Police Service and restore public trust in the police. Four years into the vetting process, the National Police Service Commission, tasked with vetting over 77,000 officers, has faced allegations of corruption and been criticized for failing to vet senior police officers implicated in graft and other crimes.

The 12-page paper, "Failure to Reform: A Critique of Police Vetting in Kenya", contends that the police vetting process may be a missed opportunity to confront the deep-seated culture of impunity in the National Police Service and to break up corruption networks. Reforming the police became a national priority after the 2007–08 postelection violence, when hundreds of Kenyans were killed at the hands of law enforcement. Vetting was seen as necessary to promote peace and reconciliation in the country. Yet, despite its known importance, police vetting has been largely defanged by repeated shortcomings and mismanagement by the National Police Service Commission, leaving police ranks essentially intact.

“Since the police vetting process began in 2013, Kenya has witnessed continued police misconduct, suspected extrajudicial killings and a lack of professionalism in investigating gross human rights violations, which have undermined efforts to foster public trust in the National Police Service,” says Christopher Gitari Ndung’u, head of ICTJ’s Office in Kenya and author of the report.

The paper identifies several persistent challenges hampering the police vetting process. Among the most serious, the vetting process has had an extremely low removal rate of just 2 percent, according to ICTJ calculations. This number is in line with the similarly low figure given in a statement by Johnston Kavuludi, Chair of the National Police Service Commission, in July, when he suggested that the Commission’s removal rate is 4 percent. Such a low removal rate, explains Gitari Ndung’u, is an indicator of weak investigations and, by extension, a defective vetting process.

The paper also charges that at the Commission’s current rate of vetting 627 officers per year, it would take 122 years to vet all 77,000 officers in the National Police Service. Under the existing model, the National Police Service Commission seats and interviews each police officer individually, which is a lengthy and time-consuming approach. The paper recommends that the Commission develop a new model. It also contends that the Commission has failed to provide critical information on how it makes decisions on whether to retain or remove officers.

Despite years of requests to rectify the failing police vetting process from victims’ and human rights groups, including ICTJ, the response from the National Police Service Commission and other parts of government has been “limp and non-committal,” says Gitari Ndung’u.

“For its part, the National Police Service Commission has failed to substantively respond to concerns raised by human rights defenders monitoring the process that would have allowed for a better understanding of the weaknesses of the vetting process and proposed interventions,” says Gitari Ndung’u.

The paper makes several recommendations on how to improve police vetting in Kenya, including halting the current process to refocus the National Police Service Commission’s vetting mission and issuing an interim report detailing the Commission’s vetting process so far, in order to allow experts to assess its viability as a reform measure in its present form.

ICTJ also recommends that vetting hearings be held in public, with full access for members of the media, and that the National Police Service Commission fully constitute its senior staff.

“Only a reconstituted National Police Service Commission could be successful in spearheading the next phases of the vetting process based on lessons learned,” says Gitari Ndung’u. “Until good faith reforms are put in place to create a functional police service, impunity will continue to reign in Kenya.”

Vetting processes like Kenya’s are designed to screen current public employees to determine if their prior conduct warrants their removal from public institutions. The goal of vetting is to align the police force with existing laws and the Constitution, in order to create a police force that merits the trust and admiration of the population.

Download the full briefing paper here

Media Contact

Christopher Gitari Ndung’u, ICTJ Head of Office in Kenya E-mail:

PHOTO: Police on the streets during election violence, January 2008 (DAUDI WERE/Flickr)