“The problem starts from training, whereby police recruits are brutalized in the name of being trained,” said George Musamali, a security and safety consultant who served in the Kenya police for more than ten years. “So when they graduate, they extend the same brutality they received during training to members of the public.”
Amid a flurry of predictions about how badly Africa could be affected by the pandemic, governments imposed lockdown measures on an unprecedented scale, with little warning. Across a continent where hundreds of millions of people live hand-to-mouth, citizens in countries with strict restrictions couldn’t afford to abide by them, which stoked confrontations. This heavy-handed policing in enforcing the coronavirus restrictions has led to deaths and devastated many families.
However, Musamali notes that police brutality is not a new phenomenon in most African states, but stems from a culture of impunity that dates back to the colonial period. “In Kenya, we created the police service in 1900, and the reason behind that was that the colonial government wanted the police to protect the lives and property of the white settlers,” he said.
“The training was focused on that, whereby the police were pitted against the locals, and they were there to protect the settlers. ” he added.
Law enforcement officials dispute the charge that their training has not equipped them to deal with such a pandemic.
“We are socially trained to enforce laws and regulations,” said Charles Owino, the outgoing spokesman of Kenya’s National Police. He says that the rise in police brutality has nothing to do with the training or the police as an institution, but represented isolated incidents. “We are more than 120,000, but you may find one, two, or three making mistakes. These mistakes don’t arise from poor training but from several issues, and one is the inherent behavior of the individual,” he said. He added that some individuals might have been bullies even before joining the police service.
In most countries in the continent, the police training curriculum is based on dealing with lawlessness, civil unrest, and disobedience. However, the pandemic presents a different challenge to police officers as they enforce rules and restrictions to protect the public from a disease.