Kenyan Governors Seek New Powers to Combat Gang Violence

Tuesday, 09 Jul 2013 07:29 AM

By Joel Himelfarb

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A recent series of gang attacks has spurred calls for granting Kenya’s new county governors a greater role in maintaining security, the website allAfrica.com reported Monday.
 
Through the end of June, at least 42 people had been killed and more than 200 injured in a wave of mob attacks that swept across the country in the spring and early summer.

Then last week, violence rocked Kitui County in southeastern Kenya. On Thursday, a gang hacked a dozen people to death in Nyanyaa village there using axes and machetes, the Digital Standard reported.

Friends of the victims reacted by killing the wife and elderly mother of the suspected gang leader — a man known as Karunyu — burning them alive in a sorghum granary.

On Saturday night, Karunyu called one of his neighbors, a woman named Peninah Kalunge, demanding to know why she had not prevented the slayings of his mother and wife.

Kalunge answered that she was not present when they occurred. Her answer did not satisfy Karunyu, who replied that he had information she was involved and promised to return to the village soon, “this time with a bang.”

Fearing attack, Kalunge and her family left their home and moved in with relatives. Meanwhile, Kenyan authorities have launched a manhunt in search of Karunyu.

The violence occurs at a time when a new, devolved system of government is taking shape in Kenya aimed at transferring responsibility from the national to county level.

But these changes have not extended to police power. Kenya’s national police force currently operates under a single command structure headed by an inspector-general in Nairobi, and county governors lack authority to deploy police when violence occurs.

They are limited to overseeing county policing authority — which monitors security threats but lacks direct power to deploy forces.

Kenneth Lusaka — governor of Bungoma County in western Kenya, where large-scale violence broke out in May — argues that if he had had more authority over police, he would have been able to prevent the large-scale property damage and destruction that occurred there.

Opponents warn that that giving greater authority to county governments could result in confusing the lines of command and officials dragging the police in to settle petty local scores.

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