Rising rural insecurity a threat to progress

Bitange Ndemo

Last Saturday, we buried a colleague, a friend and a longtime lecturer at University of Nairobi’s Business School, Prof. Stephen Nzuve. He was a kind, humble and reflective person. His life was cut short by a killer’s bullet in his rural home.

He had complied with all of the assailant’s demands, including giving them money and surrendering his ATM cards. There is so far no rational explanation why they decided to take an innocent life.

Even more unfortunate, the killing of Prof Nzuve is not an isolated crime. We cannot simply conclude that these were young, inexperienced, gun-totting, pot-smoking street ragamuffins who committed this heinous crime. No.

This is happening everyday in Kenya today and the rural areas are becoming a haven for criminals of this nature.

If you need to confirm the veracity of my claim, just look at the number of Kenyans who have left their multi-million shilling homes to migrate to the big towns. Some of them are now living in crowded apartments.


We may guess that the cause of this increased criminal activity is unemployment. However, we cannot rule out other motives like revenge over petty differences or our niggling jealousy ballooned by the increasing number of unlicensed guns in the hands of irresponsible people.

Crime is becoming more sophisticated but it is also becoming easier to detect owing to the fact that there are many enabling digital necessities, especially the ubiquitous mobile technologies.

The greatest need, however, is to build capacity as well as invest in laboratories to deal with modern crime. We also must learn from history. Just a few years ago, rural Kenya was the safest place to live.

This was largely due to structural arrangements under the Chief’s Act. Below the chief were the sub chiefs and headmen who administratively covered the smallest unit, the village.

Any mischief from the youth or strangers was dealt with almost instantly. We politicised these structures and removed the Chief’s Act. These were the minimum reforms accepted in 1997 ahead of the General Election that year following bloody skirmishes between protesters and police in many parts of the country.

Yes, the country needed reforms, but we ended up throwing the baby away with the bath water.

Although no studies were done to make such conclusions, the entire security system was destroyed and criminals filled the vacuum. We have never or we never conduct any impact assessment on serious policy changes.

We assume that progress will come with liberal democracy without the strong structures that support successful liberal democracies.

The advanced countries that we aspire to copy are nothing short of police states. Police presence is felt everywhere. This is unlike our rural areas where you can travel miles upon miles without seeing any police in sight.

In fact it is only by God’s grace that criminal activity in rural areas is not rampant although it is rising at an alarming rate.

We must not wait until it is out of control before we act. It could get out of control given the fact that we have politicised security.

Politicians are notorious for using pot-sniffing youths to create anarchy especially during electioneering period to align “their” people along their tribal agenda. Woe unto you if you have dissenting views as the youth will ‘‘discipline’’ you using uncouth methods.

The more we politicise security, the more we build a non-inclusive nation. We have seen women beaten during elections by the youths simply because of their gender, and we wonder why Kenyan women do so poorly in elective politics.

We are nurturing a violent generation that kills without conscience. It explains why they kill even when the victim, like Prof Nzuve, fully complies with their demands.

Security policy must be informed by rigorous research and not political imaginations like yesteryears.

I am a firm believer that we can make changes without necessarily making structural changes. If we have to, then we must always conduct detailed impact assessment.

We cannot keep on changing structures even where we know that failure emanate from irresponsibility. If a bus is not being driven well, you do not discard it but rather you change the driver first and observe the impact.

We should have left security laws in place and made changes to the drivers and how we select or elect them. Bottom line, in the absence of elaborate security in the rural areas, we need deterrent strong laws.

We have lost a gallant professor and role model to many. This was an avoidable criminal activity had our policymaking been informed by data. Prof Nzuve was a scholar, the profession of rationality. I hope that in his honour we can begin to act rationally.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s Business School