Interrogating The Nyumba Kumi Initiative

by Shitemi Khamadi

Two weeks ago this essay was published on Brainstorm about the Nyumba Kumi initiative. This is a reply.

The ambitious Nyumba Kumi plan in which people should know at least ten of their neighbours underlines how critically the government views security. It brings to the door step of individuals the mandate to ensure their own safety by knowing a few things about their neighbours. Guided by the reality that development is largely in the hands of devolved governments, security remains what could define the success of the national government.

It could mean that the government appreciates that it cannot handle the huge task of security on its own. Certainly, community policing has not worked to the expected results hence a rethink of policy.

Borrowing heavily from Tanzania, this system needs deeper thinking. In Tanzania, it worked perfectly because of the Ujamaa or socialism policy. To them, the African saying “I am because we are, and because we are so I am” is well exemplified. Communities develop a natural interest for one another and this becomes a springboard to other issues like security. For Kenya, so much leads to a pessimistic blank cheque on its possible success.

There are many issues that come to mind with regards to its application in Kenya. One can argue that the taxpayer pays government, so it should provide better security by employing both human and technology. This argument fails to consider the reality that resources are always scarce and everyone has the primary concern of their safety and should collaborate with government to make security both a personal and institutional endeavor. When you decide to conceal or not reveal a security concern to relevant officers, you tacitly accept to be a target of insecurity in one way or another.

There were 75,733 reported cases of insecurity in 2012 as published by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics in its 2012 report. In that same report 16,388 of ammunition and firearms were recovered and surrendered to police officers.

Police ratio to human population dynamics is also telling. The data available is not specific to Kenya, though. The ratio of police to citizens throughout Africa is roughly half of that in North America and Europe, with rates of 180 per 100,000 compared with 346 and 325 respectively according to UNODC report of 2009. It gets more interesting in Kenya, where this leads to an understaffed and struggling police force are a lack of training, poor equipment and general incompetence.

Corruption is rife in the sector. While the police are poorly paid and live in deplorable conditions, this does not fully explain why they keep taking bribes every now and then. It does not follow that if they are well remunerated, they will desist from taking the bribes. Even the most or highly paid people in government are not immune from corruption. Perhaps this is more of a software issue or concern, not just a hardware one.

When one thinks of the issues that hamper the possibility of successful implementation of Nyumba Kumi, one gets an idea of how well or far it will go.

First, Kenyans are heavily individualistic. The nation is wired solely on the principle of “me first”. Hardly does anyone create an interest in the other beyond one’s house. This is reflected every time you walk around and see people staring as others are being robbed of things, at best. They cannot even scream to assist – they just watch and move ahead. It is also reflected in other areas like jobs and routine processes where injustices go unabated and those in the know take comfort that it isn’t them. Injustice anywhere, is injustice everywhere, so asserted Martin Luther King Jnr.

Second, the villages offer good insights. In many villages, a neighbour knows who the thieves, night runners, witches, sorcerers and robbers are. They share moments together with this knowledge, including borrowing things like salt. This knowledge in no way means they feel less secure or unprotected or feel a greater urgency to spill the beans to higher authorities. Will Nyumba Kumi change anything in such scenarios?

Third, in many urban residential areas, especially low-cost housing neighbourhoods, thieves strike a deal with residents not to steal in neighbourhoods where they live. So, they practice their illegal trade in other estates and establishment and come back to share the loot with their neighbours. What will inspire a neighbour to a thief to reveal them if they lack evidence and have not been victims? Furthermore, they partake of the loot in some way, so where and how does Nyumba Kumi come in?

Fourth, it will largely depend on honesty and willingness. I could tell you, or even give you my business card indicating where I work. If necessary, we could even go to some office somewhere and I could convince you that is my work station. It could be a cover for what really I do for a living. How many honest people do we have out here? What is the price of honesty and diligence anyway in Kenya? The dustbins.

Fifth, the police are as culpable as criminals. Hardly does any crime happen anywhere without the knowledge of the police. They are stakeholders with the thieves and they advise them on where to go and where not to. They even delay in responding to a call from a victim to ensure that by the time they get there, the robbers have left. They then get a share of the loot. They then easily kill you when they are tired of you, when you refuse to share the loot with them or when you contravene some agreement with them.

Sixth, why bother with the small shoplifter? Only the poor have it rough. They work hardest and are paid the least. The mighty are comfortable, caressed by the powers that are, especially when their source of wealth is questionable. Our society celebrates grand thieves and even offers them strategic offices to ensure they continue stealing and disenfranchising the public. Voters prefer liars to truth tellers when it comes to the ballot. They want money now, and they forget about tomorrow. The big man knows well that an empty stomach is a poor political adviser and once he recaptures the seat, he ensures the poor remain where they are as it serves his interests best. So why bother with the small ones yet those at the top drive cars that make them immune to Kenyan potholes? Is the smaller thief more important than the grand one?

At the end of the day, it comes down to individual commitment and sacrifice. No amount of top-down approaches, especially when artificially superimposed, will see the light of day. A worthy effort to make people know and like each other, however, may. On paper, Nyumba Kumi is terrific. That is as far as it goes.

The writer is a blogger on governance, economics and development in Kenya. Follow him on Twitter @oleshitemi

10 Replies to “Interrogating The Nyumba Kumi Initiative”

  1. Great piece of writing. A very conscious and pragmatic approach to Kenya’s Nyumba Kumi Initiative- meant to fail from the very start. Keep It Up

    1. Shitemi you have hit the nail on the head. My sentiments exactly. Nyumba Kumi can also serve to transfer the blame from the security details/authorities to the communities claiming that since the perpetrators were living in the housing estates someone should have known about them; so according to Nyumba kumi its serves us right since we didn’t know our neighbour.

      Excellent article.

      1. I absolutely agree with your sentiment Maggie, Nyumba Kumi is a blatant attempt by the Security apparatus to avoid responsibility; in essence they are inviting us to do the work for them without any consideration in return.
        It is also a policy that runs utterly contrary to the constitution and the enshrined right to privacy; what the heck will make someone interested in information relating to my family or my private life

  2. i wonder why we choose to live in utopia yet we are truly on ground kenya. Guys, we should learn to take responsibility over our security. serikali is not omnipresent nor omniscient. i have faith that if we, only for a minute, took an optimistic approach rather than the converse, perhaps this initiative could work.who is contravening your privacy when you have good neighbourliness? For me the bottomline for this iniciative is “be your brothers keeper”. simple and noble. lets unclog our minds and work to make it work. and it will

  3. The Chairman
    Nyumba Kumi Initiative

    The task ahead of Nyumba Kumi Initiative is gigantic given the level of discord among our people that is closely followed by serious and frequent incidences of insecurity. But the business of grouping neighbours must be done since its is the only way to improve security in our dear country. The success will come slowly but the benefit of any small success towards this goal will bring and implant confidence in our hardworking people and result into economic growth. This will support our national Vision 2030. Nyumba Kumi Initiative must be in our forefront each time we talk of Vision 2030 and a reasonable budget must be set aside for this continuous effort.

    A well thought out research initiative to help in the formulation of strategic plan must be put in place. Good or poor security will always involve two key groups; general public and law enforcers. While Police are trained on how to enforce the law, the general public must be trained on the need to report crime regardless of who commits it. Nyumba Kumi initiative will help on one hand but we must establish a reliable and lasting approach on how to improve relationship between public and police. The two must closely be brought together through some kind of training to support each other and isolate the criminal. Once the criminal’s life is made difficult the only choice is change and be a law-abiding citizen. Everybody must be made accountable to a certain group. The benefits of putting each individual to a group of common interest is being felt in the way matatu community is progressively changing for better despite the resistance encountered by the policy makers.

    Nyumba Kumi Initiative will not only control crime in the neighbourhood but will bring about community responsibilities in many ways. Some members of these groups may have to explain how they have suddenly become millionaires and yet they have remained civil servants
    or court clerks. This kind of community interrogation will definitely minimize economic crimes in our society.

    Another short and long term strategy in crime control is to reduce the level of privacy within our neighbourhood. Too much privacy and
    individual rights do not improve crime control. I am aware that to touch on such matters is to touch on a life wire but this is the truth that Nyumba Kumi iniatitive has to contend with. To build up on what you already know as an experienced administrator, I suggest that you look at the past work of the following social experts.

    1. DAVID BAYLEY – Political Scientist, Author of Police Behavior In Japan and The United States
    Mr Bayley studied Japanese police and concluded that, Japanese crime reporting is more complete than in USA.

    2. Donald KLEIN – Comparative Political Scientist
    Mr. Klein negates the belief that heavy population in big cities and violent TV shows breed crime and disobedience. This is after looking thoroughly at Japan where crime went down as cities became bigger and with almost every home having TV.

    3. WILLIAM CLIFFORD – Author of Crime Control In Japan
    Mr. Clifford headed United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programmes.

    4. EZRA F. VOGEL – Author of Japan As Number One
    A Ph.D.holder from Harvard University in Social Relations, Vogel studied Japanese society for over 20 years. He concluded that Japan is number one in economic productivity, ability to govern efficiently, in Crime Control and in many other areas that determine national success.

    All the above work is pointing at a case study in crime control from where Nyumba Kumi initiative can borrow. Through crime prevention associations starting at neighbourhood and village levels a criminal has nowhere to hide in Japan, and finds it easier to surrender to a friendly group member or the mini police station at the neighbourhood level. Japanese police are friendly and sympathetic to criminals who surrender.

    I hope this information will be helpful to the Nyumba Kumi Initiative in the formulation of short and long term strategies to control crime in our beloved country Kenya.

    Wish you luck and kind regards.

    Amani Kwa Wote Kenya

  4. Smart thinking.Keep it up. However, please remember that the world suffers a lot,not because of violence of bad people but because of silence smart thinking people.Thanks.

  5. A very nice atticle.. According to me people are not very aware about this initiative the government should also create awareness in a way for the public to know and adapt to it

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