Who better? He has a track record no recent police commissioner can match. Before Maj Gen Ali came to Vigilance House, Nairobians could not use their phones in the streets. Every time you detected your mobile was ringing, you had to dart into a shop, answer the call inside, pretend you were window shopping, and walk back to the menacing streets.
Maj Gen Ali changed all that. He poured uniformed policemen and women into the streets, making life impossible for Nairobi’s many thieves.
Soon enough, the streets were much safer (aided by town clerk John Gakuo’s accompanying clean ups and street lighting programmes) and the city in 2004/5 became unrecognisable from the crime ridden place it had been a few short years earlier. In fact, a new problem arose because news reports began to emerge that crime was on the rise in rural areas because all the crooks had fled the city.
Besides, Maj Gen Ali is from exactly the right ethnic and religious extraction to tackle the greatest threat of our times. He is ethnically Somali. And Muslim. Kenyans are often too shy to talk about these things. But they obviously matter. In a country where people obsess about identity possibly more than any other place in Africa, the ethnic extraction of the next Inspector General is an important issue. A Kikuyu appointment, no matter how glittering the CV, will be disastrous for reasons that don’t need too much expounding on.
Maj Gen Ali doesn’t face that problem. Amid the Shabaab’s vicious propaganda war in which it casts itself as champion and protector of Muslims against a phantom Christian enemy, appointing a Muslim on merit to such high office would be a masterstroke.
It has been done before in India. The country suffers terrible sectarian tensions between the majority Hindus and the sizeable Muslim minority, who are portrayed by Hindu nationalists as traitors working for Pakistan. In November 2012, the country’s leaders did the unthinkable. They appointed a Muslim, Syed Asif Ibrahim, as the director of India’s Intelligence Bureau, the domestic intelligence service.
The appointment made news around the world. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times called it a “big, big deal” and said it was as unlikely as Egypt appointing a Coptic Christian to be army chief of staff. Al Shabaab claim they are waging a religious war, purporting to kill only non-Muslims in Kenya yet in Somalia, every single day, they mow down innocent Muslims. Their propaganda will be slowed down by this appointment.
Besides, Maj Gen Ali is a bright guy. I have met him only once, for a long interview. It says much about the image of the Kenyan police force that throughout the session, I kept marvelling at how strange it was to meet such an intelligent cop.
One of the things that stood out is that Maj-Gen Ali understands that battling insecurity requires what specialists in the field call a “whole of society” approach. Not just guns. It needs deep reflection and introspection as to the root causes of crime. Why, he posed during the interview, does Kenya have more crimes per capita than neighbouring countries with the same demographics such as Uganda?
Those are problems policy makers must interrogate. In his own small perch at the police force, Maj-Gen Ali did his best to show that guns alone were not the answer. He launched a major construction effort to improve police housing. He gave officers more confidence than they had had for a long time. If a minister wanted their son freed, he demanded that they speak to the Officer Commanding Station, and not ask him to order officers around. He was his own man. Name another police chief who could stand up to a strong-willed minister like John Michuki and still retain the president’s backing.
The challenges Kenya faces are massive and require deep thinkers who can offer effective leadership to tackle them. Maj-Gen Joseph Nkaissery’s appointment is a good first step. Maj-Gen Hussein Ali’s nomination will be another important one. Kenya must call upon its best and brightest in this perilous hour. Who better?