Kenya Elections: National Police Service on elections safety, sexual violence and reform


Violence against women in elections (VAWiE) is one of the major hindrances to their engagement with electoral processes and taking on leadership roles; this includes physical, verbal and psychological violence in the private and public space, and more recently cyber-based abuse. Commissioner Dominic Kisavi has been serving Kenya’s National Police Service (NPS) for over thirty years and was appointed by Kenya's Inspector General to head the Elections Security Secretariat. He discusses with UN Women the challenges for peaceful elections and the service’s reform. 

Commissioner Dominic Kisavi
Dominic Kisavi was a teacher for three years before looking for something new. He has served over thirty years in the police service, specialising in criminal investigations and intelligence. He has been appointed by Kenya’s Inspector General to head the Elections Security Secretariat. Photo: UN Women/Luke Horswell


“As we move towards the August general elections, some of the biggest challenges we expect to have is hate speech and incitement of violence by politicians. Some politicians utter statements that border on hate speech during this time. It is closely connected to tribalism and clannism - politicians draw a lot of support from the communities they come from,” says Kisavi, adding that, “we also have so many elected positions available in the different levels of national and county government. Senators want to go for governorship, MPs want to go for senator. There is a lot of interest in county assembly seats too, so the stakes are high. We have 44 recognised tribes and there can be conflict over these positions of power.”

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is another specific form of human rights violation that spikes during Kenya’s elections and disproportionately affects women. An analysis by OHCHR and UN Women found that during the 2017 elections, half (54%) of reported cases were allegedly perpetrated by law enforcement officials.  To secure elections and coordinate a large number of state and non-state actions, the NPS has developed an Elections Security Arrangement Plan (ESAP), to unify the different actors. 

“In 2013 we didn’t have an ESAP and we found that stakeholders operated independently from one another. We introduced it in 2017 but there were gaps. This time around we know the direction we want to go in. The idea is to share more information for better planning. Additionally, more officers will be trained on public order management, human rights, gender and children matters. Officers need training in procedures related to SGBV cases. They also need specialised equipment for evidence collection or preservation, for example swabs. The medical facility might be quite some distance in remote areas,” notes Kisavi. 

Gender and reform

Kenya’s police service is undergoing significant reforms to create a gender transformative service and better manage GBV response. It recently launched a one-stop shop for reporting GBV services, known as the POLICARE initiative, which also aligns to the government’s commitments made under Generation Equality. There is also a forensic lab at criminal investigation headquarters to strengthen investigations of SGBV cases in time for the election. Key changes also include a new directorate for psychosocial support for staff and supplying all areas with vehicles, something that was not a given before. 

“The biggest challenge for the NPS is a lack of resources, and internal resistance to change. But attitudes are changing and there is a realisation that reforms are designed to help us serve the public better. We have established a new directorate on gender at the headquarters, and the same is being duplicated downwards to county level. Around 50% of police stations now have a gender desk. We have also established a police leadership academy to train them on leadership, management and human rights; and a strengthened internal affairs unit to enhance operations to investigate internal complaints and complaints from the public,” says Kisavi. 


From brutality to acceptance

Kisavi is looking forward to creating partnerships to prepare adequately for the elections. When we bring together all agencies, the collection of intelligence improves, and the response provides better services to the community. Police alone cannot provide the security of the country: 

“Many different training manuals are being developed. There must be an emphasis on harmonizing the content and training. If it is regarding human rights, we are open to human rights experts and their advice. If it is on gender-based violence too. If it is not harmonised, we might not be helping people in this country, or the police service.  In the communities where we serve, there is still a feeling that we are the old police service, which was brutal, and they are not accepting of us. This will change and the elections are an opportunity to move in this direction.”

As the polls for Kenya’s General Election draws closer, UN Women, supported by the Governments of Italy, Ireland, Canada and Finland, are convening the country’s key stakeholders to initiate a streamlined, collaborative prevention and response to violence against women in elections. Training of duty bearers and increasing access to services for survivors is being targeted in 15 hotspots across the country.