Accepted paper:

The Myth of the Bottom-up? Analysing Police Oversight Mechanisms in Kenya


Tessa Diphoorn (Utrecht University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses various oversight mechanisms aimed at monitoring police (mis)conduct and enhancing police accountability in Kenya. This paper argues that amidst a range of oversight mechanisms, top-down initiatives within the police services are most likely to result in sustainable change.

Paper long abstract:

Since the new constitution of 2000 and the establishment of the National Police Service (NPS) Act of 2011, the Kenyan state police has undergone extensive police reform initiatives in order to transform the force into a democratic, accountable, and transparent one that serves its citizens unequivocally. In addition to a range of other arrangements, a key part of the reform project has been the setting up of formal oversight bodies to oversee police (mis)conduct: the Internal Affairs Unit (IAU) for internal sight and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) for external civilian-led oversight. In this paper, I will analyse and compare these two oversight bodies and argue that internal oversight mechanisms that occur 'from within' are the most effective in instilling sustainable change. Much of the research on police oversight pleas for a four-tiered approach to oversight that includes internal, governmental, social, and independent oversight (Campeau 2015; Prenzler 2009). Although this paper supports this claim, it additionally argues that internal drivers for change that are implemented top-down are pertinent in organisations, such as the police, that rest upon hierarchical chains of command. In doing so, I aim to challenge an often-held assumption, particularly within anthropology, that 'bottom-up' initiatives are the most effective and desirable in producing change, and rather, argue that top-down schemes tend to have a larger impact amidst such a hierarchal environment. I will draw from ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Kenya between 2017-2018 on police reform at large to exemplify my argument.

panel Anth16
Contesting legitimacy in Africa: accountability, transparency and responsibility