“If somebody becomes stressed or traumatised like I was, I will not do what was done to me. I will do the positive thing.”

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Episode notes

Gitahi Kanyeki is a 36-year veteran of the Kenya National Police Service. His career spans operations against cattle rustlers in Turkana, to extraordinary violence in Nairobi after the 2008 elections, to internal action against serious misconduct.

That history has entailed more than anyone’s fair share of traumatic experiences, both for him and for his family.

In this episode we talk about what that was like to live and work through — and beyond that what can be done, and is being done, for trauma recovery within an institution like the NPS.

In the second half we switch perspective to Bonface Beti. He’s a program manager with the Green String Network, and he speaks very eloquently about the hopes, dilemmas and practicalities of working with individuals that are more often labelled as perpetrators than victims.

All this has taken on particular interest with the current heavy-handed response to COVID-19 in Nairobi. What is going on behind the riot shields and uniforms? What does an impossible political task for the institution mean for the individuals working within it?

Topics discussed:

(Gitahi Kanyeki)

[02:40] Outline of a 36-year career in the Kenyan National Police Service, spanning cattle rustling in Turkana to post-election violence in Nairobi.

[06:15] Stress, trauma and violence in the everyday life of a police officer. The effects on self and family over time.

[14:15] Support structures within the police service for mental health. First steps in taking these issues more seriously.

[16:00] Personal experiences with patrols gone wrong and extreme violent incidents. Recognising the symptoms of trauma.

[20:15] Reactions within the police service when discussing trauma. How to facilitate this kind of conversation in a culture that is often not receptive.

[24:15] Moving from individual conversations to a structured group approach. The tricky task of building police confidence and trust in a trauma healing process.

[29:25] Future plans, both for mental health in the police service and post-retirement.


(Bonface Beti)

[32:10] How trauma healing work with individual police officers connects with bigger social challenges and conflicts in Kenya.

[35:35] The move from peacebuilding performing arts to work with the national police service. How it all fits together.

[40:10] Tools & tactics for building a “brave space” for authentic conversation. Breaking the mould of a macho, hierarchical culture.

[44:10] What happens when people leave the room. The prospects for a small, group-based intervention to effect real changes in a massive institution.

[47:30] How Bonface personally came to be involved. The limitations and frustrations of peacebuilding initiatives as they tend to be approached in Kenya.

[51:40] Pushback from his activist and peacebuilding colleagues on work with the police service. Moving beyond black/white and perpetrator/victim narratives.

A deeper look

Ahmed Famau Ahmed is one of the facilitators that works with the “Healing the Uniform” initiative.

But he’s not a career professional. Instead he came into this because of his own history of being arrested, interrogated, and mistreated by the police.

In this conversation he talks about his experiences growing up in coastal Kenya, police profiling on the basis of his dialect and appearance, and introducing that perspective to a training room.

Listen with: iTunes | Spotify | RSS

Slow connections: Click icon at top right of player to download & listen offline.