Any visitor to or resident of Somaliland will be aware of the Somaliland Police, a force/service whose presence is largely reassuring. Policing even when generously resourced is difficult at the best of times, but in Somaliland where many things have to be done on a shoestring budget, things are all the more challenging.
Since its inception in 1993 the Somaliland Police has endeavoured to be a force for good, one that has contributed greatly to national stability, some might say national survival. Yet for all the undoubted good work there are legitimate questions that need to be asked about training, tribalism and the treatment of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), the media, women and minority groups. Tales of intimidation and corruption in some quarters are sadly not unknown. Whilst there is plenty worthy of praise, this is also tempered by dissenting voices who complain about ill discipline and clan bias.
The demands on modern policing are such that effective and accountable leadership is essential. All too often management structures are unresponsive and those in senior roles reluctant to embrace change, let alone acknowledge failings and accept responsibility for inadequacies or serious misdemeanours. Those who walk the corridors of accountability, need to focus far more on precisely that – accountability. Somalilanders are perfectly entitled to expect robust mechanisms for financial, personal and operational accountability. They would also be wise to ask; Who are the Somaliland Police accountable to?
Public trust is fundamental to effective policing, and thus anything that erodes trust in the Police should be a matter of concern. In any organisation there are always those who fall short of the ideal, and it is clear that concerns do exist and these cannot be rubbished in the media, ignored and swept under the carpet.
The charge sheet certainly makes disturbing reading:
*A perceived culture of impunity
*Anecdotal evidence of collusion with corrupt politicians and senior military figures
*An absence in some quarters of courtesy and people management skills and techniques
*Weak leadership and poor accountability
*Signs of corrupt practices
*Using threats and physical violence as a means to extort confessions
*Intimidation using threats, verbal aggression and physical assaults
*Rogue officers demanding sexual favours and or carrying out sexual assaults
*Inadequate fitness standards that sees some senior officers fall well below acceptable levels for operational efficiency
*Excessive use of police vehicles that are often driven in an aggressive manner with little or no reason other than to manifest naked power. Sirens and blue lights are routinely used to excess.
*Defensive management structures that appear to manifest little or no cognizance of the notion of public service
*A tendency to go for ‘the low hanging fruit’ and ‘the quick win’ as opposed to tackling serious organized crime and those elements at a higher level who are responsible for serious criminality
*A perceived aversion to investigating white collar crime
*As a publicly funded institution there is considerable disquiet about the increased politicization of the Police Service
*Inadequate training in regards to the current best practice concerning investigation into crimes of a sexual nature, child abuse and various forms of cyber crime
*Some in the Police have yet to grasp the important role that the media has to play in a fully functioning democracy
*Suspicion of clan bias
*A belief that the Police routinely favour the rich and politically well connected
*The wealthy and members of the Diaspora bribing themselves out of trouble
*Harassment of Internally Displaced Persons
A knee-jerk rejection of such concerns speaks volume of the defensive mindset of some in senior roles. In a democracy we ignore perceptions, misconceptions and anxiety at our peril. The issues that various demographics, ethnicities, economic groups and even some political party leaders are prepared to admit (even if in private) deserve to be taken seriously. For positive change to take place there needs to be sustained investment in capital resources, officers and training.
It would be utterly erroneous to portray the Somaliland Police as in some way irrevocably broken. There are a great many exemplary personnel doing a first rate job often in trying circumstances. It must not be forgotten that the vast majority of officers are imbued by a desire to perform their job in a professional manner, but are occasionally failed by those in roles of responsibility. Conduct and attitude in police stations across the country varies enormously and this is often down to those in charge as well as issues concerning governance, resources, operational priorities and the pressures to massage crime and detection figures. The challenge is to demonstrate that as a public service the police are strong on value and values and low on waste and misconduct. Effective training (especially gender awareness training) and the drawing on best practice both locally and in the form of services that share a similar tradition is vital if trust is to be maintained. The police must strive to earn the respect of all citizens, and equally the public must never lose sight of the fact that every day police officers put their lives on the line in the quest to keep us all safe and uphold the rule of law. Working to protect and serve with pride is a constant challenge and requires first rate leadership, high morale and the trust and co-operation of the very citizens that the police are expected to serve and protect.
Respect is not a right, but needs to be earned. If the police are perceived to act with impunity it does not take long to create a trust deficit. Stories of suspects and innocent civilians being roughed up soon spread, as do incidents of over-zealous policing. It is vital that there is appropriate redress of grievances, with robust complaints procedure and mechanisms that allow for whistle blowing. Responses need to be far more measured, and the entire Somaliland Police would benefit from having a less paramilitary feel. Whilst the Ministry of the Interior has important responsibilities, it is imperative that there be a politically independent oversight body, one with teeth, that is not merely a paper tiger, but has the ability to sanction and make recommendations as and when required. A strong case could also be made for the establishment of a specialist Leadership Academy, one that nurtures the core values as well as the humility needed by those called on serve in the 21st century. The training being provided at institutions such as Mandheera Police Academy is a step in the right direction.
Finally, in view of the important role that the Somaliland Police has played these last 24 years in working to uphold law and order it is high time that a national monument be erected as a permanent memorial to all police officers who been killed in the line of duty.
Mark T. Jones
Experienced Advisor on Leadership, Organisational Development & African Affairs