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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

Learning the art of building community in Kilimani


In November, reporter Mark Namswa of Nairobi’s UP Magazine interviewed me for their special issue on community policing. Below is the full transcript of the interview.

UP Magazine: What is the Kilimani Project?

The Kilimani project began as a garden conversation by a few individuals who live, work and play in Kilimani in the middle of 2012. The original set of questions we asked were: What makes Kilimani unique? Why is it a community of choice for the 43,000 people that live or work here? With massive private investment, where is the community head

Over  2012, the Kilimani Project has organized an online and physical photographic exhibition entitled Kilimani speaks: Jana and Leo, November 2012;  the first Kilimani Festival and two public Kilimani Cares community talks on issues of topical interest, December 14-15. In 2013, we developed the Kilimani Voters Guide and held conversations with County and Parliamentary aspirants in February 2013. Over May and June, we convened several community conversations to chart a way forward over May and co-hosted Nelson Mandela Day 2013 with the Kilimani Primary School and the South Africa High Commission. This event generated funding, voluntary action and new relationships committed to renovating this public school.

These activities were only possible with the contribution of tens of residents across Nairobi offering their time and expertise to serve the community. In addition, over fifty businesses and organisations have given in-kind support to the Foundation over 2013.  All of these volunteers and contributions are driven by the vision of creating Kilimani as an inclusive and vibrantly alive community for all.

The Project is now registered as the Kilimani Project Foundation, not for profit company limited by guarantee. We welcome individuals and agencies to take up individual or corporate membership. The Board comprises of three women and four men. They are Irungu Houghton (Chairperson), Fatma Hyder (Treasurer), Dr. Hasmukh Dawada (Vice-Chairperson), Pat Okello (Secretary) Francis Munyororo, Ann McCreath and Protus Nyamweya.

UP Magazine: What’s your understanding of community policing?

Community policing is based on the understanding that t the causes of crime and insecurity are primarily social and economic. Without social cohesion, greater equality and economic opportunities for all Kenyans, crime will be impossible to eradicate. Public safety is the responsibility of all citizens, businesses and the public as a whole and not just that of the police.

There are some other important principles underlying community policing. The police are no longer a coercive force as they have been in the past, but a service that runs with our consent. Police Officers are not apart from the community, they are part of the community. Where they work with the public and in particular involve the public in setting and resourcing policing priorities they can be more effective.

In a capitalist society like Kenya, critics have mistaken the call for the public to form neighbourhood committees as a call to spy on each other. This is consistent with a worldview that keeps us isolated as individuals. It is consistent with the pattern of building cities that exclude each other like in Europe or North America. It is this that has created our appreciation of community only as far as our ethnic community, family, compound and even household. We have to completely reject this worldview and embrace the African community spirit of “we are our brother and sisters’ keeper”.

UP Magazine: Why should it be done?

There are three key reasons why community policing might hold the key to a better future. Firstly, it is clear that currently policing strategies are ineffective despite an abundance of security resources that are available for a number of communities.  The current behavior and ways of being of residents, businesses, private security companies and the law enforcement agencies leaves all of us isolated and ultimately, working below optimal capacity.

The public and businesses are cynical, afraid, contracting out for services and unwilling to take responsibility for building a better police service. The police are under-resourced and yet to make use of the resources that exist in the community. There is preciously little trust and dialogue taking place between all these people.

Secondly, what we learnt recently during the very first Police Community Day held on October 26 at the Divisional Headquarters of the Kilimani Police Station, is that it is possible to reverse suspicions within the public and between the police and the public. We can close the gap. If we do so, we can go beyond the paradox of a Kibera, Kilimani, Kileleleshwa and Upper Hill having an abundance of security services (private security companies, the police force, the CID, NIS, Administrative police, County of Nairobi askaris, sungu sungus, resident associations, NGOs) and living in fear of house robberies, street muggings or attacks. The problem is that these systems are neither integrated at the point of crime prevention or response.

UP Magazine: At Kilimani, how did you come up with your initiative?

Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. We invited the OCPD Peter Kattam to come and share notes with us. He invited us to jointly organize a police appreciation day and open the doors to his team in the three police stations; Kilimani, Kileleshwa and Capital Hill.

Ahead of the day, we interviewed 300 children from a neighboring public school on their experiences and perceptions of safety. The findings were disturbing to say the least. Fear of rape, abduction, matatu overcharging, theft, bullying are among some of the issues that the children mapped. These matters are now being taken up by the Kilimani police.

The Open day included a personal tour of the police station by the OCS Bernard Kenyatta, a community dialogue, several information desks, bouncing castles and face-painting for children and a 7 aside foundation – police football match (the police won). The Foundation and the Police are now exploring a joint working committee and way forward based on the input given by the community.

UP Magazine: How is it structured?

The Foundation works on five major programme areas. The public safety programme is run by a group of volunteers who make up a community action team. It is they that design and deliver the interventions.

UP Magazine: Are there police desks for reporting or neighbourhood watch plans?

Yes, we are working on this in future

UP Magazine: In your opinion, will the Nyumba Kumi initiative be tenable in your neighbourhood?

Yes and it is going to take something. Residents will have to let go of the suspicions and fears they have of their neighbors. The police will have to let go their sense of the public as walking complaints for instance. More interestingly, how could we design it bottom up? This is the question that the newly established Kaguthi taskforce must ask. Top down directives have limited power unless backed by incentives or coercion. The Government has little of the former to offer for a programme of this scale, while the constitution protects the public from the latter. So it is time we got creative.

UP Magazine: A few cases of crime as told by participants in the forum pointed out the link between Kilimani, Kibera and surrounding areas, what contrasts between these neighbourhoods will eventually factor in your approach to combating crime?

Some people will not like to hear this. We are completely connected – the Kilimanians, the Kileleshwans, the Kibrans – to each other and the rest of the country. We have to find ways of creating mutual safety. Part of this will lie in integrated policing, the other part on creating an appreciation of us as one. As it stands, most Kilimanians fear Kibra as much as Kibrans fear some parts of Kilimani.

UP Magazine: What particular resources have you assembled or plan to marshal in order to effect community policing?

It is a little early yet as we are just at the beginning but these are the questions we are asking. What experiences can we draw upon of joint strategies between different agencies and communities? How could we make the police more effective? What do they need? How do we make businesses more effective? What do they need? How do we make residents associations more effective? What do they need? By answering these questions together, we feel the public and the police will begin to recognize that public safety can only be addressed through a lasting, comprehensive and integrated response by us all.

UP Magazine: What’s your long term plan for the ideal and safe Kilimani?

Our strategic plan for Kilimani is to create community ownership and results in the five main areas, namely planned development, public safety, entrepreneurial development, green and recreational spaces and social cohesion. We hope to expand our staff profile to two persons in the coming weeks, improve the website and expand our membership and community of volunteers.  While we work primarily in the wider location of Kilimani, we hold that every community can have a community foundation and hope to expand our relationships with them across Nairobi and Kenya.

UP Magazine readers can reach us by email:, twitter: @kilimanispeaks  and our facebook group: Kilimani speaks

Irũngũ Houghton is the Chairperson of the Kilimani Project Foundation


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