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Police reform long overdue


Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri, who has been at the helm of the police force for close to two decades, is staying in office even though many would like to see his back.
President Robert Mugabe, according to Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi, is keeping the country’s top cop on the job. He now has an open-ended contract. The other partners in the government of national unity (GNU) do not believe so. They have always voiced concern about the conduct of the police towards the MDC formations. Leaders of the parties bear scars inflicted by police truncheons.
Whatever their concerns, President Mugabe is likely to dig in his heels on the appointment of Chihuri. This politics aside, what calls for interrogation is Chihuri’s ability or willingness to lead the reform of the Zimbabwe Republic Police. There is general agreement that there is need for police reform in this country and that the transformation package should include a change of guard in the command of the force.
This is easier said than done because President Mugabe would love to keep Chihuri at the top of the force. He is a key member of the Joint Operations Command, a key pillar of strength for the incumbent. President Mugabe, who is well aware of his waning support base, knows about the perils of dumping key allies at the moment. Chihuri is staying in office but it is critical that envisaged reforms in the force should take place under his command.
As stated in the Global Political Agreement, the parties to the GNU are in agreement that security forces, including the police, need to undergo reform. The reform of the force is seen as a critical ingredient in the democratisation process as oftentimes the police have stood accused of playing partisan politics and perpetrating gross human rights abuses.
That is not all. There is rampant corruption in the force, especially traffic cops who openly ask for bribes at roadblocks. This is a serious cancer which the police command admits to be happening with little change being seen in the reversal of the vice. We now have in this country a police force that is competing with private enterprises in the farming and mining sectors. This is an unprecedented development which must be looked at in the process of effecting reforms.
Chihuri, to his credit, has led a force which has become effective in fighting big crime like murder and armed robbery. Chihuri will also claim credit for ensuring Zimbabwean cops are invited to take part in peacekeeping duties in trouble spots throughout the world.
But the force still has many shortcomings in investigating white-collar crime. The biggest blemish of the police is seen as the lethargy in investigating and bringing to finality politically-motivated crimes especially in cases where perceived enemies of the state are the victims. Those who have called for Chihuri to step down have cited this deficiency as a major cause of their angst with the commissioner-general of the police. They want a revolutionary improvement in this area. That is not coming soon — as long as there is an adversarial relationship between the police and political opponents of President Mugabe.
Chihuri will always argue that he is defending national sovereignty and nationalistic virtues. But what better way of defending the common good than the police looking at crime through the same lens, no matter who the perpetrator is?

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