The deployment of CCTV surveillance in major cities in Kenya will provide an invaluable learning opportunity and a peaceful mind among citizens. All the same, this claim might be too controversial as a starting point. For some citizens, many argue that scaling up of CCTV investment may not be so convincing that the Kenya’s mechanisms of legal and political oversight have kept pace or that the Kenya’s model is one to be followed anyway. For some time now, the Kenyan government has had an on and off voice in CCTV investment against a background of massive growth in CCTV  installation.

At some point, CCTV funding has been made available to local authorities following competitive bidding processes. This has led to some CCTV surveillance cameras being installed around Nairobi’s busiest roads, roundabouts and other public spaces. With the rapid roll-out of a relatively new and untried technology, many mistakes will be made. This is understandable. Moreover, lessons will be learnt albeit slowly and sometimes, through the hard way, about what CCTV surveillance will and will not achieve. Although the government is prepared to fund the development of new CCTV systems in Kenya’s major cities, it has no great interest in seeing whether they will actually work. In the Kenyan context, the need for CCTV cameras is growing very fast. This is faster than has been justified by any evidence of its impact or effectiveness. It appears that CCTV cameras will only have a negligible effect on crime rates in the areas where they will be
deployed. Despite this, a wholly unrealistic expectation shall prevail, sustained in part by an unholy alliance of enthusiastic police entrepreneurs, security industry marketing agents and fearful citizens, that CCTV surveillance could solve many of our public area crime and disorder problems.

As other countries increase their levels of CCTV investment, Kenya’s experience will provide useful lessons. This will significantly improve the process of policy transfer, avoiding mistakes, developing better practice, clarifying issues, and even saving money. It is also part of the unanswered questions on state power, security, citizen privacy and individual rights. The issues surrounding the management, governance and oversight of CCTV systems in Kenya can be a useful basis upon which other societies can plan their own and kick-starting these local crime prevention partnerships. It is arguable as to whether the CCTV industry in Kenya will be a spectacular beneficiary of a unique combination of circumstances and its own slick publicity. We might proceed differently a second time around. At a time when the perceived threats posed by crime, violence, disorder and terrorism are generating new demands for security, stakeholders in the security industry themselves are looking at the prospects of lucrative new markets. These are as highlighted

To ensure that the measures of crime prevention adopted actually deliver the crime reduction benefits promised.

To ensure that these measures avoid becoming expensive ways of intensifying an already tense and often dysfunctional law and order politics, for instance by augmenting the powers of the police against the rights of citizens.

Reinforcing problematic social boundaries between supposed ‘innocent citizens’ and ‘others’; demonizing youth and other ‘visible’ public groups.

To subsidize the security of the affluent and redistributing crime risks onto the already vulnerable and facilitating the emergence of more risk averse and ultimately less accountable public order.

Always look on the bright side of CCTV

Having registered all these reservations on the life of CCTV surveillance, I find nine reasons to be cheerful for, or, as they put it, ‘going forward: building on the positive.’ These reasons are:

  • The importance of area
  • The density of cameras
  • Success against acquisitive crime
  • The scope for special initiatives
  • The relationship with the police
  • The conjunction of other crime prevention measures
  • The level of lighting
  • The level of monitoring, and,
  • The issues raised by re-deployable systems

From the foregoing, it is evident that relationships with the police are crucial. Collaboration with local governments, whilst difficult to achieve, should be clear from the start and not as a result of a
study. Moreover, other crime prevention measures could improve a scheme, but again, it needs thinking through. Furthermore, the level of lighting is crucial, often too low in residential areas or too high in some cases hence causing flare on the monitors.

The issue of low light levels will no doubt be addressed in due course by better cameras. However, no mention is made of the quality of light for those they want to impose floodlights on or the environmental issue of light pollution. What is clear though, is that if cameras are placed where they cannot have an effect – because lighting is too low or high – then it cannot work; and again, money will have been wasted.

Finally, the case for civilian oversight, public accountability and independent monitoring is as important in relation to CCTV surveillance as it is in other areas of contemporary policing. Not only is this important in terms of public understanding of the purpose of CCTV but it also helps establish its acceptability. Moreover, while it enhances public trust and confidence, it can also improve the effectiveness of policing systems. This is an area that is often overlooked. There is need for inter-agency collaboration, the involvement of local stakeholders and partners, effective governance and oversight of CCTV planning. The government is rather silent about the level of local accountability to which such surveillance systems will be subject to. Besides, little thought has been given to the monitoring and accountability issues until systems are up and running.
In a broader sense, I conclude that the areas that will have CCTV surveillance systems installed are important. There is rightful opinion that these are more than just car parks. However, a smaller scope or a reduced set of workable objectives might be the reason for such success. Generally, whilst the density of cameras will increase, the prospect of crime reduction is guaranteed.


About Author