NAIROBI, Kenya — Joshua Waiganjo wore the full uniform of an assistant commissioner of police. To the public he appeared like he was carrying out the duties that come with the job: arresting suspects, even disciplining errant officers.
The only problem, police now say, is that he was only pretending to be a police officer in order to extort money from civilians who prefer paying bribes to facing court action. The discovery is an indictment not only on Waiganjo's actions but on a Kenyan police force that is seen as incompetent and corrupt.
The National Police Service Commission on Tuesday suspended three senior police officers from the Rift Valley province where Waiganjo, 34, operated. Commission Chairman Johnston Kavuludi said Waiganjo's case has prompted a detailed audit of all police to weed out "ghost" officers.
Waiganjo was charged in court last week with robbery with violence, impersonation of a police officer and being in possession of police uniform. His cover was blown when he started attending meetings of a team of senior police who gathered in Rift Valley province to investigate the killing of at least 34 police officers by bandits in Kenya's northwestern region in November, according to a police official who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak with the press.
Pictures produced by Waiganjo's family to prove that he was a police officer show him in police uniform with senior police officers. One photo shows Waiganjo in a police helicopter, apparently with the team of sent to investigate the murdered police.
Kavuludi said he has formed a committee to investigate and report back within three weeks to learn who gave Waiganjo orders and whether the case is an isolated incident.
Last week, The Daily Nation Newspaper reported that in 2010 Waiganjo was charged with impersonating a senior superintendent of the police's elite General Service Unit, and with obtaining money from parents after claiming he could assist their children with recruitment into the police force. An arrest warrant issued in August 2010 remains in force after Waiganjo jumped bail, the newspaper said.
Anti-corruption crusader Mwalimu Mati said the incident shows a breakdown of the professional standards in the police service because of years of political interference. Until recently Kenya's president had the power to appoint and fire the police commissioner. The police force was often used by those in power to silence critics.
"People become afraid when certain names are mentioned and do not ask questions, such as where is the letter of appointment," Mati said. "Our systems do not have internal integrity."
Mati said the incident serious exposes security lapses. If the president were to visit the area, because of the rank he was allegedly pretending to hold Waiganjo would be one of the people making security arrangements, Mati said.
Kenya is reforming the police to stop political interference and corruption. Last month David Kimaiyo was appointed to the newly created position of Inspector General of police. Kenya's police spokesman Eric Kiraithe, who was among those who applied for the job, admitted during his interview for the job that corruption is a big problem in the force. He said some police officers collude with criminals to defeat justice.
The changes in the police force are a result of the country adopting a new constitution in 2010 that was part of reform package the government agreed to undertake partially to prevent a repeat of Kenya's postelection violence in 2007-08. More than 1,000 people died and 600,000 were displaced from their homes in violence that followed the last presidential election.