Faulty CCTV Cameras: Lessons for Africa

Published on 8th September 2009

Is 'Big brother' watching?  Photo courtesy
The news that police officers at Vigilante House reported daily for duty in a monitoring room that had nothing but blank screens for years is quite revealing about the state of Kenya and by extension Africa. It is said that the police headquarters was supplied with dummy surveillance equipment and in a ‘monkey-see-monkey-do’ approach; someone assumed that by having visible CCTV cameras, all was secure. Should we then be surprised when the country’s elite engage in impunity and let the country burn?  


Compare the CCTV camera system, the police who were comfortable staring at blank screens and their boss who is said to have been very shocked (because no one ever reported the failed system) with governance institutions in Kenya and Africa. Let the ordinary Kenyan citizen (African) be the boss, let parliament take the place of the police in the monitoring room; the judiciary the place of the CCTV camera system and focus cameras on the executive! What images will appear on your monitor?  


Ever since independence, Kenyans and by extension Africans have looked forward to institutions that ought to serve their interests; instead they have institutions that breed corruption, land clashes, political violence, poverty and imbalanced economic development among others. Each time they seek answers from the officers in the “monitoring room” they simply get blank screens instead. At independence, many African countries simply copied western institutions without taking time to domesticate them. It is assumed that as long as an African country holds periodic elections, has a judiciary façade, a legislature and the executive; the rest of the world can legitimize their deals with the continent.  


As in the case of the failed CCTV camera system, the beneficiary of this distorted view is actually the fellow who never gets caught on camera. That explains in part why when corruption talks gain international attention, countries in Africa put up anti-corruption agencies with the full knowledge that “cameras” are not working. The same can be said on conflict; looting of mineral wealth; agricultural land grabs and capturing of cheap labor from the continent. Wealthy nations are aware that our “cameras” are ineffective and hence engage in all manner of malicious activities in Africa. For example, wealthy nations that sponsor conflict in resource rich parts of Africa will always be at hand with their NGOs to serve as humanitarian and rescue teams.


We can draw lessons from Kenya police’s CCTV fiasco and retrace our steps to building our nations. The police boss after getting over the shock is reported to have ordered investigations into a number of other procurements that might have been faulty. As citizens of Africa, we must quickly get over our shock caused by war and order a probe into our governance systems, education systems, and global market systems. Similar to the failed CCTV system, it is not by accident that the monitoring screens are blank; someone wants it so and benefits from the status quo. That is why chasing after Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), is akin to chasing the wind; the parameters are designed to capture failure not success in Africa. Once the African mind has been convinced he/she is a total failure, a big-push antidote will be ready and waiting!


In order to ensure that institutions work for Africa, we must proactively push for individual productivity and an increase in citizens’ payment for the upkeep of their governments. Institutions paid for by Africans will surely focus on African interests. On the contrary, allowing others to pay for governance on the continent facilitates the “blanking out of cameras.” That is why in spite of the vast geological resources, land, people and climate that Africa has, the African “monitoring screen” is blank…captures only poverty as a frozen image!  


Domesticated organizational structure that allow for people participation backed up by relevant and well thought out educational models will enable Africans to exploit their resources for the benefit of all. It is failed systems that promote impunity and insensitivity to the wishes of the people. Africans must urgently install a working CCTV system.  


By James Shikwati


Mr Shikwati [email protected] is Director of Inter Region Economic Network (IREN)

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