Law Enforcement Professionalism, Independence: Non-negotiable

Given increasing lawlessness across the country, it is incumbent upon the government to improve law enforcement. More than anything else, this has to do with entrusting law enforcement bodies with the public trust that have been lost throughout the years as a result of poor administration and unaccountability.

History books depict that the perception the citizenry had of policing in Ethiopia was one of punishment rather than prevention. But it can be said that, during the reign of Emperor Haileselassie, law enforcement bodies had relatively lower levels of interference by other government bodies and exercised better professionalism.

It cannot be denied that they were biased in favour of the landed gentry. But the police college and training centres were able to produce officers that were organised and technologically adept. The Ethiopian Police College gave sponsorships to trainees from other African nations, while Western instructors packed a great deal of the advisory capacity in law enforcement.

Following the assumption of power by the Dergue, the country was immersed in internal and external conflicts. The police had never been independent to that point, but the military junta would take the lack of autonomy to the next level.

It was during this time that a special branch of the police force was absorbed by the state security to become Ma’ekelawi– the notorious crime investigation agency. Unfortunately, it was restructured and continued to operate after the downfall of the Dergue.

During the Dergue, due to political reasons, law enforcement was never believed to have fulfilled its legal responsibilities. Grave human rights violations and extra-judicial killings were performed not only in the usual investigative and prison compounds but also in local administrations and sub-cities.

But what was unfortunate was that there was a continuation of that history after society condemned and punished such acts. Recently released prisoners have testified before TV audiences that they have been inhumanely tortured, while Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) admitted that there was state-sanctioned torture.

We are seeing some improvements. Ma’ekelawihas been closed and is to be turned into a public museum, and many opposition party leaders and journalists have been released from prison.

It also has helped that the government has admitted its mistakes and wrongdoings and promised to ensure that law enforcement will become fair. This is all too important to the citizens to have a police force that they can trust and turn to in times of need.

The government must ensure that the police, intelligence and security agencies, and correction administrations are working independently of each other. These agencies can share critical information in matters of national security on specific situations under the law. But without a robust oversight, citizens’ rights can be trampled by individuals that abuse their powers.

The rule of law must be respected by the very institutions established to uphold them. This means that there ought to be an adequate level of checks and balances to protect against the unlawful handling of detainees and the excessive use of force by police. Citizens should not be detained in isolated locations either.

The due process of law should be followed strictly. The practice of keeping suspects for an indefinite time or weeks on the pretext of gathering additional evidence should be avoided.

There needs to be better management and implementation of crime prevention, which is a broad discipline. The prevention and investigation of crimes should be based on scientific methods, proper analysis and appropriate treatment of suspects. Skilled human power in terms of psychologists, sociologists and statisticians are extremely important to police work.

Likewise, traditional ways of deploying patrolmen and women without crime mapping are wasteful. Computerized crime mapping has enabled investigators to easily and precisely locate crime concentration areas. Regional police commissions should build their own database and analysis capabilities. Reactive policing methods alone do not help in solving complex crimes.

A convenient way should be devised that encourages witnesses to report crime without repeated orders to show up to court, while the courts should keep the public trust by ensuring that investigative bodies are not given free passes.

A criminal justice system that lacks trust and professionalism cannot contribute to the development aspirations of the people. Rather, it becomes a fertile ground for the proliferation of crime.

Investigative bodies should be organised commensurate with the needs of the people for a democratic order. The law should not be ignored in the name of cooperation among stakeholders, and the means should not justify the ends. We have to get out of this dangerous situation for the sake of our people to live in peace and harmony, and efficient and autonomous law enforcement bodies are an integral part of this.


By Yohannes Abebe
Yohannes Abebe is a former federal police crime prevention officer and a sociologist by education. He can be reached at

Published on Aug 18,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 955]



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