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Opinion - Rural policing in Namibia: The next chapter

2021-12-03  Staff Reporter

Opinion - Rural policing in Namibia: The next chapter
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Notwithstanding the overwhelming ‘man-created policing challenges and excruciating rural livelihoods’, the opportunity exists for rural policing in Namibia to rise to the occasion and deliver much-needed and inclusive policing services to rural communities, thus assuming the next chapter in the country’s policing journey. 

Unlike urban complexes, there are no specific hotspots in rural areas where crimes are concentrated and prevalent, making it difficult to focus efforts on specific areas to contain rural criminal activities. Thus, rural policing requires well-articulated policing arrangements. 

While appreciating western-focussed literature on rural policing, this article deliberately ignored the Western-derived definition of rural policing to avert the misconception formed by such perspective. For this reason, there is a need to refocus, appreciate, recognise and redefine rural policing as the fundamental feature of functional and effective policing in Namibia in particular and Africa in general. 

To contextualise the above, the police should have a mental image and understanding of the nature, scope, and context of rural policing as a facilitating belt towards peace, safety, and security in the country. 

Therefore, the future of rural policing in Namibia should be envisioned by redefining the misreading created by the Western and European way of rural policing and shaping its direction within the African context. Rural policing should be a focused and dedicated field of operational tasks. 

Improving the following issues is indispensable as they have a direct influence on the success of rural policing: Rural poverty and livelihoods are consequences of what some political authors termed ‘financial and social extremism’ that have moved away essential and material resources from the hands of the poor rural majority. Though may not be compatible with scientific claims, poverty influences crimes, and could lead to social disorganisation in rural areas. 

The socio-economic measures in place appear to favour the haves than the have nots. This places rural communities not only in an awkward but equally in a disadvantageous position as police and communities lack the capacity to interrogate and analyse these policy issues and advise accordingly. 

As earlier stated, understanding the nature, scope, and context of rural policing is helpful to the success and sustainability of rural policing. Significantly, effective policing is not only limited to visibility, foot beats, investigation, and arrest but essentially, the capacity to question and probe issues that have a direct impact on policing and provide advice to those with authority to rectify those setbacks through policy interventions. In this manner, rural policing will assume the next chapter and eventually flourish for the benefit of rural communities.  

Rural social settings and intra-community communication are some of the under-researched areas, particularly within the context of rural policing. Not much is known regarding the impact these two aspects have on rural policing and the benefits that can flow from this consideration. The vastness of rural areas can stretch state resources to the limit if a smart policing approach is not adopted. The practice of rural policing should not be distanced from the communities they serve. Appreciating rural social settings and recognising the indispensability of intra-community communication can help shape rural policing in Namibia. 

This involves bringing them into policing decision-making settings, soliciting their views on rural policing issues, allowing them to form and communicate policing opinions, protecting their identity when reporting crimes, and allowing them the opportunity to partake in actual policing (not only community policing) in their respective communities. 

Rural communities can be a catalyst toward criminal activities suppression if law enforcement agencies understand their social setting. Rural community policing should be conceptualised beyond the mere term ‘community policing’. 

In policing context, community policing requires informed policy direction and understanding of the societal mental image. Deliberate attention should be paid to rural societal settings, economic status, geo-policing environment, cultural norms and values, and rural livelihoods, to inform rural policing initiatives. Rural community policing will not succeed in a society that is succumbed to social issues like poverty, hunger, displacement, youth unemployment, family disconnection, and lack of equity. Task-directed and intelligence-guided policing can improve rural policing if prudently applied. 

The approach can stimulate confidence in rural communities because they will appreciate that the first port of call regarding safety and security is within reach. Task-directed policing is an effective approach but only when information is continuously provided and properly analysed to inform policing decisions. When purposefully applied, intelligence-guided policing can resolve many rural policing issues. It can also form a reliable foundation toward effective rural policing especially where police visibility is minimal or not consistently practical. 

The challenge, therefore, is that even when police officers have been trained, they are still ‘half-baked’ and lack the experience and skills necessary to analyse and efficiently apply intelligence to achieve rural policing solutions. Despite the contrary view, task-directed and intelligence-guided approaches should focus on rural policing solutions because the correct application of rural policing has a direct impact on crime solutions in urban areas. Rural people usually migrate to urban areas due to various social factors such as poverty, unacceptable rural livelihoods, and snail-pace socio-economic development in rural areas. 

Therefore, improving rural livelihoods and strengthening rural policing structures can discourage migration, thereby, reducing crimes in urban areas. It disjoints the long-held belief that better opportunities exist elsewhere than in one’s locality. Moreover, the unremitting police visibility in rural villages supports the rural policing structure. Although this approach appears to be the most famous policing practice in rural areas at the moment, its effectiveness in addressing rural crimes remains debatable. 

Infrastructure, locality, and police capacity dispel this approach. Similarly, the vastness, geographical settings, and diversity of rural areas make it less feasible to accommodate the practice. After 31 years of self-governance, rural villagers unappreciatively continue to travel distances to access police stations and services. Rural vastness makes it impossible for the police to sustain their presence in rural villages, therefore, minimal police visibility. 

At times, a month passed by without a police vehicle seen in a particular village unless a crime report is logged. This creates a policing gap between the police and the communities in terms of visibility to deter potential crimes. In essence, rural policing can prosper when society is allowed to define the powers of state machinery, and influence its operations. Rural policing can assume a centre stage in redefining safety and security practices and realigning them with the aspirations of the rural communities. 

In this understanding, the police visibility approach should be reconfigured, resources availed and infrastructures provided to answer rural communities’ calls. In the final analysis, effective rural policing in Namibia can be realised if restructured; the capacity is created and realigned with the rural policing environment. Universal police training and education on a broad spectrum of policing issues may have a different policing focus, and cannot orientate police officers to rural policing insight. For example, a perceived well-crafted police officer could lack the ability to conceptualise rural environments and realities. 

Observably, the existing policing literature focuses extensively on urban policing, thereby adopting the Western culture of policing, which has failed Africa for many decades. Thus, rural policing in Namibia has been relegated on the back foot. Rural policing-directed efforts and appropriate capacity-building are necessary if effective rural policing is to succeed. 

By extension, the policing organisation and educational institutions are critical in advancing the knowledge and skills required to advance rural policing in Africa. Rural crimes will not be contained until policing in Africa adopts policing strategies tailor-made to African realities. Western and European benchmarking have failed the continent for too long. They have overlooked the African environment and diversity. In future, the persistent application of these “irrelevant” policing approaches will have the potential to degrade policing and deprive rural citizens of the opportunity to enjoy equal policing protection as prescribed by the Namibian constitution. 

Arguably, until the Namibian Police Force redefines its structural and geo-policing approach to rural policing, the potential benefits, attraction and reality to rural communities will remain detached, and mirage.  

2021-12-03  Staff Reporter

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