Spotlight: Ten years of trust builds East African police expertise


Violent extremism and organised crime are among the priorities of the East African Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation (EAPCCO), which represents 14 countries. It is the forum where the region’s top cops set policy and make decisions about policing in emerging economies, small island states and countries at war.

Among its challenges is al-Shabaab, the radical terror group driving a vicious cycle of violence in Somalia and threatening Kenya and others in the region with bombs and attacks on security forces and civilians.

‘East Africa’s challenges require intelligent policing and not military muscle,’ says ISS senior training coordinator Willem Els. ‘We are helping to develop professional police leaders and well trained officials to combat threats and serve their people.’

Police need to help address the drivers of radicalisation and bring perpetrators to justice. Counter-terrorism should be viewed as removing obstacles to safety and development, not just short-term security operations. Violence or abuse at the hands of police tends to increase recruitment to extremist organisations, which means changing police attitudes and actions is key.

The ISS developed EAPCCO’s counter-terrorism training manual, with modules on intelligence, border control, operational responses, laws, explosives, case management, investigation, prosecutions and extradition. The manual is widely used, and has been adopted by police training schools in the region. Together with the ISS-designed Standard Operating Procedures field booklet, terrorism investigators are guided as they test their training in the field. The manual is also used for training prosecutors and the judiciary.

The ISS also helps set the agenda for the EAPCCO annual general meeting through a series of briefings on priority themes such as drugs, terrorism and capacity building. Close working relationships with police at the highest level mean many decisions adopted by police chiefs emerge from ISS recommendations.

The region’s police chiefs acknowledge the challenges they face and are open to engaging with the ISS

‘We have built trust based on expertise and experience, and make an important contribution to policing in East Africa,’ Els says. ‘The region’s police chiefs acknowledge the challenges they face and are open to engaging with partners like the ISS in the quest for research, policy, training and practical guidance.’ 

Recognition of the ISS role came in 2018 from the Interpol secretary general Jürgen Stock, who thanked the ISS for its excellent work in the region. And when EAPCCO celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2018, it gave the ISS a special commendation, alongside UN Women and the European Union.

The ISS helped to set up EAPCCO’s permanent counter-terrorism committee and has supported its new centres of excellence on forensic science in Khartoum, and counter-terrorism in Nairobi. ISS helped to coordinate a recent field training exercise in which police respond to mock terror attacks, bombing and a plane hijacking. 

The link between terror and organised crime sees Els and his team work closely with the ENACT transnational organised crime project run by the ISS with Interpol and the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime. The ISS also collaborates with other training providers to achieve these objectives.

The impact of a decade of ISS support for East African policing is felt across the region. ‘The counter-terrorism training conducted by Interpol and the ISS has resulted in improved investigations and successful prosecutions of terrorist suspects in the region,’ said Gedion Kimilu, head of Interpol’s regional bureau in Nairobi.

ISS training stimulated Rwandan police to establish joint operational command centres to coordinate planning and responses to major events from international sports competitions to terror attacks. An Ethiopian police commissioner returned home from ISS training to present courses across his country. He then established three joint operation centres for the UN in Darfur and was appointed head of internal investigations for the UN police forces in Sudan.

The ISS runs bomb technician courses for Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda, a rare task for civilians in a field usually reserved for police and military. Els and his team have now established a mentorship programme for EAPCCO police trainers.

‘Skills transfer is something I am passionate about and I really feel we are making a difference,’ Els says. ‘My mission is to share all of my experience and build a team of effective, skilled and committed police officers in East Africa and across the continent.’

For more information contact:

Willem Els, ISS: +27 825547695; 

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