By Africa Uncensored Correspondent
As the country heads to the general election in 11 months, concerns are rife as to how much more civilian blood will be lost in the hands of the persons responsible for the protection of civilian lives.
This follows a string of recent cases of police brutality in the country, that have led to public outcry and protests against the men in blue.
In the latest incident that occurred on August 25, 2021 at Kahawa West, officers allegedly shot and killed 21-year-old Alex Macharia, a tuk tuk rider during protests over demolition of traders’ kiosks by the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS).
Though Kasarani Sub-County Police Commander, Peter Mwanzo, claimed the bullet that shot Alex must have been a stray bullet, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) has initiated a probe on the case with a view to establish the facts and hold those responsible to account.
Alex’s relatives and witnesses said he was shot at what they considered a close range and that he was not part of the protests.
“Alex was the breadwinner of his young family consisting of his wife and their one-and-a-half-year-old child with a health condition that he was striving to raise treatment funds for,” Alex’s brother Eric Nyingi said.
Alex will be buried this week. “We are devastated, we do not know where to start, we are hoping for God’s direction,” his brother added.
While that is happening, IPOA is yet to make inroads into the shooting and killing of 38-year-old John Kiiru, who is alleged to have been shot and killed by officers enforcing the 10pm-4am curfew in Kayole, on the night of August 18.
“IPOA appeals for witnesses who may have witnessed the incident in which a man was allegedly fatally assaulted by police officers enforcing the curfew in Kayole last week to contact the authority through toll free number 1559,” the agency pleaded last week.
A Police Service Delivery Performance report released in May 2021, shows that only about half of Kenyans think the police are fair in their administration of duties and relate well with the communities they serve.
The report compiled by Reinvent on behalf of the National Police Service examined the performance of 63 police stations.
“Overall, 52 percent of the respondents reported that the relationship was good, 32 percent reported that it was poor while 16 percent others reported that they do not know,” the report states.
The perception is likely to have drifted downwards in the months following May as Kenyans bitterness towards the police increased following more deaths in police custody as witnessed in Kisii and Embu counties.
The deaths of Kianjokoma brothers, Benson Njiru, 22 and Emmanuel Mutura, 19 after their arrest by the police on the night of August 1 for allegedly flouting the 10pm-4am Curfew sparked protests in Embu and ignited further calls for police to exercise caution while instilling public order and led to depression that killed their grandmother last week.
Photo Credit: Brian Ing’ang’a
“She was the only surviving grandmother and was very close to the boys. A strong woman who was deeply affected by the deaths, she would come home and not speak to anyone,” Felix Nthiga, the family spokesperson said.
While the matter is now in court, the family has been left with a permanent scar.
“The boys are gone and even if I was to get other children, they cannot be like them and can only plead with the government not to let any other woman undergo such suffering and let justice prevail,” the boy’s mother told journalists on August 10, 2021.
Maintaining law and order is a prerogative of the police, if the officers do not practice restraint now, there’s worry that the situation might get catastrophic next year in the event that charged political temperatures raise tension amongst supporters of the main protagonists and result in deadly protests across major cities in the country.
Officers, on the other hand, believe that criminal gangs are making a comeback by taking advantage of protests to commit crime as experienced in Kayole and Kahawa West.
“That is why in Kayole, at some point we had to retreat because the people started charging towards us, pelting stones at us.
In Kahawa West, what we saw was a case of gangs mobilization from different parts of Nairobi that turned what should have been a protest by about 30 traders swell into a full blown protest involving many young men,” explained an officer whose rank does not permit him to speak to the press without express authority from his superiors.
Police insist that more needs to be done for the country to get through the elections peacefully to avert a situation where more civilians will lose their lives as others are forced to temporarily relocate from certain hotspots for fear of retaliatory attacks.
Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crimes has already hinted that politicians have been sustaining criminal gangs ahead of the campaigns period when their services will be needed in their report, dubbed “The politics of crime; Kenyans gang phenomenon”.
The report notes that the gangs are deployed to harass and attack politicians’ critics and disrupt meetings and public rallies to create a false perception that their masters are more popular than their opponents.
A National Crime and Research Centre’s (NCRC) Rapid Assessment Report of the August 2017 general elections showed that election related offences and crimes increased by 44 percent during the last eight months preceding the election.
According to the center, nine fatalities occurred a day before the election day, which was largely peaceful.
However, shortly after the declaration of presidential results, 24 fatalities were recorded arising from protests after the general elections.
These included Baby Samantha Pendo, who was beaten on the head in the middle of clashes between police and demonstrators in Kisumu, after President Uhuru Kenyatta was announced as the winner of the presidential election in 2017. She died in hospital three days later.
Five years down the line, baby Pendo’s alleged killers are yet to be prosecuted even after an inquest launched into the matter indicted five police commanders for overseeing brutality and specifically, for the bludgeoning to death of the infant.
The uproar that followed the death of the infant faded but seemingly did not teach the police a lesson or two on avoiding the use of excessive force while handling civilians.
NCRC notes that the use of kidnappings and death as a tool to intimidate political opponents and institutional staff before party nominations, and during elections, were rife then.
The situation mirrored what happened in 2016, with a brief by NCRC the same year on the major effects of election crimes and offences in Kenya showing that loss of lives through physical injury, trauma, sickness and deaths top the list at 33.2 percent, followed by destruction and loss of property at 30.9 percent, violence, disturbed peace, fear and tension among people including voters at 26.3 percent.
Aggrey Juma, a Policy and Advocacy Manager for the International Justice Mission, agrees that policing methods in Kenya still reflect the colonial mentality that the National Police Service inherited from the colonial masters, and which continues to dominate the new age police officers who are currently the majority, despite efforts to introduce reforms in the service.
“The methods and typologies of killings and disappearances we see are still the same ones, which to a keen observer indicate an almost very rich apprenticeship programme on issues of violation of human rights,” he said.
Today, police are even killing for flimsy excuses such as when demanding bribes to pass a message and in revenge for an act committed by the victim or on behalf of someone.
“There seems to be a disconnect between the mentorship they receive on the ground at the police station level and the training they receive at the schools, as well as between the ranks caused by gaps in their knowledge of protocols necessary in aiding human rights protection,” added Mr Juma.
In 2020 alone, Missing Voices Kenya recorded 167 people as having been killed by the police or disappeared. Out of this, 157 were as a result of police killings and 10 disappeared in police custody.
Additionally, statistics from the Independent Policing and Oversight Authority (IPOA) show that between January and June this year, 1,324 complaints have been made against the police, out of whom 105 involve claims of deaths and serious injuries occurring in police custody, shooting, enforced disappearances and unlawful discharge of firearms.
Some of the deaths have in effect led to protests caused by the anger over lost kin in Kisii and Embu for example, during which other civilians died from gunshot wounds inflicted by officers trying to quell the chaos.