Who will come to the aid of Kenya’s poor killed by the police? The country seems to have gone full cycle on the matter of extrajudicial killings. Eight years ago when the matter was spotlighted by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Prof. Philip Alston, Kenyans breathed a sigh of relief, with statistics indicating a slowdown in the number of people killed by the police.
At that time under the grand coalition government, the political environment engendered dialogue on some of the country’s ills, putting a focus on human rights issues including police executions of civilians in a way never before witnessed. Subsequently, under the new constitution, an Independent Police Oversight Authority was created, giving Kenyans hope that the era of police impunity would soon be behind us. How misplaced those hopes were!
Police killings have risen since last year and it is raising alarm not only in the NGO sector but in affected families. Last year, the police service was condemned following the killing of lawyer Willie Kimani, (who had criticised police abuse), his client Josephat Mwenda and driver Joseph Muiruri, all three who were found dumped in a river after having visited a police station to protest Mr Mwenda’s case against the police.
Almost every day we hear cases of people going missing, only for their bodies to be found later, dumped somewhere under the cover of darkness. Just last week on Wednesday, the media reported of four bodies that were discovered at Gitaru, Kikuyu, dumped in a Probox car. The bodies have now been identified by the police and the results fit an all too familiar pattern.
One of the men was David Chege, 51, a medical doctor whose son was shot by the police a few days earlier and who had organized a march by family members to the Kinyago AP camp. His son Alex Ngugi, 24, was shot last Monday. The police claim he was a criminal but the family disputes that, insisting that the gun which he was alleged to possess was planted on him by the police.
The second body was of a man called Martin Musyoka, 38, who was a dealer of second hand clothes who lived in Thika. The third body was Shadrack Mwangi, 39, a butcher from Umoja, while the last was for a Mr Mwangi, a matatu conductor. It is not yet clear whether the men knew one another or whether they were killed together or separately. What is clear is that whoever killed them and bunched their bodies together enjoyed a level of criminal impunity.
Earlier before this case, there were the Nakuru brothers. On January 18, Daniel Ikenya Ndirangu, 31, Mwai Ndirangu, 24, Paul Mutunga Ndirangu and a friend of the three brothers Francis Kariuki, 26, went missing. Daniel and Mwai were matatu operators while Paul and Kruiki were casual labourers.
Their bodies were found two weeks later, 100 kilometers away in Kamei forest. Thika. The brothers’ father reported the matter to the police but the matter was booked in the occurrence book as item number 16 on January 21, three days after his initial report. He said the DCI office sent him away accusing him of interfering with the investigations.
Middle class families have the upper hand in airing their grievances against the police. There is the very well known case in 2001, when the police killed a university student called Allan Mbito and as expected claimed he was a thug only for the truth to come out that Allan was the son of Justice Gideon Mbito. Allan’s death is similar to Alex’s in this instance because both came from middle class families.
For the millions of the poor in Nairobi’s slums, upstaging the police account after a killing is an exercise in futility. In Kayole, Nairobi, six young people were killed this month by the police because they were suspected of being thugs. Their families, anonymous as they are, couldn't put the kind of show Dr Chege put, which unfortunately led to his own killing.
The media doesn’t listen to the cries of poor families. The trend is emerging whereby the media hardly reports on the killings that are committed daily in the poor neighbourhoods, unless the numbers are big enough. One or two or even three doesn't make news these days, unless it is accompanied by a protest by the residents, which are uncommon too given the rampant crime rate and diminishing strength of community.
The justification normally cited by the police for killing civilians is that the victims were dangerous criminals. But if someone is suspected of being a thug, they are not supposed to be killed, there’s law which provides they are to be arrested and taken to court for conviction and punishment.
This matter of crime is in fact tenuous because, according to the Independent Medico Legal Unit, it is easier in Kenya to be killed by the police than by criminals. With a constitutional mandate to protect lives of Kenyans of all backgrounds, the police aren't supposed to be doing so much killing, even if by virture of their work and their own safety they some time would be required to kill dangerous thugs.
The rampant killings by the police was captured in the latest Amnesty International report that indicates that Kenya is the leading country in Africa in police shootings and killings of civilians. The report shows that the number of people killed by the police in Africa for the first ten months of 2016 was 177, and of these 122 were from Kenya.
So many Kenyans are killed by the police especially in the slums like Kawangware, Kibera, Dandora, Kayole, etc. Surprisingly, even the once vibrant civil society is not talking for the victims, unless a discussion is triggered by an egregious case like Alex or Allan’s families. A good example is the story of six young men who were killed in Kayole - the story was not even reported by the media, but the community was horrified by the incident.