State sponsored terror or a rogue police force?
A few minutes to 9 o’clock on Friday evening, all eyes were glued to TV sets as an eerie calm descended on the lakeside city of Kisumu. Earlier in the day tension was fast rising as residents hurriedly left town in anticipation of street protests. Supermarkets were full of last-minute shoppers uncertain of what the future might hold – stocking up. Police on horseback and lorries intensified their patrols across the city as a Kenya Police chopper did rounds in the Kisumu skies. By 2.00 PM, the Central Business District streets were empty.
Fast forward back to Friday evening, the announcement that Uhuru Kenyatta had won the Presidential elections for a second time was met with wailing. The city was literally in mourning. The wailing sounds would soon be downed by sounds of gunshots and screams of terrified residents.
Social media posts on Whatsapp and Facebook of people asking for help. On Twitter the hashtag #StopKisumuKillings was trending at number one in no time.
By Saturday morning the guns had not gone silent. The estate streets were being run by angry rioters and police. Both bringing ordinary life to a stand still. The situation replicated in Mathare and Kibera slums of Nairobi, the only difference being that theirs had resulted in greater fatalities.
As the clocked ticked midday, the CS Interior Fred Matiangi got to the steps of Harambee House in Nairobi flanked by colleagues to give an update of the security situation in the country. In his statement he said that no life had been lost in the prevailing situation in the country and defended the police against claims of use of excessive force.
This statement contradicted an earlier statement by the Nyanza Regional Coordinator Wilson Njenga who had confirmed that one person had been killed by police officers in Maseno.
The Kenya National Humaan Rights Commission, a body funded by the state also had a different story to tell. They say they had recorded 24 deaths. 17 in Nairobi, one in Kisumu, two in Siaya, two in Homabay and two in Migori.
We are concerned about the use of excessive force and we ask the Independent Policing Oversight Authority and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions to investigate these killings with a view to bringing the culprits to book.
-Ms Kagwiria Mbogori, KNCHR chairperson.
Among those dead was a 10 year old girl from Mathare who was shot while on the balcony of their house. The bullet went in through her chest and exited through the back. The big question is “why were the Police indiscriminately using live ammunition in a residential area?”
I have seen horrifying videos of police officers in anti-riot gear flushing people out of their houses and dehumanizing them in front of their children.
We showed these videos to Kisumu County Commissioner Mohammed Maalim via Whatsapp. He did not respond on the first video. About the second video he said the officers might have been going after criminals hidden in the houses.
Those houses might also be having children, you can imagine the sort of terror that we are exposing them to and possibly the trauma that would follow.
We just spoke to my grandmother. Police are going door to door at my homesteads. Barging doors down and beating up people.
— Aduda (@DerylAduda) August 12, 2017
I have watched horrifying videos of volunteers from Kenya Redcross Society collecting bodies from alleys in Mathare slum.
Ms Mbogori also noted that they have recorded threats made by security agencies to KNCHR monitors on the ground. These threats are consistent with those made to the media as well.
On Friday morning in Kisumu, Police Officers patrolling the streets in Kondele – Carwash area barred journalists from filming their operation. In one instance they arrested a KBC Journalist and forced him and his crew to sit on the tarmac. They confiscated his phone and deleted all the photos and videos before handing it over and releasing them. A day earlier a group of journalists who were covering a small protests in the area were also threatened by the officers.
They told us that they will shoot us if we don’t leave the area.
– A reporter attached to the Star Newspaper
The developments in Kisumu are shocking because just a week ago, the media fraternity held a 2 hour meeting with the security agencies in Kisumu including the County Commissioner, County Police Commander, County AP Commandant and County NIS boss. The assurances made to the journalists by the security officers seem to have been thrown out of the window either by default or by design.
By default could be that the officers deployed to Kisumu are not under the command of the local police commanders. By design could be that the security agencies were simply playing PR with Kisumu journalists.
In Nairobi, KTN’s Senior Reporter Duncan Khaemba was arrested in Kibera while filming a confrontation between the police and protesters. It was clear from the start that he was an unwelcome guest when police lobbed teargas at him while doing a live link. He is to be charged with being in possession of body armor without a license.
In an environment where police officers are using live ammunition without caution to the extent that a 10 year old girl would be killed while playing in a balcony, the police expect journalists filming on the front line not to protect themselves? Rubbish!
All over the world, the police service exists “to serve and protect”, what we have witnessed in the past three days does not however instill confidence in that universal creed. There is evidence not just of excessive use of force but of a police force (I refuse to call them “a service”) going against their code of conduct. It will be important for bodies like IPOA and KNHCR to carefully collect evidence against these officers and make them individually account for their actions or lack of it.
It is also important for the leadership of the opposition in whose strongholds these acts are being perpetrated to speak out to their supporters and ask them to keep off the streets. The continued protests have also interfered with the rights of ordinary Kenyans to go on with their daily routines.
NASA leader Raila Odinga has not spoken since the presidential results were announced, the suspense that comes with that could worsen an already bad humanitarian situation.
The question most of us will still be asking though is, “was this crackdown on opposition strongholds planned or did the police sent down here just decide to take the law into their own hands?”
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