Slum dwellers are entitled to a bullet in the back?

Tuesday November 7 2017

Kenya anti-riot police clash with opposition

Kenya anti-riot police clash with opposition supporters in Kisumu on October 9, 2017. In the period around the repeat presidential poll, its monitors recorded 64 instances of excessive use of force by the security services. PHOTO | AFP 

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This past week, the Independent Medico-Legal Unit released its report on policing during the past two fraught months.

Based on monitors’ reports from 19 counties and its independent post-mortems of Kenyans killed during these periods, its findings are a sad commentary on the pay-off from the immense investments in training in public order management prior to the whole electoral period by a huge range of domestic, bilateral and multilateral actors.

It finds the security services guilty (yet again) of excessive, indiscriminate and unnecessary use of force against ordinary Kenyans, including lethal force. Its monitors recorded 23 murders by the security services during this period, ranging in age from six months to 36 years.

Its post-mortems on 12 of them, for which it could obtain the families’ consent, found that 11 died of gunshot wounds, the vast majority of them in Nairobi, but also in Kisumu and Siaya.

Its post-mortems also found that the patterns of gunshot wounds did not support the police narrative that the murders were in legitimate self-defence. Shootings in the back, for instance, could only be characterised as executions.

In the period around the repeat presidential poll, its monitors recorded 64 instances of excessive use of force by the security services, including 34 Kenyans being shot, 13 of whom have since died, as well as 28 Kenyans who were tortured.

Disturbingly, IMLU records consistent accounts from eyewitnesses and survivors to the effect that these incidents were not committed by the local police but by “strangers” — those police deployed to areas outside of their normal jurisdiction or from other security services as part of the “surge” support to designated “hotspots” that were meant to be firmly under the command of the county police commanders but clearly weren’t.

IMLU has called on the Director of Public Prosecutions to publicly assure all eyewitnesses, survivors and their families of protection for coming forward. It has called for the National Police Service Commission to move swiftly to discipline those involved, particularly those with command responsibility.

Tragically, instead of considering the Kenyan lives shattered by these incidents, the police responded to IMLU’s report by challenging the figures. It claims its own records indicate “only” 11 murders in August and eight in October.

Bear in mind here that IMLU’s monitors did not go by anecdotal or eyewitness evidence alone — they trawled the hospitals and the morgues and spoke to all the families that they could.

Adding insult to injury, the police explanations for the murders recorded make the usual slurs against the victims — referring to them as armed criminals, gangs, and rioters or riotous mobs. And the six-month-old baby? The son accompanying his mother to open her little kiosk? And, bear in mind here that even “rioters’ are entitled to criminal proceedings. Not bullets in the back.

It is tragic. This isn’t about public relations. It is about ordinary Kenyans’ right to be safe. Just because people are poor or live in opposition areas doesn’t mean they have less of a right to safety than any one of us.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is the Africa director of the Open Society Foundations. [email protected]