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anti-capitalism Social Justice Centres Social Justice Centres Working Group Women in Social Justice Centres

Drugs and police in Mathare, by Lucy Wambui

Lucy Wambui, is an activist based in Mathare and member of MSJC.

Drug use among young people in Nairobi’s slums is on the rise. Youth also face arbitrary arrests by the police, resulting in jail time which turns them into hardcore criminals in a vicious cycle.

Those who have lived in Mathare know the various challenges faced by the many people that call this place home. When I say Mathare, I mean the whole six wards in Mathare. We lack basic services and needs; there is poor sanitation, a lack of proper housing, and a lack of jobs mostly for our youths. Many of us also count ourselves lucky if we have food every day.

At the same time, youth between 9-30 years are now increasingly using drugs. And I want to highlight why they are into drugs, where they get the money for drugs, and how this makes them a target of police abuse of power, including: extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, extortion, and arbitrary arrests.

The connection between drugs and crime among the youths in Mathare is seen, for instance, when they involve themselves in criminal activities like petty robbery in order to get money to buy drugs. Criminals also use drugs as a form of boosting confidence before they get into crime. At the same time, due to arbitrary arrests happening daily within the slums, youths are detained on allegations of drug use and trafficking, which land them in jail. After they are released, they come out being hardcore criminals, involving themselves more in crime.

Being born and brought up in a family that sells and uses drugs creates an environment for one to get into crime as well. This is even if your family are selling “illegal” alcohol and drugs to make ends meet; there are barely any jobs for us from Mathare, and our mothers selling chang’aa has enabled us to eat and go to school. But the addiction that comes about, even when one just started with small doses, can change one’s life completely. For example, Sandra, a woman I know said:

I am a mother of two and I am in my late twenties. My addition started when I was just a young girl. My mother used to sell chang’aa [illegal alcohol] and sell shash [marijuana]. I first indulged in drugs when I was just eight years old and I would take the drugs unnoticed and use them without anyone knowing. My thirst for money and harder drugs increased, and I started spiking the drinks of the clients who came to drink in our home, and I would steal from them any valuables I would find like watches, money, phones, and any other thing that would equate to cash. That’s how I got myself into crime and to date I still go to the big bars and clubs, and when I see an easy prey, I spike their drink and run away with anything I could lay my hands on. The desire for money and addiction to drugs is what makes me do this. I blame my mum for this because were it not for the environment she brought me up in I would have studied, and I would be a better person in the society.

But depression and life situations also can influence us to use drugs. Halima (20), a single mother from Mathare also shared that:

When I was just a small girl my dad was killed by the police after he was labeled a criminal. After my father was killed, me and my brother were raised by a single mum and life was not easy for us. At the age of 15 I got married and got a child. When my child was two years old my brother got arrested and jailed. My husband had a road accident the following year and died. I was left to raise my kid alone and this drove me to depression, and I started using drugs. It got so serious to the extent that I was not able to raise my kid and my mother-in-law took him to raise him.

We can see that the government also has a role to play, they create and sustain this negative environment. When I interacted with most youths here in Mathare, I understood why the Kenyan authorities and young men in the slums play a cat and mouse game: they are like water and oil, they can never mix. According to most youths in the area, they say that instead of police officers maintaining law and order and protecting life, they make crime increase. The police are the ones who provide guns to them to go and commit crimes, and police get money from drug dens, ensuring that drugs are always sold where poor people can see them, where poor people live.

At the same time, the police are arresting youths daily using fabricated charges, and some end up being disappeared and others are killed by police. This makes youths get into crime and use drugs because they have given up on life, and they don’t know who will be next in the hands of a killer cop.

The protection of drug peddlers is also enabled by many people “in high places,” who protect them and protect their interests. These people have both interests in drugs and in crime and stopping any of these businesses would definitely cost them a lot. These peddlers include politicians, the police and the so-called local business community.

It is said that politicians are the ones who own these drugs, and they have to protect the people who sell them to ensure that there is regular flow of cash. These politicians are the ones who benefit most from criminal groups, and the ones who do nothing when we are killed. They use the petty drug dealers to cause mayhem during campaigns and other political functions, by just giving them some drugs and little cash that can make them go wild. And the police know both the politicians and those who sell drugs. But for them they make it a profit: they go to these dens daily collecting cash, which people call ushuru [taxes] or tango, and if they target anyone, they target the young men peddlers trying to make ends meet not the politicians.

The taxes they get, given out by the peddlers and other members of the “business community,” are costs for protection, making sure that drugs can be sold another day. And it is the poor who suffer the most because of these profits, like Halima and Sandra, when their families are torn apart.

Original article can be found at Africa is a Country here.

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Mothers of Victims & Survivors Network Papo Reto/Kenya & Brazil Solidarity Solidarity Women in Social Justice Centres

“Killings Get Back, We are Moving Forward” : The Launch of the Network of Mothers of Victims and Survivors of Police Violence

This article was written about the Mother of Victims and Survivors Network launch, and was originally published on RioOnWatch, as part of “ongoing reporting on social struggles around the world that dialogue with the local reality in Rio de Janeiro and offer important points of international comparison. ” We agree with RioOnWatch that “analyzing parallels and showing solidarity for peer communities allows us all to establish connections, share knowledge, build networks of support, and establish a sense of common experience and purpose.”

On February 15, nearly two years after beginning their work, the Mothers of Victims and Survivors Network launched their initiative at the Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC) in Mathare, Nairobi, Kenya.

The network is composed of close to fifty members from across the city’s low-income settlements—from Kayole, Mathare, Dandora, Mukuru, Kibera and elsewhere—all of whom have come together to seek justice for the killing or brutal victimization of members of their family, usually young men, by the police.

Echoing the struggles of the mothers of political prisoners in Kenya in the early nineties and similar inspirational mobilizations of madres and mães in Argentina and Brazil, the network is primarily composed of women. These are the mothers and wives of victims of extrajudicial killings.

Since 2017, the members of the Network have been coming together to support each other through grief, to offer solidarity in the judicial system for the mothers who have been lucky enough to have their cases reach court, to document new victims, and to strategize collectively. Though throughout this time they have witnessed and continue to experience the imbalances and biases of the Kenyan legal system, the day’s launch was a celebration of the Network’s tedious, painful, and painstaking work: of what they have accomplished and what they will continue to do to ensure justice for their communities.

In 2017, the MSJC, a community-based organization in the urban settlement of Mathare, released a participatory action report on extrajudicial killings in Kenya between 2013-2016. The report, titled “Who is Next?: A Participatory Action Research Report Against the Normalization of Extrajudicial Executions in Mathare,” chronicled the killing of at least 50 young men in Mathare and 803 nationally in the three-year period. While illustrative of the sinister force of the police in the country, most citizens recognize that this documentation is only the beginning. The number represents a minority of those who have been killed in the recent past and filed away as “thugs” or “suspected terrorists.”

Some of the families of the young men killed and documented in this report and other ongoing MSJC documentation are represented in the Network.

Mama Victor, the current coordinator of the Mothers of Victims and Survivors Network, lost her two sons, Victor and Bernard, on the same day in 2017. They were killed, meters apart, by police officers who had invaded Mathare, ostensibly to quell protests provoked by the election results released a day earlier.

In Lucy Wambui’s case, another co-leader of the Network, her husband, Christopher Maina, was killed when she was eight months pregnant with their first child. He was dragged from a building site where he had been working and killed at 2pm on a public street. His killer, a notorious police officer named Rashid, executed one of the witnesses to Maina’s killing a year later. Having also been filmed killing two young men in Eastleigh two months after killing Maina, Rashid continues to work as a police officer. Unjustly vindicated in an irresponsibly biased BBC documentary, this breed of policing reflects that what the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Agnes Callamard called, during her February 2020 visit to Mathare, typical of “serial killers in uniform.”

Another member of the network is Mama Stella, whose son was one of the eight young men killed by the police in April 2016 in Mukuru. Though the media reported that they were “suspected thugs,” two of them were only 16, and one was 17 years old. The group had plans to start a community garbage collection business.

One of the youngest members of the network is 19-year-old Mso from Mathare, who has had two partners killed by the police in the same year. She is now left to care for two young sons in the same settlement where her husbands were killed.

While their family members are killed at whim, these women are unable to seek justice from government organizations such as the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA). According to its own “End-Term Board Report 2012 -2018,” the IPOA has only managed three convictions out of the 9878 cases it received during that period—just as in Brazil, the vast majority of these cases remain under endless investigation. And yet, against the injustice of these conditions, the Network has continued to grow.

These women know that the killing of their family members is only one extreme outcome in a continuum of structural violence that features, among other things: lack of access to water, poor schools, inadequate health care, and the militarization of their homes. “Children being killed like kukus [chicken],” said one mother.

They also know that the government’s informally formalized “shoot to kill” policy is reserved for spaces like theirs. Wealthy areas of the city see no such policing.

For this reason, these mothers came together on February 15 wearing red shirts to represent the[ir] “blood that had been shed.” On the back of these shirts were only three words: “justice for victims.”

Together they sang and danced and marched determinedly, expressing how the[ir] “fire had been lit” [moto imewaka], while dedicating time to plant trees in memory of those they had lost.

As these trees grow and are taken care of in a community that is governed by environmental apartheid, they will stand as symbols of residents’ struggle for justice. They will exist in opposition to a status quo, planted in a moment of change co-catalyzed when these mothers got up and said: “killings get back, we are moving forward.”

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EJE Campaign Mothers of Victims & Survivors Network Women in Social Justice Centres

Mothers of Victims & Survivors Network Launch, February 15 2020

 

The Mothers of Victims & Survivors Network will be launched on February 15, 2020. This is a network composed, primarily, of mothers and wives of victims of extrajudicial killings. They have been doing a lot of work over the past two years: supporting each other through court cases, documenting new victims, and strategizing together. This launch is a celebration of the work they have been doing and will continue to do so to make sure they can get justice for the many families whose members have been killed by the police. Come and support them at Mathare Social Justice Centre, on February 15 2020, between 10 am – 1 pm. Your solidarity will be much appreciated.

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Social Justice Centres Working Group Women in Social Justice Centres

Reflections on the 2019 Pan African Women’s Day at MSJC

By Lena Anyuolo

On 9th August 2019, women in the Social Justice Centres, university students and children of Mathare gathered in the hall at Mathare Social Justice Centre to commemorate Pan-African Women’s Day.  The day was significant because sixty three years ago, on 9th August, 20,000 South African women led by Lilian Ngoyi, Lilian Joseph, Rahima Moosa, and Sophia Williams marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest the oppressive pass laws. The law required that native black South Africans carry an ‘internal passport’. This pass would determine which areas blacks were permitted to live and work in. It was similar to the kipande system in Kenya during British colonial rule. 9th August is now a public holiday in South Africa, celebrated as National Women’s Day in honour of these heroines.

The theme of the day was ‘Discussions on Building a Vibrant Women’s Movement’. The program consisted of  the screening of the documentary film, ‘Taking Root’ , which is a biographical account of Wangari Maathai’s political and environmental activism. Afterwards, the forum was opened up for discussion on the lessons we drew from the film. Collectively, we were inspired by Wangari Maathai’s courage and persistence in defending the forests, public land and the environment, and her activism in the Release Political Prisoners Campaign when she led mothers and wives of political prisoners in peaceful protests for the unconditional release of their loved ones. The protests took place at Freedom Corner in Uhuru Park and later at the underground bunkers in All Saints Cathedral for 8 months.

The speakers of the day were Njoki Wamai, a professor of political science at USIU. She gave a talk on the history of women’s resistance in Africa by sharing the stories of Mekatilli, Muthoni Nyanjiru and Winnie Mandikizela and Queen Nzinga.

Julie Wanjira, the convenor of the Women in Social Justice Centres and a member of Mathare Social Justice Centre, led the session on reflections on revolutionary African Women who are a source of inspiration for the men in the gathering. Josina Machel, Winnie Mandikizela, Lilian Ngoyi, Faith Kasina (Kayole Social Justice Centre) and Carol Mwatha (Dandora Social Justice Centre) were remembered, honoured and celebrated.

This was followed by reflections by the women representing the various groups at the gathering (the Social Justice Centres and university students) on their experiences in the movement in the struggle for social justice and liberation. Representatives from Kiamaiko, Kariobangi, Mathare, Mukuru, Kariobangi, Kayole, Dandora and Komarock Social Justice Centres and the Revolutionary Socialist League all gave their reflections.

A solidarity statement from RICT was read by Irene Asuwa. The Embassy of Venezuela in Kenya sent their greetings which were delivered by Fredrick Kasuku.

The final session was for resolutions. It was agreed that every month, the women in the Social Justice Centres, through their representatives, would organise a women focused political engagement. This could be a documentary screening, community dialogue or political class/discussion with the aim of radically politicising the movement to fight for social justice and liberation. Secondly, the representatives were to give feedback on the social justice issues they face in their communities, and use these as the basis of organising the women in the communities so as to build a strong Pan African Women’s Movement.

The original Pan-African Women’s Day is marked worldwide on 31st July. The Pan African Women’s Day was organised by the women in the social justice centers and the Revolutionary Socialite League. See pictures below from this day.

 

 

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