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Organic Intellectuals Network Police Brutality Social Justice Centres Women in Social Justice Centres

The Unreformable Police Force

By Faith Kasina and Gathang’a Ndungu

The 21st century police have become the law enforcers, the jury and the executioners. To the rich, they are the protectors of their assets and wealth but to the poor, the police seem to be criminals in uniforms, sanctioned by the state against them. They seem to have been created by the elite class to police over the poor.

Global Movements & Protests Against Police Brutality

Police misconduct and abuse of power has been an ongoing debate for a long time due to the series of cases reported world wide, ranging from arbitrary arrests, harassments, torture, enforced disappearances (ED’s) and extra judicial executions (EJE’s), among other criminal activities. The police force has for long been used as a tool of repression to the masses rather than maintaining peace and order as it should be. These traits of police abuse of power have manifested themselves in both developed and developing countries. 

In some countries like the US, the issue is intricately intertwined with the issue of racism compounded together with the historical injustices from slavery, and subsequent repression. With the loose gun control regulations, the police find a leeway to use force on black populations in the pretext of drugs and illegal firearms mop-up.

The US has a long history of police repression on the poor black communities and the Hispanic migrants. The history of US has been tied to the slave trade during the Trans-Atlantic Trade. The southern states which were historically agricultural states depended fully on slave trade which came from the black people taken from Africa. This unequal society is what the Black people found themselves in. 

It was a system that was in all means set against them on political and socio-economic aspects. 

The police force took the states mantle to continue perpetuating racism against the oppressed poor black populations in the ghettos. It is against this backdrop that black movements such as the Black Panther Party and other civil rights movements rose against this systematic racism. Malcom X in his tour to Africa noted that the violence the people of Algeria went through in the hands of the French police was the same faced by the black people back in the US.

In 2020, we witnessed major protests around the world in solidarity for George Floyd who was killed in broad daylight by police officers in Minnesota. The protests which started in Minneapolis spread to other cities such as Berlin, London, Paris, Johannesburg, among others. The outrage was fuelled by the systematic target on black men in the US and the fact that the suspect was unarmed and had already been subdued by the two police officers filmed arresting him. From the footage taken, one of the police officers’ was kneeling on his neck in a chokehold position despite the plea by the suspect that he couldn’t breathe. This was not an isolated case but one among many that have been common in black dominated neighbourhoods in the US. 

Excessive use of police force was also witnessed during the Hong Kong Protests during the Anti-Extradition Amendment Bill of 2019-2020. During these protests, the Hong Kong Police was under harsh criticism due to the excessive force used and also the unjustified use of water cannons, both live and rubber bullets, tear gas among other weapons. Hong Kong has been a semi-autonomous region from 1979 controlling their economy while still under Mainland China through what has been touted as ‘one country, two systems.’  The extradition bill allowed for extradition to Mainland China. This was seen as a way of China controlling the Hong Kong’s Judicial arm. Pro-democracy protesters poured in the streets to demand for rejection of this bill. The subsequent crackdown on protesters sparked outrage leading to more protests against the bill and also police use of force, arbitrary arrests and brutality. The Chinese government also helped the Hong Kong police to do massive surveillance on the protesters. 

Similar demonstrations followed in Nigeria against the SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad), which was a special unit created by the Nigerian Government to tame violent and organised crime. EndSARS Protests began as an online campaign against this notorious unit in 2017, which had a long history of police brutality, extortions and killings. In October 2020, the unit was linked to many other cases of extra judicial killings, use of force, abductions and arbitrary arrests. The young males in Nigeria had been the primary target of this unit just as in the US. They targeted young Nigerians by profiling them based on their fashion such as hairstyles and tattoo among others. Several cases of extortions by mounting illegal road blocks and searches had been documented without justice being served for the victims.

In other cases, women were tortured and raped. This led to demonstrations that birthed the EndSARS Movement which pushed for the disbanding of this unit. Hundreds of thousands of Nigerians poured in the streets of different town and cities to demand for its disbandment. The young population made the bulk of the demonstrators as they had endured these injustices for long. Social media influencers, musicians and the diaspora Nigerian population gave their solidarity on online platforms forcing Buhari’s regime to offer a concession ground. The unit was disbanded although there was no formation of an inquiry body to look into the injustices, violations and the victims of SARS. After the unit was disbanded, the movement has continued to push for other socio-economic and political reforms in Nigeria such as good governance and accountability, by holding corrupt leaders accountable for their actions. The Nigeria government, through the Central Bank of Nigeria, went ahead to freeze bank accounts of notable protesters to stall and cripple the movement.

Despite the many calls for reforms, defunding from other quarters and abolition from some, there have never been any meaningful changes to the police around the world as the systems that create them are the same throughout — helping to serve the same purpose regardless of the country. Historically, the creation of a police force is said to have been necessitated by the rising cases of violence and lawlessness in the society. This forced the rulers to come up with a unit to maintain peace, law and order. The first recorded evidence dates back to 3000 BCE in Egypt and its rise is credited with the need to protect the ruling families and their areas of jurisdictions. With time, the need to protect private property owned by the rich merchants became another pressing reason and, due to these factors, the police force has evolved as new needs emerged. However, the basic structures, training and modus operandi has been maintained with little or no change over the ages.

The Kenyan Context of a Police State: a Historical Perspective

In Kenya, the first formal police unit was created by the British Government in 1907 as the British Colonial Police Force. Before this, the only communities that had some kind of police units were the coastal communities under Omani Arabs and some sultans. From 1887 to 1902, policing was done by the Imperial British East Africa Company. This unit was created to protect the commercial interests of this company in the vast region covering Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and some parts of Tanzania. Kenya Railways introduced their police units in 1902 to protect their main infrastructural project; Kenya-Uganda Railway. The Askaris, as they were called, were stationed in Mombasa, Nairobi and Kisumu to protect the business interests of this company and the white settlers in the country. They protected the workers building the railway from Mombasa, through Nairobi to Kisumu. They also protected the raw materials and other goods being transported from the hinterlands to the coastal town of Mombasa. 

The Making of a Police State

This police unit evolved along the years as the British government continued with their rule in the region. To effectively subdue the population, they used divide and rule tactics, whereby they recruited one community to serve under their units as homeguards and set them against other communities. This ensured that the communities were always fighting each other rather than fighting the colonial government. This police state is what Kenya inherited as a country. The successive regimes that followed maintained these units without reforming them. They used the police to protect their newly acquired wealth and also to repress any dissident voices that questioned their authority. Through them, several arrests were made, some enforced disappearances and deaths. Kenya’s first post-independence assassination was the killing of General Baimunge, who was a general in Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KFLA) and one of Dedan Kimathi’s confidants, who led the KFLA battalions on the East side of Mount Kenya forest covering Meru and Embu. His death was carried out by the police who were under the instructions of the first Kenyan Prime Minister, Jomo Kenyatta. This was the first betrayal committed by the first post-colonial government on its war heroes. Under Moi’s rule, they were empowered even more with the creation of special units for torture of political detainees, during his authoritarian rule that went for 24 years. Prisoners of conscious includeMaina Wa Kinyatti, Koigi Wamwere, Karimi Nduthu, GPO Oulu and Oscar Kamau King’ara, among many others.

Karimi Nduthu 

Karimi was a renowned activist during Moi’s regime. He was the Secretary General of the Release Political Prisoners (RPP) pressure group and also served as the Mwakenya National Coordinator. Karimi was initiated into radical politics by the December 12 Movement (DTM) literature which included Pambana, Cheche and later Mwakenya materials. Karimi was from Molo and he investigated the Molo massacre and ethnic clashes during the Moi regime. Moi was a ruthless dictator who never hesitated to silence any dissident voices that seemed to oppose his iron fist rule. He made organizing a challenge for political activists and university students. This forced many of them to organize in hiding while only a few dared him. Karimi was expelled from the University of Nairobi for his activism as a student leader in February 1985 before he could complete his degree in engineering. He was arrested in 1986 for being a member of Mwakenya and was jailed for 6yrs at the dreaded Naivasha Maximum Prison. He was later released in 1992 after the The Mothers of Political Prisoners Campaign piled pressure on the Moi regime to release the political prisoners. Immediately after his release from prison, he went straight to All Saints Cathedral where the mothers of political prisoners and members of Release Political Prisoners had camped. They continued to pile pressure by camping at the cathedral until all the prisoners were released. On the night of March 23 1996, Karimi was brutally murdered by the infamous Jeshi la Mzee murder squad at his Riruta home by a vicious youth militia run by the Moi government, and the then ruling party, KANU. Neighbours recounted how the police, who appeared immediately at the murder scene seemed to have been there to confirm the activist’s death. To make it look like a burglary and or a theft scene, they took his possessions including books and cassettes and manuscript. His murder is among many questionable murders and assassinations carried out by Moi’s regime through the help of his secret police squads.

The Assassination of GPO Oulu & Oscar Kamau King’ara

George Paul Oulu also known as Oulu GPO was a Kenyan human rights activist and a former vice chairman of the Students Organization of Nairobi University (SONU) and Oscar Kingara’s assistant. Oscar Kamau Kingara was a Kenyan lawyer and a human rights activist; the founder and director of Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic, a human rights organization based in Nairobi. On March 5 2009, the two were assassinated while sitting in a rush hour traffic in Nairobi. Their assassination is widely attributed to their work in documenting police killings. All the leads pointed to elements within the Kenyan security forces and police as responsible for the assassinations. 

The GPO Oulu, Karimi Nduthu and Oscar Kingara stories all show how extra judicial executions are deep rooted and systemic in Kenya. The denial of justice to the victims to date shows how the justice system has been rigged against a section of Kenyans. 

The police force has been maintained to this date to serve the ruling class and their interests in the country, without any regard for the poor majority in Kenya. The fundamental structures of the police force haven’t changed since the colonial era, despite the many calls for reforms in training, service delivery, maintenance of law and order, impartiality in carrying out their duties, professionalism and their attitude and relationship with the citizens they police. The Kenyan set up shows a force that has been trained to protect the elite in a country with glaring economic disparities between the ultra-rich, who have controlled the country since independence, and the malnourished poor populations who survive on meagre daily wages. To control these hungry and angry masses, the police force has been very active, and more so in the poor urban informal settlements and slums such as Mathare, Kibera, Kayole, Dandora, Kayole, Mukuru and Kariobangi. These areas that harbour majority of the poor in Nairobi are highly policed not to offer protection, but to pacify and repress them into submission. It is from these areas that many cases of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and extortions are reported weekly.

Police violations & abuses under the guide of special operations & crackdowns in Kenya.

Special operations and crackdowns in Kenya have provided ample justification for the use of force, coercion, mass arbitrary arrests with subsequent disregard of the rights of arrested persons, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances. From the crackdown on multi-party democracy crusaders, Marxist-Leninist ideologues, Mungiki, the 2007/08 post-election violence, the Mombasa Republican Council, the anti-terrorism fight, crime in informal settlements to the Covid 19 lockdown, the state has always flexed its muscles on unarmed civilians and created fear in communities through the police force.

In 2006 and 2007, the state launched an operation to crackdown on the outlawed Mungiki Sect which had taken hold of Nairobi, Central and some parts of Rift Valley region. This group incorporated religious, cultural and political issues. They kept dreadlocks, just as the Mau Mau rebels did, to show their ties to the country’s freedom fighters. Their oath takings, which were rumoured to involve use of human blood, and subsequent killings that were linked to the group, invited the government to start a crackdown. Mathare and other slums in Nairobi, and other regions in Central Kenya, suffered a huge blow as hundreds of youths were killed by police and many others disappeared during the same time. According to a report released by a group of lawyers, more than 8040 young Kenyans were executed or tortured to death since 2002, during the five-year police crackdown on the outlawed Mungiki sect under President Mwai Kibaki’s reign.

During the 2007 – 2008 post-election violence, around 1,200 Kenyans lost their lives and the police were used to kill people from the zones termed as opposition. A majority of these killings happened in informal urban settlements in Mombasa, Nairobi and Kisumu, with most of the deaths being as a result of police excesses. To date, the National Police Service (NPS) has never been held accountable for the atrocities committed to its own people. In Kenya, the police force has also been bashed for being impartial in their work, more so during election periods.

The Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) was an organization formed in 1990 by separatists who wanted the coastal part of Kenya to secede. In their efforts, they quoted historical pacts made at independence by Jomo Kenyatta, who was Kenya’s first Prime Minister, with the leadership of Zanzibar, which handed over the coastal strip to Kenya under a lease. They claimed that the lease period was over and it was time to form their own republic. The movement subsided over the years, only to be revitalized in 2008 with their vocal leaders pointing to the thorny issue of land in Kenya, marginalization and skewed development. Under the Pwani Si Kenya (Coast region is not part of Kenya) slogan, they rallied residents to join them with instances of oath taking in coastal forests being reported. The government responded by deploying contingents of police officers who used excessive force on citizens, including women and children. Most of the leaders were detained and some forced to denounce their stand. With the creation of a decentralized government in 2013, after the first election under the 2010 Constitution of Kenya, the movement waned as the creation of county governments gave the coastal people a sense of control of their issues through local governments.

When the Kenyan army entered Somalia supposedly to help the Somali Government fight Al-Shabaab, there were increased cases of terrorist activities in the country as a retaliatory response from the outfit. This led to a crackdown on citizens of Somali origin, and the Muslim populations at large in Kenya. Mombasa and Nairobi became hotbeds of police crackdown by the dreaded Anti-Terrorist Police Unit (ATPU), which rounded-up and arrested hundreds of suspects, some of whom were innocent, and held them in different stations for more than 24 hours without producing them in courts as required. Many Muslim male residents of Eastleigh and Majengo in Nairobi fled as searches were being carried out in mosques and homes. In Mombasa and other coastal areas, young Muslims and clerics were reported to have been killed during this operation, with some being abducted by plain cloth police officers, never to be seen. Some of these abductions and arrests have been carried out in front of families and friends.

The fight against crime in the informal settlements seems to be a war against the poor young Black males in the Kenyan ghettos. Their poverty has made them to be criminalized, along with their dreadlocks, which are used to profile them while labelling them criminals. This has led to the execution and disappearance of many in the hands of the police. Each informal settlement has a renowned killer police officer who seems to be backed by the state. Kayole, Mathare and Dandora all have these serial killers in police uniform, who have taken the role of judiciary to issue instant ‘justice’ to alleged law breakers. The realization that what the government was doing was cleansing young people in the informal settlements, led to the mushrooming of community based organizations to fight this injustice and bring to light and call out the massacre of the ghetto people by their own government. 

The Social Justice Movement & The Fight Against EJEs

The Social Justice Centres Working Group (SJCWG) is the decision making body of the Social Justice Centres Movement, which is the umbrella body that brings together all the social justice centres in Kenya. These social justice centres act as human rights defenders’ centres based in the communities. They are formed by the members of the community to find solutions to the pertinent challenges in the communities. SJCWG has over 60 centres spread across the country organizing on different political, socio-economic and cultural issues.

The social justice centres movement continues to organize around extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances. To document these cases, different partners came up with The Missing Voices website, and, so far, 1226 extrajudicial execution cases and 275 enforced disappearance cases have been documented since 2007. The Missing Voices website is supported by Amnesty International-Kenya, Peace Brigades International-Kenya, International Justice Mission, HAKI Africa, MUHURI, Defenders Coalition, ICTJ, International Commission of Jurists, Kituo Cha Sheria, Kenya Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Watch, CODE for AFRICA, Heinrich Bӧll Stiftung, ODIPODEEV, Protection International-Kenya and SJCWG. These partners help to document, provide legal aid to victims and their kin, offer referral, psycho-social support, among other services. This documentation helps to fill in the evidentiary gap by layering victims’ testimony with quantitative data. It also creates a platform where one can report, sign petitions and follow trials of such cases, as well as offer support. Its mission is to end enforced disappearance and extrajudicial executions in Kenya, which have become rampant in recent times.

The SJCWG operates under committees, and the Mothers of Victims and Survivors Network (MVSN) is one of the pillar committees. The MVSN brings together mothers of victims and survivors of police brutality to provide a platform where they can share their experiences. This also act as a social circle to enable the survivors to start the healing process, as they offer each other a shoulder to lean on. They actively engage in documentation and follow up of EJE’s and ED’ cases in the community, and then offer referrals to the right organizations. They have also been involved in publicizing their work and creating awareness about the government’s role in the protection of the dignity of human life as enshrined in Article 26 of our constitution. 

Licensed to Kill: A Killer Cop Breed

The Kenya Police seems to have been licenced by the state to do a mass cleansing of ‘criminals’ in the slums. In Nairobi Eastlands, “innocent till proven guilty” exists only in papers as the police kill without any regard for the law. More than fifty years after independence, our police force still borrows heavily from the colonial police in its mode of operation. 

During our struggle for independence, the colonial police used the media as a propaganda tool to create fear and panic among the natives. Whenever a fighter was captured or killed, the images of their mutilated bodies would be published on the front pages of the local dailies to demoralize the fighters. One of the images that was highly circulated was that of Dedan Kimathi lying on a stretcher handcuffed. This was to bring the Mau Mau on its knees as they believed that he was the main leader of Mau Mau. Today, the social media has taken the role of the local dailies. The killer police use Facebook pages to spread their propaganda leading to self-exiling of youths due to fear. The police have become bold in their nefarious activities as they issue warnings to their targets on Facebook, with the photos of the target which they then go ahead to actualize without any fear of repercussion. Just like the colonial police, they post the badly mutilated bodies with warnings to other youths involved in crime. 

The police also seem to be taking new methods to avoid leaving a trace behind of their activities. Instead of the bullet, their victims are being strangled and their bodies dumped in places far away from their homes or where they were abducted. In an expose by a local media house, most of the bodies found dumped in River Yala had these signs and the victims had an involvement in crime pointing to a secret group cracking down on criminals. This special police unit is not created to follow the normal procedures of law but rather break the law at all cost.

Nearly each neighbourhood in Nairobi’s Eastlands has a known killer police officer who operates in the area. Despite the overwhelming evidence against these officers, the state seems unwilling to take action on them, and the only action taken is transfer and re-shuffling of the officers from one area to another.

The government has invested heavily on arming our police force, while still spending inadequate amounts on social security programs, job creation and provision of social services, which would help to drastically reduce the crime rate. The state has also neglected the well-being of its police officers as mental health issues and low wages demoralize the force from within, amongst other challenges such as poor working conditions. These problems compounded have in a way contributed to the many suicide cases in the force, the increased cases of homicides among police officers, misuse of fire arms and involvement in illegal activities such as robbery with violence and collaboration with criminal networks.

The threat the police pose to the public is immense, and Kenyans seem to be sitting on a time bomb ready to explode, when you imagine a fully armed police officer, underpaid by the government, working in poor and harsh conditions, traumatised by work, being oppressed by the seniors and with no psycho-social support systems in the force, and trying to survive the harsh economic conditions. These conditions create an environment for mental instability among the junior officers. 

The Role of Women in the Fight Against EJEs

Movements have always propped up to deal with human rights abuses by the state. Women have been part and parcel of organizing and confronting the ills in the community, as well as upsetting the status quo. Women in Kenya have participated in all aspects of the struggle, and they continue to do so to this day.

During the Moi regime when the government arrested young people and put them in prisons, mothers of those political prisoners and other women camped at Uhuru Park and piled pressure on the government to release the political prisoners. The government was adamant and this led to the women stripping and going on a silent strike until Moi’s government started releasing the prisoners. The women fought for their sons until they were all released. 

From the defiance of Mekatili wa Menza and Muthoni Nyanjiru against the colonial police during the invasion of our territories, to Field Marshal Muthoni Kirima who fought alongside men during the Mau Mau years, to second liberation heroes such as Wangari Maathai, women have led by example by showing bravery and defiance against the skewed system being enforced through the police. This baton has been passed to MVSN which continues to organize against these atrocities being committed by the police in poor neighbourhoods. Being victims, survivors and witnesses of police injustices, these women chose to rise above their anger and setbacks and channel their energy and efforts by creating awareness in the community, and support others who have been or who would have been victims. Instead of giving up, these women have transformed from being victims to community human rights defenders in the different settlements they come from. They now stand as the vanguard of the community against rogue police officers and the system that creates and supports them. Nduku Mwangagi is one of these victims who swore to protect others from the rogue police officers after losing her adopted son.

 Mwaura’s Story

“I met Mwaura, a street boy in Soweto, in 2004, and I took him in. He was a young boy with no family in Nairobi. His siblings were living with his grandmother in Sabasaba, Murang’a. I offered to take him to school but since he had spent years on the streets he begged me to allow him to work as a co-driver in my lorry. I agreed to that because he needed to trace his family and support his siblings and grandmother. Mwaura became my first son. I felt so protected with him, he loved me like a mother and respected me as a mother. Mwaura was killed in 2008 by police at Kona Market in Kayole, I have never been that frustrated my whole life. I still remember how he would smile and call me Mama Mathew. The fact that I never got the chance to bury him and even never found his body still brings tears in my eyes until today. That is why I fight against EJEs and against all these injustices. I don’t keep quiet in the face of injustices and no one should.” Nduku Mwangangi, Mwaura’s guardian.

The Social Justice Movement has organized communities against these injustices to try and force the state into accountability. Instead of initiating the investigations, the state has in most times responded by intimidation, surveillance and a crackdown of human rights defenders. This use of police force was witnessed during the annual Saba Saba (July 7th) March For Our Lives by the Social Justice Movement, when more than sixty activists, human rights defenders and members of community were arrested for participating in this peaceful protest commemorating the activities of the second liberation struggle in Kenya. 

The Kenya Police Force & Stalled Reforms

The National Police Service is not yet a service but remains largely a force. The change in name from ‘force’ to ‘service’ did not solve the many underlying issues facing our police force. The force that was inherited at independence in 1963 has remained relatively the same in function, operation and culture, among other aspects. The police service was supposed to be citizen-centric in the way it handles complaints from the public. This is far from what Kenyans are used to in our local police stations. The reform of uniforms and change of name hasnn’t brought any change to the police culture in Kenya. 

The Kenya Police Force needs a radical surgery or a total overhaul, together with the system that created it. The many years of reform seems to have hit a brick wall and the changes are no longer effective. The curriculum used by the Kenya Police College needs to focus more on instilling patriotism, dignity for human life and professionalism, while the recruiters should focus on passion to serve and other aspects such as IQ, rather than the physical aspects that are long outdated.

Will reforms work to bring the stalled changes needed in our police forces? Is defunding the police force a viable solution? And should we give a thought to the ideologues who say we should abolish the police?

Until we uproot the system that created this police force, it shall continue to be a ‘FORCE’ rather than a ‘SERVICE’, the issue of mental health among the police shall continue to be a thorn in our flesh, and cases of suicide among the force shall go on. Until a radical surgery is given, professionalism will be an alien vocabulary to our police officers; until we cut the stem that supports a moribund system, Kenyans and the citizens of the world shall continue to suffer in the hands of these police forces.

Written By Faith Kasina (Coordinator of Kayole Community Justice Centre) &bGathanga Ndung’u (Member- Kenya Organic Intellectuals Network & Ruaraka Social Justice Centre (RSJC))

REFERENCES

  1. https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/topic/Karimi-Nduthu
  2. https://nation.africa/kenya/news/karimi-nduthu-mwakenya-leader-who-remained-defiant-until-his-brutal-death-3335560
  3. https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2022/5/9/the-kenyan-mothers-fighting-to-end-police-brutality
  4. https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/entertainment/nainotepad/2001261426/bare-breatsed-crusade-when-mothers-of-political-prisoners-stripped-at-uhuru-park
  5. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2009/06/kenyan-government-must-act-urgently-end-impunity-bring-about-essential-reform-20090612/
  6. https://missingvoices.or.ke/
  7. https://www.hrw.org/blog-feed/hong-kong-protests
  8. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2021/02/nigeria-end-impunity-for-police-violence-by-sars-endsars
  9. https://deflem.blogpost.com/1994/08/law-enforcement-in-british-colonial.html?m=1
  10. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327002172_crime_politics_and_the_police_in_colonial_kenya_1939-63
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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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