We Are Not Criminals
When the protectors became the attackers in Nairobi, Kenya
Other than the 2002 poll, every election in Kenya since the introduction of multi-party politics in 1991 has been marred by unrest.
After weeks of rising tension, people stocking up on food and water in case of post-election violence, followed by deserted streets after the 8 August voting day, protests erupted in parts of Nairobi and Kisumu, especially in the informal settlements. The protests broke out on the night of 11 August when the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, was declared the winner of the presidential election, which the opposition leader, Raila Odinga, immediately rejected.
In many opposition areas, Kenyan authorities deployed large numbers of paramilitary units. These heavy deployments fuelled political tensions and exacerbated unrest that followed the announcement of the results. Security forces sometimes used unlawful, excessive force to disperse protests, shooting and beating to death people on the street and in house-to-house searches. They used live ammunition, tear gas and pepper spray and beat residents with batons, often under the cover of darkness. However, in some areas, local police commanders chose not to deploy paramilitary reinforcements, opting instead for community policing methods and dialogue with protesters. Here, prior relationship-building efforts between police chiefs and community leaders proved successful and there were no deaths and few injuries.
They asked us to vote peacefully… we did that, and now we are beaten like animals?
SILAS LEBO: Too young to vote, but not to die in police attack
Silas Lebo was only 17 years old. He was in his final year in Barding High School, Siaya County. Too young to vote, his focus was studying for his exams on 31 October 2017. His mother, Christine Lebo, and his teachers had high expectations of him doing well in exams. Silas wanted to study medicine in university.
On 12 August at 10:00 am, just after Silas had his breakfast, four police officers broke down the door to his house in Mathare where he was studying, and pulled him out onto the street. They forced him to lie in a ditch outside his house and started beating him on his back with batons. They said to him, “Sisi hatukuiiba kura za Raila, tumechoka na nyinyi”, [we did not steal Raila’s votes, we are tired of you].
Upon hearing his cries, Christine stepped out to see what was happening. She asked the police officers why they were beating her son, adding that if they wanted someone to beat then they should beat her. They ignored her, but stopped beating Silas and left.
Christine called Silas’s brother who took him to the Kenyatta National Hospital for treatment. He was admitted in the Intensive Care Unit with a spinal injury. Silas succumbed to his injuries and died the following night.
Silas’s death was devastating for Christine.
My heart has been ripped out. Why didn’t they kill me instead of my young son?
NELVIN AMAKOVE: Killed while fending for her family
On 11 August, hours before the declaration of Uhuru Kenyatta as winner, Nelvin Amakove, a 30-year-old woman from Kawangware, was shot dead upon returning from shopping for food during a lull in the protests, a relative said. A relative found her body, along that of another woman. “[I]t had a small bullet hole at the back – right side,” and a huge exit wound at the front, he recalled.
FESTO KIVOGO: Shot close to home on his way from work
Festo Kivogo, a 27-year-old father of three, was shot dead in Kawangware while in the vicinity of violent protesters throwing rocks at police at around 7 p.m. on 9 August, when a bullet hit him behind the left ear and exited through his eye, according to one of the men who tried to help take him to hospital. Witnesses were not sure if police fired the bullet; some said a Kikuyu businessman shot a handgun from an adjoining alley.
GEOFFREY ONACHA AND SHARON IMENZA: TOO MUCH TRAUMA, TOO MANY DEAD
Relatives said that during protests on 10 August, Geoffrey Onacha, a 34-year-old resident in Kibera, was shot dead. We could not establish who fired the gun. His family went to view the body the next day in City Mortuary. His daughter, Sharon Imenza, age 10, was so traumatized from seeing the body in the mortuary that she collapsed immediately and died, according to a relative. Relatives buried both soon after in western Kenya.
Fredrick Obange, 35-year-old electrician living and working in Mathare
On 12 August, Fredrick was returning home from his sister’s house around 10:00 am, which is about 20 minutes away from his home, when he was informed by his friend that the police were beating young men randomly in Mathare. He decided to use a different route to his house to avoid the police. He got home safely, however, 30 minutes later, at around 11:00 am, he heard a heavy knocks on his door.
People unknown to him, outside, taunted him, “toka turushe mawe!” [Come out, let’s throw stones].
My job requires me to use both hands, and now I cannot do that now. I have difficulty in using my hands.
When he stepped out to see what was happening, he was grabbed by the collar of his shirt and thrown to the ground by three police officers. One of the police officers hit him multiple times in his stomach with the butt of his gun.
Fredrick told us, a police officer said to him, “Mmetusumbua sana, hatulali” [you guys have caused us a lot of trouble, we are not even sleeping].
After the police left him, he was taken for first aid treatment at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) mobile medical clinic on Juja Road, 20 minutes from his house by his friends. Fredrick went to Kenyatta National Hospital for further treatment that evening. He sustained injuries on his stomach, hands and legs, fortunately, there were no fractures. He had difficulty walking and was using a walking stick after being discharged from hospital.
“My job requires me to use both hands, and now I cannot do that now. I have difficulty in using my hands.”
WE ARE WATCHING YOU
All these stories are about the police using excessive and even lethal force. In some areas police went door-to-door looking for all men while other accounts are of unprovoked police shooting. Throwing rocks at police is not, in itself, grounds for the use of lethal force, unless such action presents an imminent threat of death or serious injury. There are less extreme means sufficient to stop that threat.
According to the international policing guidelines, police must use force only as far as is necessary, and where not possible to ensure that as little damage and injury as possible occurs.
Communities, families and individuals have been devastated by the police behaviour during the post-election protests when the police attacked them.
Kenya’s police have a duty to protect people from violence, but they must do so in a way that respects both national and international law by ensuring safety and security of the public rather than harassing them.
© Bryan Jaybee/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
"They asked us to vote peacefully, go home, and wait for the results, and that is exactly what we did, and now we are beaten like animals? I am not going to vote again. They can have a monarchy for all I care. Election has lost its purpose," Fredick Obange.
©Amnesty International/Kimani Nyoike
If the police are dealing with criminals we want to see more handcuffs and not body bags.