Policing is inseparable from the political context in which it is situated, whichever system of law enforcement or politics is in operation. As with many countries with recent colonial pasts, Kenya has experienced law enforcement as control imposed by an alien culture, then as an infrastructure left behind by a retreating old order, and then as a force adapted by new post- independence politicians to maintain their regimes. In the 21st century, as Kenyan democratic instincts strengthen, policing is again evolving to meet the needs of the political environment in which it finds itself.
Despite the enactment of the Constitution of Kenya in 2010, the narrative has still has remained unchanged as Police brutality has been rampant with many incidents being reported and documented by the media and civil society organizations. On many occasions, the Police, armed with AK-47’s, tear gas canisters, G-3 rifles and, water cannons have viciously descended on protestors, beating some to pulp and living others severely injured. These techniques employed by the police in managing lawful protests predate the new constitutional dispensation and have since created a worrying trend similar to pre-independence tactics that Kenyans had become familiar with over the last decades.
As a result of these unconstitutional acts that have been exercised with impunity, many citizens, including school going children, refugees, civil society organizations, members of the public and even politicians have been victims of these repressive actions that have subjected them to severe injuries, arbitrary arrests, and in some instances death.
During the 2007 post election violence, the Kenyan Police resorted to the use of heavy handed policing methods that included the use of excessive force and the use of live bullets that claimed the lives of many Kenyans, in circumstances where the use of lethal force was not justified. In 2010, the Kenyan Police subjected refugees fleeing war torn Somalia to violence, arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention, inhuman and degrading conditions, and threats of deportation, and wrongful prosecution for “unlawful presence” to extort money from the new arrivals – men, women, and children and rape in certain severe cases.
The killing of an innocent man and his son near their home in Kawangware in 2011 by police officers attached to Muthangari Police station near is a clear indication of how the Kenyan Police have exercised their power with impunity. In August 2014, Kwekwe Mwandaza, a 14 year old school girl from Maweu in Mombasa County was shot in the head and chest by Police officers after the officers lobbed teargas canisters into their home and indiscriminately opened fire killing the girl as her family choked on fumes. A peaceful demonstration by school children protesting against the illegal fencing of a playground in Langata by a private in developer in 2015 turned violent when the Police fired teargas into the crowd. Many of the students were rushed to hospital due to excessive exposure to tear gas.
In 2016, at least 5 people died and 60 were wounded by gunfire as police tried to obstruct peaceful protests in Nyanza region. As a result, innocent bystanders, students in school or on their way home and people at work or in their homes were severely injured. The shocking images of police officers beating up a youthful protestor in Nyeri during the deputy president’s visit yet another incident the Police have abused the duties vested in them by the Constitution.
Politicians have not been spared by the Police in this spat of using excessive force with Bomet County Governor Isaac Ruto needing urgent medical attention in a South African Hospital, after a teargas canister exploded in his face. In Mumias, Western Kenya, police officers from the general service unit descended on homes indiscriminately and beat up children, innocent villagers and women, in an operation to recover seven firearms and several rounds of ammunition stolen from Booker Police Post. It was allegedly reported that some of the women were sexually assaulted by the Police officers. The incidents above are a clear description of how the Kenyan Police have exercised their duty with arrogance, impunity and total disregard to human rights principles that are enshrined in our Constitution.
There is urgent need for the independent policing oversight authority to institute investigations and recommend for the prosecution of all police men and women implicated in any incidents of police brutality. Police men and women within the National Police Service need to be re-trained on the use of force and crowd control to ensure that citizens are not victims of those charged with protecting them. Standard operating procedures should also be reviewed to ensure that the Police discharge their duties with the highest standards of professionalism, discipline, accountability and respect of human rights as enshrined in the Constitution of Kenya.
By Martin Mavenjina -Program Assistant- Transformative Justice, KHRC.