Po­lice bru­tal­ity rife in Kenya

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On the streets of Nairobi the day af­ter po­lice bru­tally clubbed and kicked a man while he was down, it was busi­ness as usual. Shops were open, buses and peo­ple went on their way. Else­where in Kenya, Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta was plan­ning to meet constituencies he hadn’t in­ter­acted with since the 2013 elec­tions.

Kenyans are, how­ever, hold­ing their breath for the next round of demon­stra­tions. Pro­test­ers have vowed to re­turn to the streets ev­ery Mon­day un­til their de­mands for re­form of the elec­toral body are met, and this week was their third protest.

The po­lice claimed they had to act to put a stop to loot­ing and dam­age to busi­nesses, which hap­pened dur­ing Mon­day’s demon­stra­tions.

Al­ready some are say­ing that next year’s elec­tions – where in­cum­bent Keny­atta will run for a sec­ond term – could see a re­peat of the coun­try’s bloody 2007 elec­tions.

Sup­port for Kenya’s elec­tions body, the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral and Bound­aries Com­mis­sion, is wor­ry­ingly low. The coun­try’s Daily Na­tion news­pa­per on Mon­day pub­lished the re­sults of a sur­vey that showed only 43% of re­spon­dents thought the body could con­duct free and fair elec­tions.

The 44% who said they had lost faith in the body said it had opened its doors to po­lit­i­cal med­dling and did a poor job of over­see­ing the 2013 elec­tions.

For­mer prime min­is­ter Raila Odinga, now the leader of the op­po­si­tion Coali­tion for Re­forms and Democ­racy, still main­tains that the pre­vi­ous elec­tions, where he ran un­suc­cess­fully for the pres­i­dency, were rigged.

Cor­rup­tion scan­dals within the body haven’t helped mat­ters.

It is, how­ever, the in­creas­ing po­lice vi­o­lence that has or­di­nary cit­i­zens wor­ried.

Charles Dienya, the chair­per­son of youth non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion Green Gen­er­a­tion As­so­ci­a­tion and sup­porter of the Coali­tion for Re­forms and Democ­racy, said po­lice re­forms en­vis­aged in the coun­try’s 2010 Con­sti­tu­tion never hap­pened.

“In the post­elec­tion vi­o­lence [in 2008], most peo­ple died be­cause of po­lice bru­tal­ity,” he said.

The Con­sti­tu­tion pro­vides for an in­de­pen­dent in­sti­tu­tion to deal with po­lice re­forms, and to act as an over­sight and com­plaints body to deal with po­lice con­duct, but this was not hap­pen­ing.

“The demon­stra­tions are peace­ful most of the time, but cit­i­zens end up be­ing bru­tally beaten by the po­lice,” Dienya said.

Wide­spread hu­man rights abuses were re­ported to­wards the end of the regime of Daniel arap Moi’s 24-year ten­ure at the turn of the cen­tury.

Kenyan hu­man rights group, the In­de­pen­dent Medico-Le­gal Unit, re­ported 126 killings by po­lice of­fi­cers and wildlife rangers last year.

Last month, a video clip went vi­ral of po­lice beat­ing up stu­dents with sticks and clubs while they were ly­ing down dur­ing a protest at the Uni­ver­sity of Nairobi.

Kenyan and in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights groups con­demned this week’s po­lice vi­o­lence, and the US em­bassy in Kenya called the force ap­plied by the po­lice “ex­ces­sive”. Yarik Turi­an­skyi, from the SA In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs at the Uni­ver­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand, who was in Nairobi and close enough to hear the whistling and com­mo­tion dur­ing Mon­day’s protests, said dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ments re­acted dif­fer­ently to protests. “In some in­stances, we have peace­ful protests, but still gov­ern­ments send out he­li­copters and po­lice in riot gear, and they beat up pro­test­ers. In other in­stances, you will have peace­ful protests and marches on gov­ern­ment, and it will serve to cre­ate di­a­logue,” he said. This week, a civil so­ci­ety meet­ing was held in Nairobi about the fu­ture of the African Peer Re­view Mech­a­nism, an in­stru­ment for African coun­tries to eval­u­ate each other’s sys­tems of gov­er­nance and fi­nance. The po­lice vi­o­lence fea­tured promi­nently at the meet­ing. Turi­an­skyi said that be­cause po­lice bru­tal­ity in Kenya was mak­ing in­ter­na­tional head­lines, it was likely to come up in the coun­try’s sec­ond peer re­view re­port, which is due for re­lease next year. Kenya is the first coun­try to un­dergo a sec­ond re­view. Iron­i­cally, its first re­view, which was done be­fore the 2007 elec­tions, cor­rectly pre­dicted the vi­o­lence that fol­lowed, but lit­tle was done about it. Nev­er­the­less, Keny­atta, who was elected to chair the African Peer Re­view Mech­a­nism dur­ing last year’s African Union sum­mit in Johannesburg, has pushed for the flag­ging mech­a­nism to be re­vived. Peter Kimemia from the Kenya Nepad sec­re­tariat, which pri­mar­ily deals with the African Peer Re­view Mech­a­nism, said it was im­por­tant that the dis­grun­tled par­ties got to­gether to talk about their is­sues around the elec­tions body be­cause the new Con­sti­tu­tion made pro­vi­sion for changes. He be­lieved that the prob­lem should be ad­dressed holis­ti­cally and that protests were not the an­swer. “When you are not get­ting what you are look­ing for in terms of sup­port from the peo­ple in the street, you tend to push ex­trale­gal means. The peo­ple who are com­plain­ing blame the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral and Bound­aries Com­mis­sion for losses, but they have been quiet in the places where they won [by-elec­tions].”

PHOTO: REUTERS

AG­GRES­SIVE STANCE A Kenyan po­lice­man beats a pro­tester dur­ing clashes in Nairobi, Kenya, on Mon­day. The vi­o­lent as­sault was caught on cam­era and sub­se­quently went vi­ral. In­set: Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta

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