Kenya’s third city, Kisumu is synonymous with State-related brutality, a distinction that dates back to 1969 when two prominent Luo politicians, CMG Argwings Kodhek and Tom Mboya were assassinated in a span of six months.
In what resembled a premeditated massacre two months into Mboya’s killing, President Jomo Kenyatta’s security detail and the elite presidential guard opened fire indiscriminately into crowds including school children marshaled to entertain him, killing many after he publicly differed with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga at the New Nyanza General Hospital he had come to officially open. The pogrom continued along the Kisumu-Nairobi Road until the presidential motorcade was outside Nyanza Province.
Fast forward to August 31, 2017 and, as the nation anxiously waited for the landmark Supreme Court ruling that overturned President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election on August 1, the lakeside city was awash with security personnel ready to unleash terror in case Jubilee won and spontaneous demonstrations against the regime erupted. The heavily armed squads were emasculated by celebrations that greeted the unexpected NASA court victory.
With ominous callousness prior to the historic ruling, Nyanza Regional Coordinator Wilson Njega called a press conference to warn that police would not hesitate to use force including live bullets if residents demonstrated against Uhuru’s expected win. Mr Njega had parried earlier reports that body bags had been ferried to Kisumu prior to the General Election.
The run up to the August 8 election three weeks earlier saw Kisumu flooded by all manner of security personnel ready for battle in gears that included latest anti-riot wares recently imported into the country.
By the time the election storm whipped up by the midnight announcement that Uhuru and his Jubilee outfit had won, several innocent inhabitants including six-month old baby Samantha Pendo, who was clubbed on the head had died. Baby Pendo’s father was among those clobbered as he emerged from his house with arms raised. Police had scaled up operations from pursuing rioters to breaking down doors and beating people indiscriminately.
Kisumu County Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o said 171 cases of police brutality were reported, six of them rape; seven deaths were confirmed while several people were reported missing.
Prof Nyong’o said he had information that police had ordered digging of mass graves at Mambo Leo public cemetery for the purpose of secretly burying victims’ bodies to conceal evidence of their brutality.
“What baffled residents was the fact that police had no qualms saying they had been given orders to kill,” the governor recalled.
Njega described those killed as criminals, adding that he had no apologies to make for the excessive police force.
Kisumu also bore the brunt of police excesses during the 2007/2008 post-election violence with over 400 deaths attributed to police bullets. No other town in the country suffered such State terror.
Following Dr Robert Ouko’s assassination in February, 1990, police were dispatched to Kisumu to muffle the mourners as if it was a crime to vent their sorrow over what had happened to their gallant son. It was the first time in Kenya’s history that a Senior Cabinet minister had disappeared and found murdered.
So why this viciousness on a city and a community? Prof Nyong’o equates it to ethnic profiling of a community he describes as regrettable for a nation.’ “It is an attitude that has built up over the years, giving the unfortunate impression that Luo lives do not matter. It is a shame for the leadership,” he said.