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Julie Masiga: Conduct of the officers who were deployed to stifle the Opposition was unbecoming

By Julie Masiga | Published Tue, December 5th 2017 at 00:00, Updated December 4th 2017 at 21:34 GMT +3
Police officers canes a woman during a planned Nasa prayer for the victims of police brutality along Manyanja road, Nairobi 28/11/17 [Photo: Boniface Okendo| Standard]

It’s been quiet. One could even go so far as to say peaceful. The tribal chatter on social media has quietened, mostly because those who are celebrating five more years of Jubilee are breathing a little easier. With the swearing in of Uhuru Kenyatta, there is little need to lash out in defence of a long line of indefensibles, including the mindless murder of children. The house on the hill has been secured, and the time has come to be gracious and conciliatory. Well, for the most part.

It cannot be easy to maintain a graceful façade when you’re defending a police force that fired on unarmed Kenyans, maiming some and killing others. Especially when you are the ‘president of all’ and those Kenyans are citizens of the country that you govern. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. Uhuru has publicly commended the police service for being firm, professional, and strangely enough, acting in accordance with the law.

The conduct of the officers who were deployed to stifle the Opposition was unbecoming. This is an undisputable fact. And I state it without issuing a blanket condemnation against the entire police service. The officers who terrorised unarmed men, women and children, under the guise of dispersing protestors are no doubt a bucketful of bad apples. That said, collective responsibility must be taken by the force, and by the uniformed State entity that is mandated to protect life and preserve the peace. Like it or not, one policeman is a representation of them all.

Dented image

And so it is that the image of the police force as a whole has been severely damaged. Presidential commendation notwithstanding, it will be a while before the relationship between officer and citizen is repaired – if ever. There is no accepting and moving on. The only way to emerge on the other side of this trauma is to go through it. To do whatever it takes to repair the fabric of Kenyan society, and that will take much more than hollow platitudes from leadership, shallow efforts at conciliation and misplaced praise. For one, there will be no reconciliation until the deaths of innocents are acknowledged, and apologised for.

But as I said at the beginning, apart from the usual political posturing, it has been quiet around these parts. Those who have become accustomed to the psychic privilege of tribal ‘ruler-ship’ are heaving a long sigh of relief, and those who are on the outside looking in have added this latest batch of injustices to a growing collection of wrongs. There has been a feeling of resignation among the progressive Kenyans who thought that change was coming before the reforms train went off the tracks. Where they once clamoured for change, now they speak in subdued tones.

Arbitrary arrests

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And hey, things might have remained peaceful had the police left David Ndii to his own devices. His arrest over the weekend re-awakened the spirit of revolution that was hovering quietly over the land. Embers that were smouldering have now been set alight, and the movement for a functioning democracy has acquired renewed vigour. In its rabid determination to quell the voices of dissent, the Jubilee administration has handed the Opposition a very public lifeline.

I use the term ‘opposition’ here with much consideration because a distinction must be made between the official opposition agenda and the will of the people – or at least those people who want to leave a better country to their children. The opposition figureheads are only representative of reform; the real movement is in the hearts and minds of anyone who wants their government to put its people first.

A detachment from the often obscure motives of leadership is necessary do that citizens can fight in their own right, whether they think they are going to win or not. Struggle has its own rewards. If I may use the Canaan symbolism, the Promised Land is a territory of your own making. Real freedom begins when you realise that you hold the power to decide how your government treats you. If you need official confirmation, look no further than Article 1 of our Constitution, which designates all sovereign power to the people of Kenya. And if you’re still unconvinced, look back on the election cycle: You will see a people determined to reclaim their position in the determination of their own fate.  

Ms Masiga is Peace and Security Editor at The Conversation Africa

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