On police convictions, we laud Ipoa, Judiciary and cops who testified

This was no Valentine week for Kenya’s Police Service. The inquest into Baby Pendo, the 6-month-old infant child who suffered the wrath of security forces during the post-election skirmishes in Kisumu decreed that former Kisumu Police Commander and four senior police officers were culpable for Baby Pendo’s death. The Presiding Magistrate also recommended charges against 30 GSU officers who had been involved in the operation in which the baby was clobbered to death. In the same week, former Ruaraka Police Station boss Nahashon Mutua was found guilty of the murder of Martin Koome in 2013 and sentenced to hang. This was one of the most severe sentences ever handed to a police officer for police brutality against civilians.

This case, that took six years to prosecute, is a study on how the police deliberately bungle prosecutions to enable culprits to get away with crime. Not only was the police boss not the subject of the initial charges, a lower ranking cop had been initially charged with the offence and it took the intervention of the Macharia Njeru led Independent Police Oversight Authority (Ipoa) to get the real culprit charged with the crime. But for Ipoa, we all know what would have transpired; there would have been no credible evidence against the wrongly accused cop and the case would have died. Mutua would still be reporting to Ruaraka with absolute impunity.

On Tuesday of the same week, the body of human rights activist Carol Mwatha, whose principal activism was against extra judicial killings was found at the City Mortuary. While evidence so far points to death from a botched abortion, voluntary or otherwise, these are early days and we cannot assume that the police are complicit in this death. But to many Kenyans, the questionable death of a person who continually challenged the police on extra judicial killings can only mean one thing. Police impunity. Kenyans have been here before. We all remember human rights lawyers Oscar Kingara and Paul Oulo whose foundation was known for its work against extra judicial killings. They were gunned down on University Way in broad daylight. No one was ever held responsible for their murders. IJM lawyer Willie Kimani was killed in 2016. At least the trial against the suspected perpetrators is proceeding, though with numerous hurdles.

However sordid these stories are, they are a whiff of promise in the fight against police brutality. First an acknowledgment. Having worked with the police for many years, I know that the largest majority of them are hardworking, well intentioned, poorly paid and poorly housed civil servants who enter those areas we would pay to avoid. They guide us in the soaking rain, enter filthy parts of the vitongojis (slums) to follow criminals, pull out and carry our dead and wounded from accidents and fires, separate fighting couples, enter the line of fire with terrorists; the list is endless. To them we owe a debt of gratitude. But there are enough bad apples to continually mess the reputation of the force and these are the ones who the incidents this week are a warning to.

Since the promulgation of the new Constitution, a new citizen was born one who recognised that they could hold power to account. They can demand action against the police. With the Constitution then creating new institutions, in this case a more independent and professional judiciary and an independent police oversight body, it is a matter of time before rogue police find that their actions have consequences. While the Baby Pendo findings and the Mutua convictions are a drop in the ocean, in view of the extensive nature of police misdeeds, the fact that convictions not only occurred but that they targeted seniors, can only point towards the death of impunity. We do not wish to indulge in early celebrations but we will keep hope alive. Meanwhile we must give credit where it is due. In this case, our congratulations go to Ipoa, the judiciary, and the brave cops who gave evidence against their rogue colleagues. Keep up the good work until the police service is totally cleared of impunity.

- The writer is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya

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Kenya’s Police ServiceBaby PendoGSU officersNahashon Mutua