By Kipchumba Some
Last year, the UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, accused the Government of running what he termed ‘death squads’ within the force.
Prof Alston was referring to the myriad covert police units, which have been accused of gross violation of human rights.
A number of special, elite police units have been formed since President Kibaki came to power in 2003, ostensibly to tackle old and emerging crimes.
They include Spider (for general crime), Kanga (tout menace), Alfa Romeo (armed robberies) and Rhino (to root out Mungiki menace in matatu industry) and Kwekwe (anti-Mungiki).
- 1 Panic as two convicts die mysteriously in Kirinyaga
- 2 Strange case of a call and five missing girls
- 3 Naivasha OCS attacked and robbed of his gun
- 4 Wamuchomba claims life in danger over her BBI stand
But Alston’s lenses focused on the dreaded Kwekwe Squad, which the civil society condemned for allegedly going about its duties with disregard to the law.
The squad, formed at the height of Mungiki activities in 2007, was blamed for killing hundreds of youth, mostly from the Kikuyu community, on the suspicion of being followers of the sect.
A 2008 report by Kenya National Commission on Human Rights alleged that more than 1,500 youths had died at the hands of police, mostly at the hands of this squad. In February last year, Internal Security Minister George Saitoti told Parliament that Kwekwe Squad no longer exists, that it was disbanded in 2007.
But was it really disbanded? Our investigations reveal the squad is much in operation, although under a different name. It changed its name to Eagle Squad sometime in 2008. But the faces behind the outfit did not change, save for a few. When it was formed, the 14-member squad was mainly composed of officers from the Kikuyu, Meru and Embu communities as well as a few others from other communities.
After restructuring in 2008, the officers from other communities were deployed to other units within the police force. Today, the squad draws its officers exclusively from the Meru, Kikuyu and Embu communities.
According to a police source familiar with the operations of the squad, members of the Eagle Squad were moved to various stations within Nairobi.
"But they were not given specific duties. They are on standby and are available any moment they are wanted for any operation," added our source.
Most covert operations throughout the world are characterised by one factor: The suspension of normal rules, which often result in gross violation of human rights. It was no different with Kwekwe.
An officer who served in the squad but who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter explained why the unit adopted a no-mercy approach in its crackdown on Mungiki.
"Our order was one and it remains the same to all officers who serve in the current anti-Mungiki squad: To infiltrate and extinguish the sect’s activities at all cost," he said.
He continued: "The sect was establishing a parallel government of its own. We had to reassert our authority. We had express instructions to show no mercy to anyone suspected to be Mungiki."
And there would be no questions asked by superiors on whatever action they took on suspects, he added. Most of them were killed in cold blood.
"We were only accountable to the police commissioner who approved of everything we did," said our source.
The head of Kwekwe Squad, a veteran of the force, is reportedly very powerful within the force and greatly feared by the suspects he hunts down and his colleagues.
Police Spokesman Eric Kiraithe denied the existence of elite squads in the force and in particular one dedicated to rooting out the Mungiki menace.
"We have stepped up general operations in response to the rise in crime. But we have not had a specific operation or indeed a special squad dedicated to a criminal gang like Mungiki," he said.
He however added: "We also have special vigilance units. These are mobile units formed by DCIOs in crime prone areas to tackle general issues of insecurity but not to pursue Mungiki per se."
But he did not disclose whether these ‘vigilance units’ are given any special names. However, he clarified that there are only three special units currently in existence: The Crime Investigations Unit, Special Crimes Prevention Unit and Flying Squad.