We cannot run away from the reality of police brutality, Mr Mudavadi

Azimio la Umoja supporters take part in candle lighting activity at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital Kisumu in solidarity with victims of police brutality. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Prime Cabinet Secretary and Foreign and Diaspora Affairs Musalia Mudavadi is clearly a good of ambassador of Kenya. He is a man who can’t stand the government’s reputation being sullied for whatever reason.

According to media reports and even the Foreign and Diaspora Affairs website, Mr Mudavadi refuted claims of police brutality in Kenya during his visit to Ethiopia last week.

Responding to a report by African Commission on Human Rights that decried police brutality in Kenya during the 44th Ordinary Session of the African Union, Mr Mudavadi reportedly said, “police brutality and use of excessive force do not arise in Kenya”.

That coming at a time when Kenya is preparing to dispatch 1,000 police officers to the Haiti mission could just be what the world would like to hear.

But while it is good to defend the country, it is awkward and absurd to do so in some circumstances such as this one. Clearly, Mudavadi is being economical with the truth and was trying to mask what is, and has always been glaring.

Police brutality in Kenya is a reality nobody can sincerely disclaim. It has always been synonymous with the police and actually contributed to the change in name from Police Force to Police Service and the creation of the Independent Police Oversight Authority to check police excesses.

In 2017, for instance, police brutality manifested in such ways and manner that Mudavadi and other opposition leaders called a press conference to condemn it. In particular, Mudavadi was concerned that police officers had been unleashed on people in the Luo Nyanza counties where he said they were “brutalising people, killing children and breaking into homes, flashing out people and subjecting them to torture”. What has changed since? 

The case of baby Pendo, the six-month-old baby who died in Kisumu after a police officer hit her on the head with a baton in 2017 is the clearest indicator of how brutal and callous Kenyan police officers can get. The declaration of a curfew in 2020 following the Covid-19 outbreak also exposed the brutality of police officers. Hapless Kenyans caught by police outside their homes during curfew hours suffered brutality.

Street demos called by Azimio la Umoja after the 2022 general elections elicited such brutal police response there was public outcry. Police have always been associated with the disappearance of anti-establishment individuals and are yet to lay to rest speculation they know something about the bodies that were fished out of River Yala a couple of years ago.

However, it would be injudicious to say that all police officers subscribe to brutality for, indeed, many have been known to do their work diligently.

The right thing for Mudavadi to have done in Ethiopia was admit the shortcomings and outline measures the government has taken to minimise cases of police brutality. But for him to claim there is no police brutality is to deliberately mislead the world. Of course, unless the word brutality has undergone semantic change overnight.

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