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What if the corrupt rich fell victim to extra-judicial killings?

By Maina Kiai | November 18th 2018

It is appalling that killings of poor people by the police is taken so lightly by the Kenyan middle class and elite — who have access to all sorts of media and social media--and by those in power.

These killings hardly seem to provoke as much worry, concern and sadness as when some high profile person is killed in an accident or from illness.

A major reason for this apathy is an ingrained sense of contempt for the poor inculcated in us first through colonial rule, and then cemented into our culture by the post-independence regimes. Remember Jomo Kenyatta’s contemptuous outburst at Bildad Kaggia for not “doing anything for himself” while his former detention colleagues were raking in the money, including through corruption?

For years, the quiet message has been that people are poor because they are not smart enough, are lazy, or simply because they enjoy poverty. I was astounded some years ago when a group of young middle class Kenyans I was meeting dismissed people from high density areas as lazy and not wanting to get out of the slums.

They asserted that if they had managed to come from the lower middle class to be professionals then why couldn’t slum dwellers?

Mass poverty

Collectively as a nation, as in many countries, we have not done enough to show the systemic structure of mass poverty and how hard it is to break out of a system of endemic violence, poverty, and hopelessness, where kids go to school because of the one meal they get. We do not show the impact of having few positive role models in poor areas, and where life is cheap and can be taken easily by thugs, police, disease or hunger.

In the past two weeks, at least 22 people were killed by the police in Dandora and Mathare. And more people have been killed by the police in Mombasa — leading to threats of the victim’s families and their advocates from Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI)— and Nyeri, which prompted an elaborate and public handing over of suspects to the police so that the law could be followed.

The Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) conducted independent autopsies on the 22 people killed in Nairobi. Peter Kiama, the Executive Director of IMLU, was quoted saying “Our preliminary investigations indicate that those were extra-judicial killings. They were not done according to the law. The police were in a position to arrest and not kill those individuals.”

That last sentence is telling. Why would the police break the law and kill instead of arresting them?

It could very well be that some of those killed are thugs. But until we change the law to allow the police to kill anyone, killing suspects should attract the same wrath from us as when we see corruption going unpunished and unaccounted for.

And it is telling, too, that we do not call for the extra-judicialexecutions of the corrupt, and especially of those occupying high office who make unexplainable donations to churches.  

The argument that opposing extra-judicial killings is not the same as supporting crime and criminals is not getting through. Clearly, we are all worried and anxious about violent crime sprees, as we should be.

But if we accept that the same police that we consistently do not trust have the power to take life of the poor willy-nilly, then we are condoning violence and lawlessness.

State violence

This uncontrolled state violence and impunity inevitably comes back to bite us as it leads to attacks on demonstrators and civilians time and again. It also leads fear and silence which is an integral part of closing democratic and civic space.

It is clear that our criminal justice system is weak, with the investigation and prosecution sides being particularly vulnerable. But I have often wondered why the Judiciary and especially the Judicial Service Commission does not seize the matter of extra-judicial killing as a matter of urgent concern, for every killing by the police is an indictment of the judiciary, and a further erosion of the Judiciary’s role and authority.

This is why the launching of new forensic labs by the police must be welcomed. But like most things that donate power and discretion it is vital that an independent oversight system is created over these labs or the endemic corruption that we know so well will overcome the labs and any results from it.

This is a far better use of resources than new uniforms, which is essentially bottling old wine in new wineskins. It means zilch, and is probably an avenue to eat scarce resources.

Nevertheless, and given the history of our police as an indispensable tool of oppression for those in power, it is time for us to rethink how the police is structured.

And few things would be as effective as devolving the police to the ward levels so that everyone of us knows the home and family of each police officer who is supposed to serve us. The police would then become a service that protects and serves, rather than one which kills and extorts.

- The writer is former KNCHR chairman. [email protected]


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