Use of brute force on protesters inexcusable

peacefully, ended in violence and injuries. The abiding image of the protests is that of a demonstrator captured on camera being chased, cornered and rained with kicks and mercilessly beaten with police truncheons. The police didn't have to use such excessive force.

Across the country, and especially in Kisumu, Kisii and Nairobi, the police went beyond crowd control. They not only used teargas and water cannons, they fired live bullets. The level and intensity of brutality meted out on unarmed demonstrators was abhorrent in a democracy that celebrates freedom of expression and assembly where citizens are free to express their grievances without fearing that a police baton will crack their skulls.

Yet, looming large over the brutal crackdown of the protesters are the eerie threats from Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery that signalled a return to the cruel and repressive past that is better forgotten.

Perhaps Mr Nkaisserry believes in a culture of fear and intimidation. Late last year, amidst widespread protests, Nkaissery ordered the arrest of a Nation Media Group journalist John Ngirachu, for authoring a story questioning how the Interior Ministry had spent some Sh3.8 billion. He has also threatened to withdraw the security detail of Opposition leaders who engage in protests. In all his posturing, Nkaissery has shown a worrying thread of intolerance. That is unacceptable. In fact, he should be held liable for the brutality meted out on unarmed protesters.

By overwhelmingly endorsing the Proposed 2010 Constitution, Kenyans opted for freedom. A system that stifles even the most basic of freedoms therefore has no place in modern Kenya. From experience, majority of Kenyans acknowledge that an autocracy can keep the streets free of protesters but not for long because they have tasted freedom. The police could claim that they thwarted chaos overrunning the capital city. But then stability can only be guaranteed through good governance. From Monday's events, it might prove hard to shake the dubious tag of the police as being corrupt, incompetent and brutal. And that there is nothing to show for the billions of tax-payer funds sunk into the police reform programmes. No doubt, the police are better remunerated, live in better houses and are better equipped.

This newspaper believes that demonstrations, as provided for in the Constitution, must remain peaceful to preclude incidences of injury, death, looting and unnecessary disruptions. To achieve that, the police should act to maintain law and order and exercise great restrain. And after the awful turn of events on Monday, it might help to step back. CORD has promised to get back on the streets until the IEBC is reconstituted. The governing Jubilee coalition is seemingly not keen to play ball despite critical constituencies like the Church, Cotu and even the LSK expressing concerns about the IEBC.

Clearly, this is no time to moralise about the law. At stake is the peace and the brittle unity of the country as we head into a watershed election in August next year. The country cannot afford a replay of the 2007/08 events. It can be avoided. But with the Government and the Opposition digging in, it is tempting to conclude that we haven't learnt any lessons. Put another way: the interests of the country have been subjugated to the interests of a self-preserving, pampered political class.

Evidently, an all-inclusive dialogue seems to be the only way out of the quagmire the country finds itself in. But there are growing concerns that by the time this happens, the situation might have gone out of hand.