Efforts to reform the National Police Service (NPS) into a professional unit that respects human rights appear to have collapsed since 2010, security experts and civil rights groups say, citing the increasing cases of police brutality.
The extended electioneering period between August 8 vote, whose presidential results the Supreme Court annulled on September 1, and the swearing-in of President Uhuru Kenyatta for a second term on Tuesday after repeat election on October 26 has brought out the worst in the police service, particularly during opposition protests and planned rallies.
The latest controversy swirling around the police is the shooting of seven-year-old Geoffrey Mutinda in Nairobi’s Pipeline Estate.
While eye-witnesses and the family say a police officer shot dead the boy who was playing in the balcony, Nairobi Police Commander Japheth Koome says criminals could have been responsible for the “unfortunate incident” and investigations are going on.
The bullet that killed the child also hit a pregnant woman and is yet to be removed from her leg. The battle to control the narrative spilled over to social media and took a political turn with some blaming the Nasa coalition for the death while others point out the alleged killer was a well-known officer who was riding on a motorcycle.
Whatever the truth might be, the death of young Mutinda now forms part of a grim statistic of children who have met their deaths in the most unfortunate circumstances since August.
His death closely mirrors that of eight-year-old Stephanie Moraa who was also hit by a “stray” bullet on August 12 as she played on the balcony of her parent’s home in Mathare North. After little Moraa was killed, Mr Koome also pointed a finger at “criminals” who were being pursued by the police.
“We are doing our investigations about this very unfortunate incident,” Mr Koome said at the time.
The Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa) has since established that it was a police bullet that killed the girl.
And in another curious incident, Mike Okoth, an 18-year-old Form student in Kisumu, might never get justice for his brutal murder by a dreadlocked man wearing police uniform who slit his throat to remove the bullet to hide his crime. The police disowned the “gangster” officer.
The standard denial was also used in the face of strong evidence that the police had clobbered six-month-old baby Samantha Pendo in their home in Nyalenda, Kisumu, on the night of August 11 as they stormed houses in the estate in pursuit of Nasa protestors.
The police’s defiant refusal to accept responsibility for its actions was best captured during a heated TV interview this week in which police spokesman Charles Owino angrily engaged Narok County Senator Ledama Ole Kina who had accused the police of adopting a shoot-to-kill policy towards Nasa supporters.
“The killing of children during this period is unprecedented,” Mr George Musamali, a security expert who once served with the paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU), told the Sunday Nation.
“We never saw something like this even during Moi’s (former President Daniel arap Moi) regime, which had no qualms unleashing sheer raw force on his opponents,” he said.
POLICE STONING VEHICLES
He added: “When you see the police stoning vehicles, then you know we have lost it,” he said, referring to an incident captured on live TV three weeks ago when senior police officers stoned the motorcade of Nasa leader Raila Odinga at the Haile Selassie roundabout during day-long chaos that followed Mr Odinga’s return from the United States.
Last month the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Keriako Tobiko called for action against five police officers linked to the death of Baby Pendo. He also agreed with Ipoa’s findings that a bullet discharged from a police gun had killed Moraa.
“The NPS must improve its manner and style of community engagement and adapt enhanced community relationship building in order for the service to improve policing services,” Mr Tobiko said adding: “Members of the NPS (should) be trained on fundamental human rights and to be constantly reminded of the importance of respecting and protecting them.”
But even in the face of widespread condemnation of the police, some have considered their use of force necessary in the face of violent protests. This argument is especially supported by those pointing to the destruction of property and looting during opposition protests.
President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday congratulated the police for conducting themselves professionally and “in accordance with the law” during electioneering.
“On my behalf, I wish to commend all officers for their selfless dedication to duty that saw the NPS with the support of other national security agencies, cover the 2017 electoral process effectively and in accordance with the law,” reads the Head of State’s message which is signed by the director of operations at Kenya Police headquarters Benson Kibui.
Mr Charles Owino, a senior police spokesman, appeared on NTV this week and defended the actions of officers.
“In all these discussions, nobody has come out to discuss the behaviour of the individuals who are carrying out these demonstrations,” he said.
An anti-riot policeman beats a man with a stick as police flushes out opposition supporters, who had taken cover in a shack, during demonstrations in the Umoja, Nairobi, on November 28, 2017. PHOTO | TONY KARUMBA | AFP
He brought in another angle in the debate, suggesting the “one-sided condemnation” of the police failed to recognise the country had just gone through hotly contested elections but “at the end of the day the person who suffers an image problem despite the bad behaviour of all Kenyans is the police.”
Police Spokesman George Kinoti had not responded to our enquiries on the issues raised despite promising to do so.
A running tally by the Nation’s data arm Newsplex shows from January to October, this year, 214 people have been felled by police bullets under various circumstances, which translates to 21 deaths per month.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNHCR) chairperson Kagwiria Mbogori said 76 people, among them 10 children, have been killed since the August 8 General Election.
In an interview with NTV, Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) executive director Peter Kiama said in October, 64 people sustained serious injuries, including 34 of them who had gunshot wounds.
He also said evidence gathered by IMLU “demonstrates a situation of war,” the violence should only be investigated by independent institutions, such as Ipoa and the DPP.
However the Inspector General of Police, Joseph Boinett, said only 19 people lost their lives before, during and after the two presidential elections this year—11 people during the August poll and another eight in the October repeat election.
WORST POLICE FORCE
Nonetheless, these grim figures seem to give credence to a recent report by the World International Security and Police Index, which ranked Kenya as the third worst police force in the world, far worse than those of failed states like Somalia or even dictatorial ones like Saudi Arabia. It was an assessment the Inspector General dismissed.
“I usually take these international rankings with a lot of scepticism,” said Mr Musamali, “But looking at the recent police conduct, I am persuaded to believe some aspects of the report, such as lack of capacity. But overall, I think the report is a bit unfair to our police service,” he said.
Several factors are usually cited to explain why police behave the way they have done towards civilians during this electioneering period: lack of proper training on crowd control, low morale as a result of poor salaries among others. However, the heavy handed measures against the Nasa supporters seem planned and pre-meditated rather than a spontaneous reaction to the overwhelming force of demonstrators, a senior source at Vigilance House—the police headquarters—told the Nationin confidence.
Consider the strange fact that most of the top police officers in Nairobi County — which witnessed some of the fiercest confrontations between the demonstrators and the law enforcers — are drawn from the two main communities that form the backbone of the Jubilee administration (see table). We could not establish whether this was deliberate or just a product of oversight.
But, according to police sources, there is concern that deployment to sensitive situations is increasingly taking an ethnic slant.
“Officers from tribes perceived to be pro-Nasa are usually viewed with suspicion. This is very disappointing. Even some senior officers are sometimes left out during planning after some of their colleagues spread propaganda that they leak information to Nasa,” said a police source, who spoke in confidence.
During Tuesday’s confrontations at Jacaranda grounds when police stopped Nasa leader Raila Odinga and supporters from holding a memorial for those said to have been killed by security forces, there were reports of a civilian group armed with crude weapons operating without being stopped by the police.
Pictures of the police flushing out women from their houses and business premises and beating them up also emerged.
At Jacaranda, our police source said, the order was to beat up anyone seen moving around — children and women included.
Indeed, the police tactics have also come under scrutiny in recent months, especially after the ugly scenes when Mr Odinga returned from the US and attempted to lead a march of supporters from the airport to Uhuru Park for a rally.
The officer, who participated in the quelling down the Nasa demonstrations, said they were given instructions “to use all means necessary” to stop Mr Odinga. Part of the plan, said our Vigilance House source, was cynical.
“The strategy was to agitate the crowd by attacking them and making them react,” he said. “Apart from ensuring there were no disruptions at the airport, which was very important, many of us have asked ourselves which was easier: Letting them march peacefully without destroying property and hold their rally at Uhuru Park or creating the mess that was covered on live television on that day?”
Five people died in the six-hour clashes that ensued. But police spokesman Kinoti said the victims died from mob justice and no live bullets were used in the operation. However, Nation reporters covering the event witnessed the use of live bullets and a visit to the City Mortuary the following day indicated the bodies had bullet wounds despite being booked as victims of “mob injustice”
According to KNCHR commissioner George Morara, reforms that were supposed to make the police independent have largely been ignored, meaning that in practice, the police service is still a government bulldog.