On 7th July 2018, the Social Justice Centres Working Group, which consists groups from Mathare, Dandora, Kayole, Mukuru, Kibra, Kamukunji and Githurai, held the Saba Saba March for Our Lives. The demand? An end to extrajudicial killings, investigations into the ones that have occurred, and most importantly, justice for those killed.
According to the Who is Next? report by the Mathare Social Justice Centre, between 2013 and 2015, 803 people were killed in Mathare by the police – 308 in 2013, 418 in 2014, and 77 in 2015. The average age of those killed was 20. They were mostly men of mixed ethnicities; they were intercepted by the police and shot at close range, or in the back; the killings are usually premeditated, and the police officers who carry out these killings are identified and well known in the community, and are involved in multiple extrajudicial killings; weapons tend to be planted on the bodies of the executed after they are killed to justify the killings, and people are routinely intimidated such that they fear acting as witnesses to these killings.
Many Kenyans tend to support these killings, saying that these young men belong to gangs that make Nairobi unsafe and unlivable, and that putting them in jail is difficult; catching them in the first place is difficult. That if one lives by the bullet, they should expect to die by the bullet. That the people against such killings are only against them because they haven’t been victims of these gangs. Or, that they are benefiting from the spoils of these gangs and have incentive to support them.
These killings are extrajudicial for a reason – they are illegal. According to Article 26 of our constitution, every person has a right to life, and a person should not be deprived of the right to life intentionally, except to the extent authorized by the constitution and any other written law. In the case of the police, specifically, the National Police Service Act (2011) provides that firearms may only be used when less extreme measures are inadequate, and for the following purposes: 1- saving or protecting the life of the officer or other persons, and 2- self-defense or in defense of other persons against imminent threat of life or serious injury.
This is usually not the case. The Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) reported that in 2017, 152 people were killed by the police, and that out of those 152, 74 were summary executions, 38 people were killed to protect life, and 40 were killed in unclear circumstances. 106 deaths occurred in Nairobi County, and 95% of those killed were young men. Many of these killings occur in low income areas, and this is due to the criminalization of poverty. Many innocent people are killed by the police simply because they happen to live in a slum where gangs also live.
It is claimed that these young men belong to criminal gangs which, according to one report, fundraise via social media to pay police bribes. Which goes to suggest a couple of things. One, that they are known to the police, possibly quite well. Two, that for as long as they pay their dues and don’t kill any police, they are safe. If these criminals are known, why haven’t the police apprehended them? It is worth remembering that in December 2016, then cabinet secretary for Interior Affairs, the late Joseph Nkaissery, outlawed 90 criminal groups, such as Gaza, 42 Brothers, Eminants of Mungiki, Vietnam, American Marines, Chapa Ilale, and the Super Power Gang.
Their being outlawed means that by law, they risk a fine not exceeding KES 5 million, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 15 years, or both. However, if a victim dies, they are liable for life imprisonment. We have a process for dealing with these gangs, so why won’t we enforce it? Most times, it is because of loopholes in law enforcement, of which the police and the judiciary are a part. Then there’s the matter of evidence collection and witness protection, both of which are shambolic in Kenya. If we are to successfully put members of criminal gangs behind bars, evidence must be properly collected; it must not be contaminated, and the process of acquiring it must not have gone against the law. Otherwise the case will likely be thrown out of court.
There’s also the matter of testifying against these gangs. Anyone who was at the scene of a crime needs to be assured that they will be safe if they testify, and that they won’t suffer retaliation from the rest of the gang towards them or their loved ones. At the moment, this is not the case. There’s also the matter of judicial bribery. Members of criminal gangs may just buy their way out of jail.
We must fix these problems as opposed to making extrajudicial killings acceptable. What we have now is a cycle of violence begotten by a cycle of poverty, and a cycle of injustice begotten by inequality. We have bad systems and a lack of political will, all of which are nuanced; all of which will take time and commitment to fix. The solution is not extrajudicial killings. When we make such crime acceptable, it becomes the norm. How can we defend law breaking by the people supposed to enforce the law? It shows that we have no respect for our constitution. In which case, on what basis do we criticize our leaders for their grand theft? For their corruption? If we base our arguments on the law, then we must unequivocally support the law.