Police Brutality in Kenya

Brenda Wambui
16 February ,2016

Kenyans have long accepted the torrid nature of the police service, with the 2014 Transparency International (Kenya) East Africa Bribery Index Report ranking them as first in Kenya on a composite index (resulting from five different indicators of the survey: likelihood of bribery, prevalence of bribery, average size of bribe, share of national bribe and impact of bribery. The range of the index is between 0 and 100). They scored 68, up from 60 the previous year. Second was land services at 55.

Having experienced horror at the hands of the Lands Office, the fact that the police service was 13 points above them on the scale was shocking, until I thought about it carefully. Harassment and brutality by the police is a common occurrence in Kenya. To the extent that it has become like a droning background noise that one gets so used to, it’s almost as if it isn’t there. Except that it is.

Many of us have had the police arrest us at spots on the road they have deliberately set up to shake us up for bribes. We have been arrested for merely being out at night. We have had the police accept bribes of KES 500 – 1000 from matatu drivers who have no business being on the roads, with no regard for the 14 – 48 people who may be in the matatu. They have allowed sexual harassers and assaulters to get away scot free even when they could have done something. The police have also been known to mete out brutality against those they believe are lesser than; those whose pain they think they can get away with causing; whose lives they consider disposable.

Kwekwe Mwandaza was one such person. At 2 am on August 21st 2014, Kwekwe, aged 14, was shot dead while she slept at her home in Mwawewu Village, Kinango (Kwale County). Eight police officers raided their home looking to arrest her uncle, George Zani, an alleged murder suspect. The officers claim that she attacked them with a panga, suggesting that they killed her in self-defense. Apparently, she injured one police officer (whom they could not identify) and damaged a gun. They with their guns, against a child with a panga. Her two cousins who were in the house at the time gave a different version of events, recounting how the officers broke their door and threw teargas inside. As the family choked, they opened fire. Kwekwe died in her bed according to her then eight year old cousin George Mgandi. She had attacked no one.

She was buried hurriedly at her father’s homestead without her mother’s consent, yet her mother was her guardian since she and Kwekwe’s father separated. Her body had to be exhumed for a post mortem, which happened only after much protest from lobbyists and her family. The two officers were later arrested and charged for her murder after orders came from the Director of Public Prosecution’s (DPP) office.

In February 2016, Kinango Divisional Criminal Investigation Officer (DCIO) Veronicah Gitahi and Constable Issa Mzee were found recklessly negligent for shooting in darkness without establishing who the victims were, and found guilty of manslaughter. They were both handed 7 year jail sentences. Justice Martin Muya, who handed out this sentence, considered it to be a statement against police impunity and misuse of guns against innocent civilians. The State, in one of its few displays of integrity, however plans to appeal this sentence because it finds it too lenient (the State had charged the two officers with murder).

Indeed, statements such as these against police impunity and brutality towards civilians are desperately needed. On January 19th 2015, pupils at Langata Road Primary School protested against the grabbing of their school’s playground by “private developers.” Some adult well-wishers joined the protest, and when the police came to disperse it, they thought it was appropriate to throw teargas at innocent children who were holding a peaceful protest. The officers also brought dogs. Several children were injured in what was an unnecessary and excessive use of force by the police.

On February 15th 2016, Kelvin Macharia, who was 16 years old, was shot outside a chemist in Embu as the police tried to disperse a crowd that had gathered to lynch a pastor who had been found sleeping with a local businessman’s wife. Kelvin was taken to Embu Level 5 Hospital, where he died as he waited to be attended to. One wonders why the police had to use live bullets to disperse the mob – was this excessive use of force necessary?

Because of the banality of brutality and harassment by the Kenyan police, perhaps we do not often enough think about the irreparable effects it has on our society and our way of life. We live our lives knowing that we are one tragedy away from the fates of Kwekwe and Macharia. You could be in your bed sleeping, or outside a chemist waiting for your medicine while you meet your death at the hands of the police. No one is safe – even your privilege can’t save you from a stray bullet.

The psychological damage on the families of those affected, those present at the scenes of these incidents and the nation at large is untold. These people experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety attacks, substance abuse or even suicidal tendencies, and given the state of mental healthcare in Kenya, their needs tend to go unmet, yet it is agents of the State who have inflicted this pain, so the State has an obligation to provide for those needs.

The resources that end up being spent on investigating these cases could be put to better use, especially in a country that is in Kenya’s economic state, and the damage to property that Kenyans have worked hard to own is entirely unavoidable, if only the police treated all Kenyans as deserving of human dignity, and not as disposable bodies.

To counter this breaking of our spirits and our bodies, it is important that it be imparted upon the police the importance of non-violent approaches (unless there was none at all they could use, and even then, they should use minimal force). It cannot be that it is acceptable for the police to teargas and kill innocent children, or anyone else for that matter. They must also be taught ethics, which would serve to guide them as they do their work.

We must clearly define what meets the threshold for police brutality and punish it accordingly. In Kwekwe’s case, the officers involved insisted that their shooting was necessary, and that the force had not been excessive. It is time we accepted that police brutality and harassment in Kenya is a big issue, and took conscious steps to solve it. The consequences of police brutality and harassment should also be dire (such as long jail sentences), and applied uniformly regardless of the stature of the victim. This will deal with the notion that some Kenyans are disposable. We must uphold the humanity and the rights of all Kenyans, chief of which is the right to life – a right that police brutality directly interferes with.

Kenya At 52

Brenda Wambui
15 December ,2015

On Saturday, 12th December 2015, Kenya celebrated 52 years of being a republic. We had our usual annual celebration where Uhuru Kenyatta addressed the nation and expressed a sense of optimism that is becoming more and more scarce as we continue to awaken to just how badly we are doing as a nation – socially, politically and economically.

He cited many triumphs, remembering the forefathers who build our nation, and the youth who have since inherited said nation. Except that most of the people who fought for our freedom (that are still alive) live in poverty, and the Kenyan youth aged 15 – 34, who make up 35% of the population, have an unemployment rate of 67%. The troops he celebrates for their bravery and integrity, and their work in the “liberation” of Somalia from terrorism are often accused of profiting from the same illegal trade deals that also financially support Al Shabaab. These are the same troops that were accused of looting Westgate Mall in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

He named our athletes and innovators as shining examples of our excellence, forgetting that these athletes are robbed of their potential glory by sports officials in acts that his government conveniently ignores, and that we are becoming mired with failed doping tests which his government is just beginning to take seriously. The innovators he hails for developing new technologies and business models are still crippled by poor financial policy such as the VAT Act 2013 and lofty assumptions in the 2015/16 budget that may not become a reality.

National income per head is said to have grown to more than 13 times what it was fifty years ago, yet inflation has outpaced it at 7.32% by November 2015, yet 50 years ago it was – 0.10%. Hardly comparable. He hailed us as one of Africa’s most attractive investment destinations, something some scholars have disputed with good reason. In 50 years, our life expectancy has only increased by 12 years, compared to countries like India and Ethiopia, whose life expectancies have increased by almost double that figure (23 years).

He went on to speak about how we have made strides in education. Quantitatively, this is true: almost 10 million children are enrolled in primary school, we have more than 7,000 secondary schools now as compared to 151 in 1963, and we have more than 60 universities now as compared to zero in 1964, according to his speech. However, what is the quality of this education? We have written about this before on this site.

While Uhuru Kenyatta did apologize for the wrongs committed against each other on behalf of the Kenyan government in his State of The Nation address earlier in the year, to dismiss the pain and anger that many Kenyans feel and urge us to look forward is to be asleep to how much we have suffered, and what we are feeling. Indeed, one only needed to watch the TJRC proceedings to witness this pain, and realize that there is a case for reparations in Kenya, and that they are more urgent than we think. He apologized so that we could “accept and move on.” If only it were that simple.

He claimed that his administration was implementing the constitution quickly and decisively, yet he and his government have severally flouted the same constitution. The one thing we cannot argue with is the rate at which electricity connections have increased, from 28% to more than 50% in three years, with primary schools being the main target. We have also added 280 MW of geothermal power to the national grid. He spoke of the contentious Standard Gauge Railway being 60% complete as an achievement for Kenya, despite there being good arguments for the inefficiency and marginal utility of this railway.

Uhuru mentioned the benefits of devolution, such as the 24 hour economy in Kisii after the installation of 300 solar lights, the feeding programme for children up to Standard Three in Mombasa, the first C-section in Mandera, and the opening of the first medical training college by a county government in Kapenguria, West Pokot. I found this interesting, because his government has been accused of undermining devolution often.

In his spirit of “accepting and moving on” he mentioned that Garissa University would be reopened soon, never mind that not enough has been done by the President and his government to help the nation move on from the pain caused by that attack. He made promises to do all that is within his power to protect us and defeat the enemy, but given that he is one to always have the right response but not act in the right way, I am not quick to feel safe.

Perhaps the saddest yet most laughable part of the speech was when he spoke of corruption, a monster we seem unable to defeat in Kenya. He was right in saying that corruption is corrosive; that it brings with it destructive ethnic politics that associate public office with accumulation of wealth; that corruption kills. However, that is where we part ways. He declared a national campaign against corruption, and the whole time I asked myself, “how sir, when the culprits play right under your nose? Do you mean to tell us you cannot see them?” I feel we are being taken for yet another ride.

To attempt to list all the corruption scandals that have occurred since he took office in 2013 is to seek exhaustion – the poor state of our nation is known by heart by almost every Kenyans except those who are cushioned by their wealth – many of whom have acquired it illegally. He claimed that KES 2.24 billion of corruptly acquired money and property had been frozen or recovered. This sounds encouraging until you realize that Kenya cannot account for KES 450 billion (a quarter) of its 2014/15 budget. He stated that 337 corruption related cases were in court, and that 68 of those involved powerful people, but which powerful Kenyan has ever gone to jail for corruption, even within his term so far?

He claimed to believe in media freedom, yet as we remember, he is the same one who said that newspapers are good for wrapping meat. He attempted to play victim to the media, claiming that lies and sensation for the sake of sales hurt our economy, our cohesion, and our nation’s name. No sir, bad governance is killing our country. Lack of leadership is killing our country. Corruption is killing our country. Tribalism is killing our country. Most of all, poverty is killing our country. Work on fixing them as opposed to embellishing the state of Kenya.

My Day at Industrial Area Police Station

Guest Writer
24 November ,2015

by Dennis Ochieng

On Friday the 30th of October, in the morning, I was driving through the traffic from Syokimau headed towards Mukuru via Mombasa road and turning to join Enterprise Road. On a normal day, it would have taken 15-20 minutes. On this day, however, it took me 45 minutes to arrive at the Enterprise Road junction and even longer to reach Mukuru, where I was to host one of my mentors and a very important guest to my organization. As I approached the General Motors stage, I could see an unusually high number of policemen at the junction (normally, it is one cop on a motorbike) checking cars, insurance stickers and pulling trucks aside. I thought it was a normal operation; certain that all my documents, tires and car were in mint condition, I had no reason to worry.

In the process of stopping cars at a junction at rush hour, traffic was bound to be slow and as a result, the lane joining Enterprise Road was jam packed. Exiting Mombasa Road onto Enterprise Road required changing lanes towards the left until one got space to pass. Little did I know that the operation by the police was a decoy to cause traffic jam and ultimately arrest motorists for “changing lanes and causing obstruction.”

If this sounds weird, it’s because it is; that’s what I was charged with and it messed up my whole day. Had I done the usual (allowed the cop into the car, driven off a few meters, negotiated a bribe and then dropped him off so that he could arrest another motorist and return to base) this would not have been the case.

Instead, I questioned the rationale for my arrest, offered to drive back and re-enact the scenario to be corrected lest I was the one who didn’t go to a proper driving school, asked for a summons to appear in court, and then asked for the option of bail. All were denied. Instead, the cop insisted and opened the door without permission and rode in my car.

On my ride with the sergeant, I tried to reason with him. The more I showed him that there were better ways of being a good cop who maintained a good relationship with the community, the more he got annoyed. He said “Unajifanya mjuaji? You will not even get the cash bail, it is not your right. I can decide whether to give it or not give it.” That’s how my fate was sealed. Two other cars that had been instructed to go to Industrial Area police station along with mine never reached the station. I wonder what happened to them.

I arrived at the booking desk and was made aware that there was still the option of “kuongea na ofisa mzuri”, meaning that I could pay a bribe before my name was written in the Occurrence Book (OB). I was not in the mood for this; my day had already been ruined and I wanted to test the system and see what happens when one goes all the way to the court. While locked in a holding cell, I reflected and came to the conclusion that our justice system is so complicated that it propagates corruption, and that even the strong (who would normally say no to corruption) are tempted to bribe multiple times.

While in the holding cell, I overheard several conversations with the boss. Some policemen would come to argue on someone’s behalf, the boss would receive strange phone calls, and one by one, people were released and I was left with only three other offenders.

I was arrested at 8.04 am and was in a holding cell until after 10.00 am waiting for the pick-up’s capacity to be reached before we could be taken to court. I was the first person to be locked up, and 10 other people joined me in the cell, but by the time we were reaching the Milimani Law courts, we were only three. One person (a Ugandan truck driver) was released enroute to the court. It was so comical that even the police who were guarding us found it amusing. “How can they release him here? What if someone has a camera and takes a photo or video? Can’t they find even somewhere hidden? It’s even better for them if they reach the court and come back with him if they have been “sorted”, let them not involve us in this and it is them who know what they have received.” The “they” referred to here are the driver and the senior officer who were sitting at the front.

While at the basement of the Milimani Law Courts, I got to experience the court holding cells. Before entering the cells, numbered 1-10, you have to go and relieve yourself, because there is no other opportunity. The toilets are filthy, and the stench hits you immediately you enter the basement.

At the reception area, the policemen there approach different people with the offer to make their charges disappear, or make them not have to stand trial. I was approached by a lady who told me “Your case is simple. Depending on the mood of the magistrate, you could be fined KES 10,000 – 20,000. So why go all the way to the court? You might be held here for up to three hours, then once you get to court, you will waste two more hours. Basically, your day will be gone. I can talk to the lady who brought you in and your file can be withdrawn.”

The two others we were arrested with found their freedom this way, and were escorted from the basement to the outside of the courts without standing trial. What does this tell us? For every Kenyan appearing in court for a traffic offence, it is possible that nine others were arrested but bribed their way out or used people in higher authority to free themselves. On that Friday I was that one.

I hope there are a thousand others who are willing to stand by their principles and say no to corruption. Sadly, I am made to understand that what I suffered is a ritual.

Every day, there are targets for the number of people to be taken to the court no matter what happens. There are those who must bribe for the weekly target to be reached, and there are those who are released without paying a cent because the cop has been called by a friend, a relative or someone from above. The targets for weekends, end month, or when the schools are about to open are much higher than those for normal days, I have learned.

Who do we blame for this? Is this how we want to run our justice system? Is this how we want to run our country? No wonder a government official can openly admit that all three arms of the government are corrupt with almost no consequence. We need to go back the basics. Let us unlearn this culture of corruption. Let us teach our children about corruption and the ills it brings into our society. Let us have courageous people who can say no to corruption.

Dennis Ochieng is a development worker and an Acumen East Africa Fellow, 2015. Follow him on Twitter @OchiengKOpiyo

What Is The Value Of A Kenyan Life?

Brenda Wambui
22 September ,2015

Mythology has it that human life is priceless – this sentiment has been reinforced as long as I can remember and is taken as a basic human truth. It is echoed in the Bible when King Solomon had to determine the mother of a child and did so by ordering that the child be split with each woman claiming the maternity of the child receiving half. The true mother of the child pleaded that the child not be cut in half – she preferred that it be given to the other woman rather than die in such a manner – while the other woman saw no problem with the splitting of the child. The child’s mother got her child due to her acknowledgement of the pricelessness of her child’s life.

Closer home, the pricelessness of a life – especially a Kenyan life – has never been more in question. I am reminded of several times when I have been in a matatu which has been caught on the wrong side of the law, and when stopped by the police, the driver offers a bribe of no more that KES 1,000 and gets away scot free, putting the lives of 14 to 30 people at risk. In this case, the value that has been placed on each of their lives ranges from KES 33 to 71. I am reminded of rumours that Kenyan passports have been sold to non-citizens for as little as KES 100,000. Perhaps some of these buyers go on to commit crimes such as Garissa attack, which kill 147 students. What is the value of a Kenyan life then? KES 680?

I am also reminded of when Pastor Ng’ang’a, a prominent Christian leader, was accused of driving while drunk on the wrong side of the road in a car whose insurance had expired and hitting a car in Limuru, killing a woman and leaving her husband seriously injured. He allegedly fled from the scene of the accident, having been rescued by his friends, and bribed the police to be released (and to cook up a terrible cover up). The story became that the car was being test driven by someone else under a General Dealers License, with valid insurance, when the accident occurred. This goes contrary to all eye witness reports of the accident. This story came directly from the Inspector General of the Police Service, who seemed to have forgotten his mandate to serve and to protect Kenyans. Pastor Ng’ang’a was then hosted on Citizen TV’s prime time TV show to give his side of the story. The victim’s family received no such privilege. I wonder what the value of her life was.

In economics, there exists a measure known as the Value of a Statistical Life (VSL). It is based on several factors, such as health, safety, environmental regulation, attitudes towards risk, wage premiums for risky jobs, among others. This value is a cost-benefit analysis of how much it costs to save a life. In his paper, Variations between Countries in Values of Statistical Life, Ted R. Miller finds that the VSL of a person is usually around 120 times the GDP per capita of the country they live in, with some variation. The GDP per capita of Kenya is US$ 1,358.30 as at 2014, bringing the VSL in Kenya to US$ 162,996 (KES 17,171,547.10). There exist other models to establish the VSL, but few make it so simple to compare countries across the board. Why is it that a Kenyan life is theoretically valued at a price that has not been reflected anywhere in how Kenyans are treated? Why is it that everywhere we look, we are met with signs that we are disposable, that our lives do indeed have a price – and it is negligible?

The normalization of corruption, violence and death has brought us to a place where we have lost our humanity, and our sense of empathy. Certain lives, especially those of poor people, have been thought of as disposable, and as such, when they are lost, be it to terrorism (such as the Garissa attack), we mourn, but we do not dwell. However, when the richer members of society were hit by the Westgate attack, it stuck, because it hurt a group of people who thought themselves immune to terror by virtue of their status and location. The same applies to the most recent teachers’ strike.

Initially, only public schools had been affected by the strike, and as such, the middle class and some of the rich whose children attended private 8-4-4 schools did not feel the pinch until their children were also sent home to join their public school counterparts who are also not learning. Now, everyone is sitting up and taking note of the importance of this strike, and what it could mean for our economy and country as a whole. We cannot ignore the teachers’ point: a salary increment to teachers of between 50 – 60% (12.5% – 15% per year) for four years meets our wage review criteria, indeed, even the TSC had proposed this last year after teachers asked for 100 – 150% instead. Kenya’s rising inflation also requires teachers’ salaries to be reviewed. The government had budgeted but not paid out to teachers a 4% cushion against inflation between 1997 and 2013. Had this cushion been applied between 1997 and 2009, we would not have had this problem as the teachers’ salaries would be 64% higher. It is cruel of us to imagine that a P1 teacher with a starting salary of KES 16,992 per month should come to school motivated enough to teach our children. Some of them go to work hungry, work in schools that have no resources and endure pupil to teacher ratios of 57 to 1, and are expected to work miracles and ensure these children are well taught and pass exams. What results is the atrocity that is our education system, an altar upon which we sacrifice our children.

84% of our children enroll in primary school, however, only 32% of these go on to enroll in secondary school. Over 250,000 students who sit KCPE fail to transition into secondary schools annually. Yet, we require the education sector’s input if we are to achieve Vision 2030 and stop being a third world country. 60% of those who sit KCSE end up scoring 49% and below (that is a C-), and are unable to transition into higher education. Indeed, those who survive from enrolment in class one to form four are 20%, while those who go on to complete university are only 1.69%. These people who we sacrifice then go on to form a large part of our unemployed workforce (Kenya’s unemployment rate is about 25%). Even when those who complete tertiary education graduate, they largely remain unemployed due to a mismatch between their training and the skills required by the labour market.

These people go on to form the building blocks of Kenyan society, unable to find well-paying work, living in squalid conditions, bitter at an enemy hiding behind the shadows, too large to be properly dissected, and bear children who likely go on to perpetuate this cycle of poverty because of these circumstances out of their control. They get angry at anyone they perceive as an enemy and lash out bitterly when told that this enemy is behind their suffering, as seen during our 2007/08 post-election violence. On a smaller scale, we witness this whenever a pickpocket is caught and necklaced, burning to death over the theft of goods that are worth less than his or her VSL. Yet we do not see how all these things are interconnected – how we keep doing this to ourselves and our country.

We continue to deny ourselves a higher standard of living and development due to our country’s institutionalized corruption. We continue to elect tribal overlords and overpay our legislators while entertaining presidents whose terms are incomplete without grand theft scams (Jomo Kenyatta’s independence land allocation, Daniel Moi’s Goldenberg, Mwai Kibaki’s Anglo Leasing, Uhuru Kenyatta’s NYS among others) all while wondering what we did to spite the earth, because it hates us so. All the while, the value of our lives keeps diminishing, perhaps soon to zero.

Something’s got to give.

Meditations On The Kenya Police

Guest Writer
8 September ,2015

These essays were taken from Brainstorm’s third e-book, Ha!Kuna Matata, which is on security in Kenya and is available for free. DOWNLOAD IT HERE to read more such essays.


by Martin Maitha

Maybe, it’s 9 p.m. The guys are chilling at “Base” trading random talk and idle chatter to pass time.

Maybe, it’s 10 p.m. An engine splutters, reminiscent of someone in the throes of a particularly nasty bout of tuberculosis.

Oya! Wasee, ni Mariamu!”

No one knows the truck is called Mariamu; no one really cares either.

Nyinyi mang’aa, hebu simameni hapo ama tuanze kufyatua!”

They love shooting. They will shoot at a fly in their soup. They will shoot at the sky because it’s too rainy.  The only sound is that of crickets, and faint riddims from the pub three doors down the road.

Three figures in long deep navy blue overcoats; AK-47 rifles dangling casually from their shoulders, smiling conspiratorially among themselves and leering at the group of young men. Oh, this will be fun.

Mnafanya nini hapo? Nyinyi ni wale vijana mnasumbuasumbua wananchi hapa, eeh?”


Ah, si hivo afande. Si tumekaa tu tukiongea.”

Hiyo utasemea hapo mbele kwa station. Hebu twende!

The rickety lorry is driven off.

More stops…

…more ‘criminals.’

Stories flow in the truck. An uneasy camaraderie develops among the victims of the same fate, a kinship of lambs headed to the slaughter.

Nani hapa hajawai shikwa?”

A hand goes up.

Haya story ni hivi. Ukishikwa, yenye iko kwa mfuko, toa. Ka hauna any, ni cell tu. Kesho ngware upelekwe Makadara Law Court, upatwe na sijui drunk and disorderly, hata kaa hujakunywa. Sema uko guilty, fine ni punch tu. Shida ni kufinyana kwa cell usiku nzima. Relax.”

Na kaa niko innocent? I have rights.”

“Hahahahaha! Ati rights? Hizo ziliisha class ya GHC buda. Jifanye tu mang’aa utajipata una bhangi kwa mfuko ama ushootiwe tu. Ni hali ya life. We nyamaza tu, nyeyenyekea na hakitaumana.”

The truck comes to a stop.


It’s a mélange of all characters: some ladies of the night, some drunks. Others were simply unfortunate to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Haya! Anzeni kutoa. Toa ndugu, toa dada, ulicho nacho…” one of the police officer bellows out – a drunken rendition of the popular hymn.

It’s all notes. No coins.

Na next time msirudie kutangatanga usiku. It’s very dangerous.”

Double slap.

Utumishi kwa wote.


Utimishi Kwa Wote

by Ian Arunga

Utumishi kwa wote walio na kitu kidogo!

I have hated Kawangware matatus since the time I was thrown out of one and was almost beaten up because I was carrying an A3 x-ray envelope on my lap that got the ‘kange’ mistaking me for a pick pocket. An A3 x-ray envelope is what pickpockets use to distract their targets… Innocently leaving hospital with a lung infection, holding this x-ray envelope is a crime! And the huge warning in red on one corner of the envelope saying, ‘DO NOT FOLD’ doesn’t help either!

I thought really hard on whether to take that Kawangware bus. My ‘pickpocket’ scar was still so raw. The other option was a ‘boda boda’ but my colleague from the office had fallen off one the same day and according to him, “almost died!” I was in the bus before I even finished this thought process!

I sat at the front, right between the driver and a cop who was not going to get off until he got his bribe. I thought to myself, “This is the safest place I can be!” When we almost got to Othaya junction – which was my stop – the woman sitting right behind me let out a really sharp scream…

I frantically tried to look at what was happening at the back with no success. The front of the bus was completely separated from the back with a formerly transparent window.

Then the woman, in a loud voice, screamed, “Hutaniibia nikiwa hai!” (You will not steal from me while I am alive!) Right after that, a young man was asked to disembark. All this time, the cop and the driver sat calmly, neither of them moving a muscle.

What happened to “Utumishi kwa wote”?

I sat there for five minutes next to this cop whose stomach was so large, it looked like he had swallowed a goat whole. He wasn’t interested trying to do anything but get a small bribe from the driver for driving a bus with an expired insurance sticker.

The cop got off at my stop. Before he jumped out, the driver handed him something right over me, clenching it like it was a bag of weed.

“Renew insurance!” was the last order from the ‘Utumishi kwa wote’ guy!

As I walked to my mother’s house I tried to figure out what situation I feared more: being pickpocketed at knifepoint or getting pocketed at knifepoint and having to bribe the police to get help. I think I prefer just being pickpocketed.

Something tells me I will not have the energy to bribe for help.

These essays were taken from Brainstorm’s third e-book, Ha!Kuna Matata, which is on security in Kenya and is available for free. DOWNLOAD IT HERE to read more such essays.

A Note on Disappeared Persons

Michael Onsando
1 September ,2015

“For the purposes of this Convention, “enforced disappearance” is considered to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”

  • International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances; Article 2

I’m still stuck on this idea of disappeared people. It’s a simple question at the end of the day – how does one just disappear? This year 200 people have been reported as disappeared with many activists claiming the number could be higher than that. Last year Cleric Mohamed Ali Kheir was abducted in Garissa and his body was found in Embu – 328 kilometres away.  Meshack Yebei went missing, his body found at the Tsavo National Park.

And the list of names goes on, and the stories go on.

Speaking on the International Day of the Disappeared, former Deputy Speaker, Farah Maalim, spoke of the 60’s in Kenya. At the time, he said, to garner support from the west, the word was communism. The western world was at the height of the cold war. In Africa most nations were transitioning into independence with those that had already achieved it now looking to establish identities. Facing a lot of teething problems many leaders at the time chose dictatorship as a path – people were killed and disappeared. This raised several international eyebrows and communism, being a knownable, tangible force was the quickest way to deal with the people who oppose you.

Terrorism is now that word. The west is largely in a “post 911” existence. African leaders have been seen using holding double standards to terrorism, and using it to gather support. Charlie Hebdo’s protest march was one avenue that exposed the hypocrisy in how terrorism can be used to move power. Back home the word terrorism is used to push the buttons of the middle class back into their cocoons of safety. It brings with it enough (un)reasonable doubt for the state profile and target. As with communism, terrorism does exist and is a security concern to be taken seriously. As with communism, you might still be that idiot walking around calling everyone a commie.

“The activists claim that more than 100 men are missing in Mandera, 50 have disappeared without a trace in Garissa, the whereabouts of 36 young men from Wajir is not known and at least 20 ethnic Somalis from Eastleigh in Nairobi have been abducted.”

In the article above Rasna Warah touches on the governance problems that allow for terrorism to exist in the country. The numbers are from the Institute of Development Studies. How do people just disappear from a community?

The most disturbing thing about disappearances is that there is no closure. For weeks, months years and sometimes lifetimes the family of the disappeared are haunted by the person’s absence. Further, the people left behind are often shunned by the community. No one wants to be associated with the consequences of a disappearance because it often carries danger with it.

On 6th February 2007 Kenya signed the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. Article 12 states, in part, “ Each State Party shall ensure that any individual who alleges that a person has been subjected to enforced disappearance has the right to report the facts to the competent authorities, which shall examine the allegation promptly and impartially and, where necessary, undertake without delay a thorough and impartial investigation.”

This section calls for an unpacking.

First, has the right to report the facts to competent authorities. How does one report to authorities if those authorities might have been the ones involved? On my second day in form one I was given a paper. Scribbled on it was a chain of command. If anything happened I was to tell my guardian, who was a second former. My guardian would tell the green badge (a prefect), who would tell the blue badge (deputy head of house) who would tell the red badge (head of house) who would tell the teacher… and further up until the board of governors. On the second day I was slapped by the head of house. I was confused for a very long time. Why would I tell my guardian to tell the green badge to tell the deputy head of house that the head of house slapped me? Nothing, I did nothing. Which was all well, but what about when the situation is grave? The family of disappeared people find themselves in a situation where they need to tell the people who they suspect about the crime that has been committed. Is this  healthy? Is this workable?

Second, shall examine the allegation promptly and impartially. Even after said persons have managed to work through reporting disappearances, what are we doing to ensure that such reports are taken seriously and followed up? On twitter a user insists that we need to end the threat of terrorism anyhow and this way is working. Even beyond government investigation do we legitimize these claims? Or do we wait until it is someone we have seen and interacted with before we believe anything?

Butler writes this about ungrievable bodies “Ungrievable lives are those that cannot be lost, and cannot be destroyed, because they already inhabit a lost and destroyed zone; they are, ontologically, and from the start, already lost and destroyed.” If a body already exists in a lost and destroyed zone, then it must be very confusing when people turn up looking for this body. It is lost, as it already was. The problem is, by the time the bodies that are disappearing are bodies that look like yours all the people you might need to stand for you will have disappeared. Then what?

Kenya is doing many things, and it is important to remember that there is change happening. But what’s the point of change if all the people that the country is changing for are left behind? What’s the point of building a better future if there’ll be no one to live in it?

The Many Faces of Insecurity in Nairobi

Guest Writer
23 June ,2015

This essay is taken from Brainstorm’s third e-book, Ha!Kuna Matata: Security in Kenya, which is available for free.DOWNLOAD IT HERE to read more such essays.

by Constance Smith

At around 10am on Thursday 28th August 2014, gunfire burst out across Kaloleni, one of Nairobi’s decaying public housing estates in Eastlands. With bullets raining down, residents fled into their homes – both permanent and mabati houses – as for several hours police exchanged gunfire with thugs fleeing from a robbery in the Industrial Area. Eventually, riddled with bullets, five young gunmen were laid out on the ground: two dead, and three injured and immobilised.

Insecurity in Kenya has been the stuff of global headlines in recent months, with coverage of terrorist attacks, governments withdrawing embassy staff and tourism plummeting. Yet despite the violence, the blood and the deaths, the Kaloleni incident was apparently routine enough not to be reported anywhere in the Kenyan media. Violent crime in poorer corners of the city is not news, apparently.

“We were held hostage for several hours,” said Nico, describing how he and many others had taken shelter in their homes, even hiding under the bed as gunfire licked the walls and windows. This was not the first incident of shooting in Kaloleni, in fact, it is only the most recent of several over the past few months. For many Kenyans, the threat of terrorism, such as the attack on the Westgate Mall, remains a somewhat vague and distant threat, overshadowed by more mundane anxieties that rear their heads with ominous regularity. Gun crime is just one of the much more real and urgent forms of insecurity that must be negotiated everyday.

Even when faced with what might be classed as a terror attack, other concerns may take priority. After the bomb went off in Gikomba market, my friend Georgio was sprinting through Kaloleni. What’s wrong? I asked him. “I’m going to Gikosh – I need to protect my shop,” he called as he hurried past. Following a confused and chaotic ‘terror incident’ such as a bomb exploding in one of the city’s most crowded markets, most of us would choose to flee. But Georgio, along with all the other stallholders, knew that the confusion following the explosion was a perfect opportunity for looters to take advantage. Desperate to safeguard his stock, he headed into the fray and into potential danger. The imminent loss of livelihood weighed up in his mind as a much greater insecurity than a second explosion.

For Kaloleni residents, this climate of uncertainty is deepened by the looming threat of demolition of the estate itself. On 14 May 2014, an article appeared in the Nairobi News paper with the headline “In Comes Chinese Money, Out Go Eastlands Estates”. The article describes a Memorandum of Understanding signed between Nairobi County Government and two private Chinese companies to build 55,000 apartments in place of the county council housing in Eastlands, as part of the city’s so-called ‘urban renewal’ programme. This is only the most recent in a range of overlapping, and sometimes conflicting, announcements of redevelopment projects.

Over the past few years, large scale urban planning projects have achieved new momentum in Kenya, and Nairobi in particular. The government’s Vision 2030 initiative envisages “transforming Kenya into a middle income country by the year 2030” and the reinvention of Nairobi as a “world-class metropolis”. One key platform of this policy is the Eastlands Urban Renewal Strategy. These are all noble schemes if it means increasing employment, raising living standards and reducing poverty, but many residents fear that it is gentrification under another name: the displacement of thousands of poorer households in favour of high net-worth renters and buyers.

The Eastlands estates, including Kaloleni, are several neighbourhoods of colonial-era housing in the east of Nairobi, built by the British colonial government between 1920s and 1960s to provide affordable housing for Africans in Kenya’s rapidly growing capital city. Although today they are rundown and in disrepair, tens of thousands of low-income Nairobians still call them home. According to the article, the new apartments are to be designed, constructed and then sold by the Chinese companies, despite the fact that very few current residents have the capital needed to purchase property. As described, the scheme implies the end of publicly owned rental housing in this area of Nairobi. What this might mean for the residents is far from clear, but displacement seems likely.

With even the roofs over their heads in doubt, residents are facing a whole range of insecurities, both urgent and chronic.

While the government dreams of Vision 2030, ordinary wananchi try to get by, dodging bullets from both police and criminals, evading the county council’s bulldozers and praying their matatu gets them to work in one piece. Planning for the future is fraught when the sands of the present are shifting underneath you. It is as much a game of hope and luck as of intentions and ambition.


Miraculously, it felt like, the police managed to avoid hurting anyone else in the Kaloleni shootout. By lunchtime, children started to peer around corners, playing with the empty cartridges now littering the estate. Residents came outside to survey the damage, patching up shattered windows and walls peppered with bullet holes. Excited chatter began to swell: Who were the young gunmen? Whose homes had they hidden in?

With the immediate danger over, comments and photos were quickly uploaded to social media, provoking much discussion, especially among the Kaloleni diaspora, now living in many corners of the world. But there was sadness too, and resignation.

I asked one man if he would replace the battered wall of his one-room mabati home. He looked me in the eye and said, “Is there any point? Maybe they will demolish all this soon anyway. I can’t keep rebuilding and rebuilding.”

Constance Smith is a researcher in anthropology and history, based at the BIEA in Kileleshwa, Nairobi. Her research focuses on housing, architecture, and community in Nairobi, primarily in Eastlands.

This essay is taken from Brainstorm’s third e-book, Ha!Kuna Matata: Security in Kenya, which is available for free.DOWNLOAD IT HERE to read more such essays.

This is Kenya

Guest Writer
26 May ,2015

This essay is taken from Brainstorm’s third e-book, (In)Sanity, What Crazy Looks Like: Security in Kenya, which is available for free. DOWNLOAD IT HERE to read more such essays.

Editor’s note: I’m thinking about what it is to read this essay and think of the several iterations of violence that have happened since Westgate. What does it mean to live with the presence of this present?

by Mugo Muna

“So all those people in Westgate should get therapy?” he asked.

“Why not?”, I responded.

“Even if you managed to get therapy for all those people,” he said, “what are you going to do after the next incident?”.

He had a point. After this incident, there would undoubtedly be others. Matatu Madness. Insecurity. Natural disasters. These are all real threats that could bring distress and misery back into people’s lives.

He explained that because of these constant occurrences, you would need to be in constant therapy to just keep on living. So instead of living such a life, Frank thinks it’s better to come up with your own way of managing and just press onward.

Or simply:  just deal with it.

This solution sits poorly with me. But I have my own coping mechanisms.

Whenever I am in a big shopping mall and everyone is happily walking about, I’m still thinking about how poorly the security guards search people coming into the malls. I’m thoroughly convinced that I will be caught in an attack at some point. Because of this certainty, I’ve decided that I am okay with losing a leg. Either leg. Just leave me with the ability to sit in front of a computer and churn out words. That’s all that is needed. But I doubt the aggressors would be so kind and listen to my pleas. Nevertheless, I have come to terms with it.

Okay, I am underplaying my acceptance a little bit.

Not only is the leg loss okay, but I have also been mentally designing the prosthetic that I would have made for me. It would need to be something that mimics the function of the lost leg but the form would be radically different so that you wouldn’t think that it was a real limb in the first place. Think chrome and jagged edges.

But that’s crazy! Right? These shouldn’t be the thoughts running through my head, which I admit, but they are present.

A friend of mine recently returned to the States after working in Kenya for a little over two years. Her friends said that she was acting strangely and that she should go and see a therapist. Upon visiting the doctor, she was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.

She later made the claim that most of the people she knows who come back to the States after being from Kenya also end up with PTSD. At first, this statement can seem a bit hyperbolic. Because it could be interpreted as saying that everyone in Kenya has PTSD, which is ridiculous. Then I remembered that I’ve never seen as many dead bodies as I have in my time here in Kenya, and it is impossible to really know how those snapshots of suffering affect a person. Can you really be okay after seeing a recently deceased human being? It changes you. Maybe not immediately, maybe not  intensely, but there is a break between your past and present self. And what about the second time and the third time? What does this compounding of experiences do to a person? So maybe there is something to that post traumatic stress thing.

But just being aware that something is wrong is not the same as dealing with those sensations. My aunt once said, “if it is your day, it is your day, but don’t jump up looking for bullets.” On one hand this is fairly sound advice about bullet evasion. On the other hand, it is a really fatalistic approach to dealing with your emotions. I hate this idea of giving up all my agency and just seeing where the chips land in the end. Is there a more proactive approach? Can these feelings of helplessness be combated instead of accepted? What options are available? How do you deal with it?

Despite all these questions, I find it impossible to talk to people about my mental state here in Kenya. Often after hearing  a traumatic story, someone within the group will utter the phrase that grates against the fiber of my very being. A collection of words whose frequency is irksome but persists nonetheless.

This is Kenya.

A statement that is suppose to summarily explain and codify the experiences that we intake every single day. It is an expression that is both meaningless and offensive. Just because the lived sensations do not equate to the ideal does not mean that we must blindly accept the present. Such a brief assertion serves as a catch all to end all discussion about a topic. It is a phrase that shuts down any dialogue and engagement with the emotional core of the situation. And does its continual use speak of a fatigue of discussing these experiences. That it is easier to heap the blame elsewhere than to confront those troubles? Do the people using this saying truly believe that it is a satisfactory way to explain someone’s experience? Whether or not people truly accept the ethos of the phrase, it serves as means of terminating rather than furthering any meaningful dialogue.

Beyond that single statement, it is difficult to talk to people about sensitive emotions because it can feel as if  they are listening not to empathize or support but simply to share that story with someone else. Waiting for all the juicy details so that a transcript of my words can be passed on. Of course this motivation doesn’t describe everyone, but it taints the way conversations unfold. That lingering fear of being talked about. Of other people, snickering in secret over your honest outpouring to a not so confiding friend. Because of this fear of being talked about, I modify what I say and tend to emphasize the positive things going on in my life and neglect to mention the more negative. Call it pride. Call it snobbishness. Call it whatever you want. But I am more likely to talk about a night out dancing than my continual sadness caused by my breakup. So I end up sounding cool but still mull over the same thoughts with no catharsis.

As my buddy George told me, “You guy. You better kill that story. They could tell someone. Who will tell someone. Who will tell that girl you are interested in.” Ultimately, being talked about isn’t about being embarrassed, but also a fear of losing standing in the general community. With so much to lose, it is often easier to just keep those thoughts to yourself.

Which is crazy given the levels of community engagement in this country. We have community support like I have never seen. My cousins’ house burnt down, and the outpouring of support and love that his family received to have the house rebuilt is astounding. I mean who needs 4 sofa sets? But that community support and love is not enough. Of course it is welcome. Of course it is comforting.  But there is a limit to what you can share and how open you can be with a group of people. My cousin talks about the outpouring of support, but he doesn’t talk about the fear he had when he was fighting the fire. He doesn’t talk about the thoughts that cross his mind when there is a surge in electricity, the fire was caused by some electrical problem in the house. Maybe these things don’t bother him. Maybe they do. But I doubt he will start talking about his fears of another fire right after receiving another sofa set for the house. And that’s the problem. It’s that willingness to be vulnerable. That willingness to show the flaws around your life that is lacking and inevitably is harmful to our own psyches.

Being open has its risks. Ridicule being the most fearful at least for me. I don’t want to reveal my innermost insecurities only to be laughed to my face after getting the courage to talk about them. Fortunately, I have a group of friends who I feel comfortable sharing my own insecurities and doubts. But not everyone is that lucky to have a support network that they can truly depend upon and what is our solution for them? Keep putting on airs? Keep on keeping on?

And not all people will cope in the exact same way.

I think I cope with my experiences by writing. Whether it is simply writing an email to a friend to detail the foolishness that I have just witnessed or typing out my own deeper, more troubling thoughts, writing is a catharsis that can’t be provided by any other medium.

This does beg the question on how are you suppose to deal with trauma? How are you suppose to deal with those complex sets of emotions caused by some black swan event?

I think we have to be more open with one another. Yes life in Kenya is hard, but that doesn’t make your emotions and experiences any less valid or real. We can’t continue to stigmatize those who are struggling with their own mental challenges.

Imagine the relief  just from hearing some else talk openly about the aftershocks they experienced from a traumatic experience. That feeling to know that you aren’t the only person trying to figure out how to keep moving along everyday. That you aren’t the only one who gets pulled back into those moments and it feels like you can’t escape it in the present. For the walls of perfection to be let down, even for a moment, and for imperfection and flaws to shine forth for the rest of the world to see and scrutinize.

“What do you think they are going to do with the Westgate building,” I asked recently.

“They’ll probably just refurbish it and reopen the mall,” my friend responded.

I don’t know if I like that thought. Just to add a fresh coat of paint to the veneer of our suffering. We can’t keep rearranging the emotional furniture in our minds. There has to be a realization that mental health is as important if not more important than our physical health. You wouldn’t hesitate to go the doctor when you feel something is wrong with your body, but when you can’t move on after a shocking event, you just hope that time will help you forget?

This is Kenya. This is the how it is, but not how it should be. Let’s talk about our fears and anxieties since silence isn’t really working.

Mugo Muna is the founder of Bora Wear, a company that makes belts that matter. Follow him on Twitter.

Made in Kenya: Forensic Files

Guest Writer
12 May ,2015

This essay is taken from Brainstorm’s third e-book, Ha!Kuna Matata: Security in Kenya, which is available for free. DOWNLOAD IT HERE to read more such essays.

by Sophie Gitonga

I’d never met a murderer before – and it never featured on my to do list.

Pete (not his real name) was a guest at the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, his home for several years. He was convicted of murdering his wife, and for that he was sentenced to the gallows. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. His call was a surprise. I tried to convince him that he had the wrong number, but he had done his homework. He knew about the DNA laboratory where I worked and the kind of work we did. He had the right number. He told me why he had called – he was mounting an appeal against his conviction and he needed my help.

He was disputing the outcome of the DNA results from the evidence collected in the investigation of his wife’s murder. The evidence linked him to the murder, yet he was categorical that he had nothing to do with it. Being impartial and having no vested interest in the outcome of an investigation is an important skill to learn and use. You need to go against your natural inclination to rush to judgement until you have weighed all the facts and information. I was sympathetic towards Pete, and felt that there had been a miscarriage of justice, given the reputation of the Kenya Police Service in the area of criminal investigation.

On the other hand, it was possible that Pete was after all guilty of killing his wife, and that he knew he could poke holes in the police investigation and was using me as a pawn to get out of his current predicament. Still, I decided to hear Pete out. He invited me to visit him in prison and I agreed, a little too quickly. He sounded calm, decent even, over the phone.

I did not know what to wear on my day out to prison. I hadn’t told anyone I was going because I didn’t want to be talked out of it, so I couldn’t get an opinion on what to wear. I figured pants would be best – it is easier to run away very fast when you are wearing pants (and of course no jeans because, well, in American movies, the prisoners wear denim and you don’t want the guards thinking that you are one as you are trying to leave). A black pantsuit would have to do; I could pass off as a lawyer in one.

In the cab, I willed my heart to keep beating at a steady pace. We got to the entrance and the driver was shooed away, cabs were not allowed on prison grounds. I was required to turn off my cell phone and leave it at the reception. The catcalls began almost immediately I left the reception, “Sister! Rasta!” (I have dreads) and I thought to myself: This is how I’m going to die and no one will even know because I didn’t tell anyone where I was going.

After going through another reception, I got a proper pat down body search, much unlike those benign wand waves you experience at malls. This was a contact sport. I was relieved when she didn’t tell me I had a breast tumour following the groping. Power suits meant nothing in here. I ambled through a dark hallway and there it was, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel that led me to the room where I would meet Pete. There were four wardens in the room, there to monitor my conversation with Pete, I supposed, and to make sure there was no monkey business. I was okay with that.

Pete walked in. He was towering and dark skinned. He had huge hands, one of which I shook gingerly. His face was surprisingly gentle. Was this the guy who had allegedly snuffed the life out of his wife? He was a model prisoner, rewarded for his good behaviour. He had access to the computers in the wardens’ offices – that was how he had found my number. It was also how he studied. He was studying Law.

Pete spoke of how his previous appeal had been rejected, the grounds for which were not entirely clear to me. He handed me all the documents he had relating to his case, and came back to point about the DNA tests, why he doubted their accuracy, and whether the right interpretation was used to arrive at a conclusion. He was sure that a review of the evidence would exonerate him. My responses to him were cautious and clipped; I knew it would be premature of me to agree with him before I read the case. I was eager to get back to the office and pore over the case.

Pete’s marriage was tumultuous; he drank heavily and beat his wife with equal fervour. He worked as a mechanic, and she as a hairdresser. They had two children. She had walked away from the marriage on several occasions, only to return. This was the anecdotal testimony provided by their neighbours and his wife’s family. He did not dispute this. He admitted that he and his wife had altercations on numerous occasions, but this did not mean that he killed her.

On the night in question, he had been working late and decided to catch a drink in the neighbourhood close to home. His wife worked in the same neighbourhood, so he’d occasionally pick her up and they’d go home together. He didn’t have an alibi on this night though. He drank alone and doesn’t remember if there were any witnesses to corroborate his testimony. Much later, at about 11 pm, he made his way home. He did not find his wife at home, but that wasn’t unusual to him. He slept, only to be awoken by loud banging on his door. His wife’s body had been found in a bush close to home. She had been strangled. It was also possible that she had been raped and killed.

There was no photographic evidence or sketches included in the papers I had, and when I asked Pete about this, he doubted that they existed because previous attempts to get them had availed nothing. Thus, there was no way of reconstructing the scene or the crime itself as it happened. The police talked about the position of the body, and it was ‘close’ to their home, and the bar where Pete had been drinking the night before. There was no disclosure about the general surrounding of the area where the body was found, the time, weather condition – nothing. It was anyone’s guess.

A post mortem was conducted to determine cause of death, which was ruled as asphyxiation. Vaginal swabs were collected to determine if the victim had in fact had been raped, though evidence to corroborate an assault or lack of one was never sought. The vaginal swabs were declared sufficient. The victim’s fingernails were bloody and torn, and it was believed that she fought off her assailant(s), and that her fingernails contained the evidence of that altercation.

Given his history of violence, Pete was naturally the primary suspect in his wife’s death, and he was arrested. He asked to see his wife and pay his respects. This was granted and he was able to see her at the mortuary. That was the last time he saw her. The police questioned Pete and he maintained his innocence. He was held anyway, because he was “assisting” with investigations. I’ve never quite understood why a suspect, if guilty, would want to help the police nail him.

Pete never underwent a physical exam, and he was never asked to submit to one. This was a classic Sherlock Holmes moment that was missed; the police seemed to have no interest in checking whether other evidence could corroborate the fingernail evidence. Pete maintained then, as he does now, that he had no physical injuries on his person that would suggest that he was in a fight. The police had decided that Pete was the culprit though, and that was enough.

Pete never underwent a physical exam, and he was never asked to submit to one. This was a classic Sherlock Holmes moment that was missed; the police seemed to have no interest in checking whether other evidence could corroborate the fingernail evidence. Pete maintained then, as he does now, that he had no physical injuries on his person that would suggest that he was in a fight. The police had decided that Pete was the culprit though, and that was enough.

The defendant had no opportunity to call in his own expert witness who would challenge the DNA results, nor could he have the same samples also analysed in an independent lab. This was where I came in. I told Pete that a reanalysis of the sample would not be possible because after so many years and what was presumed to have been an open and shut case, all physical evidence had been destroyed. Without it, there’s wasn’t much I could do.


Pete’s case reminded me of another high profile case, that of Tom Cholmondeley. This heir of British aristocracy, very rich and fond of shooting, was charged with the murder of an alleged poacher who had trespassed onto his land. This was the second man Tom had been accused of killing (the charges in the first incident were dropped due to lack of evidence). The charge of first degree murder was reduced to the lesser offense of manslaughter. In my opinion, this was partly due to lack of evidence, but mostly due to fear of the backlash that would result if Tom was acquitted in this case too.

I had the opportunity to speak to one of Tom’s lawyers, and he was flabbergasted that this case could even proceed to trial with so little evidence. Another debacle courtesy of team Kenya Police. From what I’ve read, by the time the police arrived at the crime scene (Tom’s expansive ranch), night had already fallen. Where they sighted evidence, they moved it so that they could get a better view of it. Problem. When the lighting was too poor to actually conduct a scene investigation, the police left the scene unsecured, with a promise to return the following day to continue the investigation.

The post mortem analysis carried out on the victim indicated that he had been shot twice, once in the buttocks (non-lethal) and another shot that was fatal. Tom fired the buttock shot and ballistics evidence corroborated this. The other shot was fired by a different gun, and possibly by a different person. The police did not pursue this line of questioning. They relied on the testimony of another witness. Tom and his legal team mounted a spirited defence. In the end though, the court of public opinion found him guilty and the judge sided with the public.


In Kenya, it seems your guilt or innocence is determined by emotions, who you know, and how much money you have. Justice and fairness are foreign concepts in our criminal justice system. The legal burden of proof lies with the defendant. The preponderance of evidence (the much lower standard of proof used in civil cases), seems to trump reasonable doubt in criminal cases, even when the doubt is clear and legitimate.

Edmond Locard theorized that every contact leaves a trace. By this he meant that every physical contact between people or things left something traceable that could confirm that the contact took place. This principle was so convincing that back then, law enforcement adopted it in crime investigation. If this evidence could be located at the time the crime was committed and analysed, then it would provide critical information about the identity of the perpetrator.

Enter forensic science. The determination of criminal culpability was not sorcery, it needed backing that was impartial and testable, and not subject to whims. Scientists were then called upon to help the criminal justice system (police, lawyers, judges and wardens) in ensuring that the right person was held responsible for the commission of a crime by analysing the evidence and testifying to the accuracy of those results.

It is my contention that forensics in all its forms, as judicious as it is, does not solve crime. The successful resolution of a crime is a team effort. Every step from the crime scene to the courtroom needs people at the helm who know what to do. A degraded, improperly labelled, poorly preserved sample will not yield a result simply because the analyst holds a PhD, or because the equipment he uses was manufactured in Europe. Evidence tampering cannot be undone in the laboratory.

Furthermore, though evidence is the linchpin in a criminal investigation, it only serves as an investigative tool. For example, the presence of semen on a woman’s panties is not a conclusion of sexual assault. It is a conclusion of sexual intercourse with a male who is currently unknown. If the victim is going to claim rape, there has to be evidence to support her claim, and this additional evidence has to be sought and its probative value determined by the investigating detective. The detective still has to ask the questions who, when, where and how, and what he gathers from this has to add up with what the evidence shows.

In another example, if analysis of blood stains on your clothes reveals that the blood is human in origin and not from the slaughter of a chicken, as you had earlier claimed, then you are in the awkward position of having to answer how the blood got onto your clothes. If a DNA test goes on to show that the blood is not yours but someone else’s, then your assertion that you cut your finger and wiped your hand on your shirt cannot be sustained. Evidence points you in a certain direction, and someone has to go out, find the perpetrator, arrest him and charge him with something.

This is why I get puzzled when I hear the prosecution ask for more time to carry out investigations to link a suspect to a crime, especially after they have already arrested and detained the suspect. How are they able to charge someone with a crime yet have insufficient evidence to show that this suspect committed said crime? And where exactly do they hope to find this extra evidence? One of the first things you learn in forensics is that evidence is very transient, and thanks to TV shows like CSI, criminals are learning how to conceal or destroy it, so the sooner a crime scene technician can locate the evidence, the higher the chance of successful resolution.

In the courtroom, scientific evidence makes a better witness than most eyewitness accounts. The former doesn’t perjure itself, doesn’t forget crucial facts, is impartial, and in some cases can be retested. For most lay people, the challenge is in understanding the significance of scientific testimony, because it is so heavily laden with jargon. The prosecution will have the expert from their lab who will testify to this and that but because the defence lawyer does not understand what was said, he or she cannot challenge this testimony. Miscarriage of justice occurs, then, if the triers of the fact cannot raise reasonable arguments against the evidence or testimony produced. Again, this is not something that can be fixed by well-equipped forensic labs.

We require the entire criminal justice system working in tandem. Everyone needs to know his or her role and have the necessary deftness to accomplish it. Possible immediate solutions for Kenya include provision of the right resources in the right quantities at the right time to the already existing forensic laboratories. With the right support, these labs can cater to the needs of the 40+ million Kenyans who would seek those services.

If capital investment is too great for the government to shoulder, outsourcing forensic services to accredited labs is also an option. Outsourcing has worked well in other areas like education, infrastructure development, and health care provision, and could possibly work well in this field too.

When I think about Pete and Tom, I fear for myself because as a potential victim, I have no recourse in our current judicial system. I could be a victim of crime and the perpetrator would be let off the hook due to lack of evidence, or may never be identified due to incomplete investigation. I could be a victim of police who could inaccurately implicate me in a crime, and I would be twiddling my thumbs in remand waiting on them to collate sufficient evidence against me.

Collective vigilance remains necessary. Kenyans have only recently begun to enjoy freedoms under the Bill of Rights. Knowing what your rights are is important, because these situations could happen to anyone.

Sophie Mukwana is a forensic scientist. Follow her on Twitter @SophieHMK

This essay is taken from Brainstorm’s third e-book, Ha!Kuna Matata: Security in Kenya, which is available for free. DOWNLOAD IT HERE to read more such essays.

Why Kenya’s Real War Is Within Its Borders

Guest Writer
21 April ,2015

by Owaahh

As the flowers begin to wilt on the graves of the 147 people who were killed in the Garissa University attack, it is essential for Kenyans to reflect on the journey that brought us here. This journey has been one of many mistakes and very few legitimate successes.

The story of how the Northern Frontier District (NFD) came to be a part of colonial Kenya, and independent Kenya, is intriguing, if not sadistic. Borders were arbitrarily drawn on the map of Eastern Africa, cutting through communities and clans; boardroom deals with Ethiopia and Italy further divided the Somali people, with the British governing their part from Kenya.

A few years before independence, the British canvassed the NFD in an informal referendum. The question was simple yet powerful, as it would chart the destiny of the Somali people on the Kenyan side of the border. An overwhelming majority rightly knew they were doomed if they stayed in Kenya, and they voted to join the Greater Somali Republic. Somalia would be a large state incorporating all areas that had a majority Somali population, including Djibouti and Ogaden in Ethiopia.

Kenya’s founding fathers, however, made it clear that they would not cede an inch of soil to anyone. Anecdotal evidence suggests the British prevailed upon Kenyatta to consider the idea but he rubbished it, to them and to the government of Somalia. Instead of a peaceful transition for Somalia and Kenya, Britain’s ignorance on the impact of its lethargy marked the start of a decade of mayhem.

Contrary to common history, the Shifta War was a term only right in one aspect: it was a war. There were no shiftas (bandits), but revolutions. The Somali people of the NFD united behind a group called the Northern Province Progressive People’s Party (NPPPP). This ragtag militia eventually grew into a full revolution, calling for unity with the Somali Republic.

The Somali people had been marginalized by the colonial government, especially after World War II. If the idea of annexing Northern Kenya was an embarrassment for KANU, the idea that the revolutionary war would ever be branded as such was even worse. The government immediately launched a military and a propaganda campaign. It was this campaign that branded the NPPPP shiftas, Somali for bandits.

The NPPPP received military and financial assistance from the Somali government, who were in turned trained and funded by the Soviet Union. Winning this war was paramount for Kenya as a capitalist state, and a friend of Western powers. The NPPPP’s military wing, known as the Northern Frontier District Liberation Army (NFDLA), had battalions of a thousand armed men deployed in smaller units of about 30 soldiers. Until 1965, their armory mostly featured old European arms such as rifles and grenade launchers. With Somalia’s support, however, the strategy changed to employing mine warfare, allowing the NFDLA to extend beyond Wajir, Mandera and Garissa.

KANU drew its lessons from how the British had handled the Mau Mau insurgency. They had everything, including genocides and concentration camps, down to an art. The difference was that unlike the British, the Kenyan government was now dealing with an enemy who had sophisticated weaponry. Security personnel were allowed to confiscate and kill animals, and detention camps with kangaroo courts and dubious legal processes were founded in the region.

Partly, the goal of the war was to curb pastoralism and make the Somali people easier to govern. Innocent civilians were herded into concentration camps branded as villages. Inside such camps in places such as Garbatulla, the torture and massacres continued unabated. The Kenyan military was allowed a free hand in Northern Kenya. In the course of battling the secessionist body, it also encountered real bandits who would often be found with bows and poison arrows.

The agreement to end hostilities between Nairobi and Mogadishu effectively cut off the lifeline for the NPPPP and allowed the Kenyan military to vanquish its central structure. Kenyans of Somali ethnicity who escaped the fighting by crossing into Somalia found it impossible to get back in. This created secondary and tertiary problems for Kenya that would eventually bubble into an insecure border.

The counterinsurgency strategy had similar effects to the one colonialists applied against the Mau Mau; it targeted the larger Somali community, just as the Kikuyu community had once been targeted. The previously oppressed became the oppressor. These efforts effectively decimated the informal Somali economy. An unknown number of cattle heads were killed or confiscated by the Kenya military. From Isiolo alone, it is estimated that more than 15,000 heads of cattle were confiscated or killed. This made an entire population desperate, and most of them shifted to other economic activities such as business.

However, the attempt to ‘create Kenyans’ failed miserably. Although the experiment reduced the population of pastoralists and established the authority of the Kenya government in the district, it spelled doom for the son of the man who led Kenya during the Shifta War. It also meant that Kenyans of Somali origin would never feel as patriotic or enthusiastic about their country as their neighbors. That the NFD always voted for the government of the day was wrongly read as their acceptance of the political powers in Nairobi, and not as an indication of the collective trauma that roamed the region.

The State collapse of the Somali government also meant that there was little hope for the Somali people. Even with that, however, the Kenyan state that had been fighting to keep them within its borders continued killing them. Although the guns of the NFDLA died out in the 1970s, the instances of state-sponsored violence continued. There was a shoot-to-kill policy in the region in the 1980s, the same period when the Wagalla and Garissa massacres occurred. The 1980 massacre started as an effort to flush out a local criminal called Abdi Madobe, and ended with the deaths of hundreds of ethnic Somalis. In 1989, there was a nationwide screening of Somalis living within Kenya.

The period of relative peace in the late 1990s and early 2000s coincides with the time when Mohammoud Saleh was the provincial commissioner of the NFD. A Kenyan-Somali himself, Saleh tried to mend the fractured relationship between the Kenyan government and the inhabitants of the NFD. He was said to have zero tolerance towards abuse by security forces, although anecdotal evidence suggests he suffered stigma under unknowing security forces who frequently stopped him when he was in plain clothes.

In 1991, the Somali government effectively collapsed, leaving social units with the mandate of finding ways to govern themselves. A system of Islamic courts filled the judicial gap, and spread into other roles such as policing, healthcare and education. In the first decade, most of them worked alone with no system of collaboration. However, this changed in 1999 when they decided to work together. They formed an armed militia that immediately started fighting for control of Mogadishu. The Islamic Courts Union (ICU) was funded by the Eritrean government and Ethiopian insurgency groups, making it an enemy of Ethiopia. In the next half a decade, the ICU grew in power and control, especially in areas around Mogadishu. Its military wing decimated warlords who had previously controlled the country. It was a time of peace and prosperity in Somalia, albeit short-lived. The Mogadishu airport and the seaport were reopened and the economy began to recover. Having a Sharia-based, largely informal government in Eastern Africa made Kenya and Ethiopia jittery.

At the end of 2006, Ethiopia-funded transitional government forces began attacking the ICU. By the end of 2007, the courts union was no more, mainly due to infighting and resignations that weakened its response to the concerted effort to remove it from power. It’s military wing, Al Shabaab, whose full name is Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahidin, did not die off with the death of the ICU. Instead, it moved in fast to fill in the gap, transforming itself to one of the most formidable powers in Somalia. It eventually controlled a significant part of inhabited Somalia, and tried to transform itself into a national power. Uganda intervened, as did Kenya, uprooting the Shabaab from all its lifelines. The group fled to the background and became an insurgency.

Kenya’s actual reaction to the Somalia situation began years before the 2011 invasion. It was a foolhardy plan, and would eventually bring a war that was not Kenya’s right into its borders. In an attempt to shield her borders from attacks, Kenya turned to what looked like a brilliant plan by a former Al Shabaab leader, Ras Kamboni warlord Sheikh Ahmed Madobe. The plan was to form an autonomous Jubaland on the Somalia side of the border to act as a buffer zone for Kenya. A small force of Somalis would be trained by Kenyan forces to help the transitional government bolster its position. It was a terrible plan, and Kenya’s security partners told its officials as much.

Kenya went ahead to recruit and train 4,000 Kenyans of Somali origin, contrary to reports that they were Somali nationals. Half of the recruits were sent to camps at Archers Post and Manyani. They were promised jobs and money, and a destiny in Jubaland. They were then transferred to Somalia and as the clan infighting killed off the plan, most disappeared with their weapons and training. Many of them ended up as members of Al Shabaab.

During the April 2nd 2015 dawn attack, the attackers used what they called ‘Kenyan weaponry.’ One was revealed to have been a Kenyan-Somali from Mandera, one of the areas where the Kibaki government had recruited young men for its secret mission in Somalia. Although it is unlikely he was one of those trained at Archers Post or Manyani, it is likely he has links to those who were. The exact number of Kenyan-Somalis who underwent training and then ended up in Al Shabaab’s ranks is unknown, at least publicly, and the Kenya government is unlikely to reclassify the war against the terror group as an internal insurgency.

While the government has continually portrayed the war as a war against illegal immigrants, and recently refugees, the real enemy is actually disillusioned Kenyans of Somali ethnicity. Born in a tormented land where their parents were traumatized and subdued, they were then given hope of finally doing something for the motherland. Whether Kenya’s officials actually knew the risks involved is another story, and one they are unlikely to be honest about because it would make them culpable.

The newest genius plan seems to be the construction of a border barrier on the border with Somalia. The border barrier, the government hopes, will solve the problem once and for all. The Daadab camp, the largest of its kind in the world, should be closed within the next year if the UN heeds Kenya’s demands. These efforts assume the enemy is a Somali national, and not a person who has a valid Kenyan ID card.

The level of ethnic profiling that goes on every time there is an attack, whether in Garissa or in South C or Eastleigh, is built on this security paradigm. It is a rather interesting way to look at it; that it is outsiders who spoil citizens. Yet, the truth is that Kenya will never know peace until the North Eastern region it annexed is peaceful and thriving socially and economically.

That peace will not come from police crackdowns and ethnic profiling. Fighting the Al Shabaab should stop being about fighting the Somali people, because profiling is not the solution. Neither is a border barrier or a closed refugee camp. Both ideas are as terrible as the idea of training Kenyan Somalis to fight in Somalia. It will only furnish Kenya’s enemies with new recruits.

The real battle is not in Kismayu or Mogadishu, it is right within Kenya’s borders, and it cannot be won with guns and armored tanks.

Owaahh is a writer, blogger and researcher. He blogs here  and tweets from @Owaahh