Last Monday’s protests over the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission issue resulted in at least two deaths from fatal shootings and at least a dozen people with gunshot injuries. All these shootings happened in Kisumu. Six-year-old Jeremiah Otieno Adongo was shot at his parents’ house.
A one-year-old boy was critically injured when tear gas was thrown into a house, while two other youths were hospitalised after being brutally beaten by the police.
Two weeks earlier, three people were shot to death, during the protests, in Kisumu and Siaya, even though one of the dead was reportedly a bystander. At least four people sustained gunshot wounds, while others were treated for injuries after beatings by the police.
The police also used plainclothes officers in civilian cars driving around shooting in the air. This is a violation of human rights because it is impossible to attach accountability for violations in these circumstances.
The protesters in Kisumu came armed with rocks and other crude weapons. Those doing so lost their right to peaceful assembly. But the punishment is not to fire live bullets or beat them senseless or lob tear gas indiscriminately. The solution is to arrest them. Live bullets, under our law, should be used only to protect life. Protection of property does not justify taking of lives.
International policing experts recommend that police should have adequate protective gear when policing protests. Hence the “Ninja Turtle” suits. The theory is that the gear makes the police feel safer, thus reducing their fear and their instincts toward brutality, thus reducing the need for violence.
But alas, in Kenya, this theory has been turned upside down, and instead the protective gear seems to bring out the worst sadistic and brutal instincts in the police.
Keen observers were not surprised by the level of force and violence used by the police in Kisumu and Siaya. For we have seen this before and always in areas mainly populated by the Luo community, including Kibra in Nairobi.
It is time to state this openly: The Kenya Police Force (it is not a service despite the name change) seems to target the Luo community for extra-ordinary brutality and violence. No other community is subject to as much force and use of live ammunition as the Luo. There are countless demonstrations across the country, but nowhere else do we witness as many casualties—from the overwhelming use of force.
To add insult to injury, the officer in charge after the first fatalities was not reprimanded despite the fact that the Independent Police Oversight Board announced it was investigating the shootings. Instead, he was instead transferred and promoted!
When it comes to Luoland, the police force essentially converts itself into a militia serving a political purpose. And this police-cum-militia for Luoland is not new.
In 2013, after the Supreme Court’s ruling endorsing the declaration of Uhuru Kenyatta at the President, protests broke out in Kisumu, which were brutally put down, with some fatalities. Our media—for reasons best known to themselves—unethically gave the news a total blackout.
The 2008 Waki Commission documented that at least a third of the 1,500 Post-election violence killings were carried out by police, and a vast majority of those in Luo-dominated areas. And for those with longer memories it all started in 1969, following the assassination of Tom Mboya and the detention of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.
While this discrimination may not be uttered out aloud, make no mistake that the Luo community is aware of it. In fact, one of the reasons some of the youths come out with rocks and pangas is that they fully expect to be killed.
The State clearly thinks that it can subdue and intimidate the Luo by using brute force. But it should learn from the colonial and Moi regimes that these tactics only increase militancy. Hence the Mau Mau; and hence Mungiki in response to the targeted violence in the Rift Valley.
As the State showed in Nairobi last Monday, the less force used the less likely there will be chaos and violence. It is time to treat Kisumu in the same way.