Like millions of Kenyans, I watched in horror as the police meted out violence on University of Nairobi students.
I was angry when I watched footage of a police officer ordering a group of first year students to open a window so that he could throw a teargas canister into the room to literally smoke them out.
My blood boiled when I saw officers slapping students, frogmarching them out of their halls of residence and even audaciously filming the students as if to mock them. I have also keenly followed the national debate as police and government officials blatantly defend police atrocities against the students whose only crime was to be at the right place at the wrong time.
Today, I want to address the Education and acting Interior Cabinet Secretary, Dr Fred Matiang’i, directly and tell him this: You are wrong, Dr Matiang’i.
I will not deny that university students are often a menace. They have on many occasions harassed motorists and destroyed property. They can be wild, riotous and mannerless. They often behave like ignorant bucolic yokels and have often displayed foolishness.
But, what happened to them and how they were treated last week is atrocious. Those men with batons and teargas canisters did not behave like police should. Their conduct had all the markings of a criminal gang. That is not how to treat the youth of this country.
Most of those students were in first and second year; naïve students who did not understand how police and riots operate.
Innocent students who thought that their hostels and classes were safer than the streets so they hid underneath their desks and beds. How wrong they were! They were attacked by police while sitting in class. What has become of this country?
Many of them are not even 20 years old yet. They are barely teenagers, fresh from high school. They are no different from the children in your house.
They were not criminals. Yet, they were punished. For nothing. Those students did not deserve what they got that day.
It makes me very angry that we, as Kenyans, watched those disturbing clips and went on with our lives as if those are not our sisters, brothers, nephews, nieces, daughters and sons.
What makes me even angrier is the casual manner with which we treated the claims of sexual harassment of the female students by the police.
How do we live with ourselves knowing that our sisters, nieces and daughters might have been molested by police yet we do nothing about it? Why did we not ask tough questions when we saw footage of an officer leading away some female students to an unknown destination? Why is the Cabinet secretary quiet on such grave issues?
Why are we not interrogating what really happened behind those closed doors, in those vulnerable moments? And why are we acting as if this never happened?
I would like to encourage Dr Matiang’i to live up to his reputation of a no-nonsense, straight-shooting man of integrity and do the right thing here.
It doesn’t look good, Dr Matiang’i, when you give a blanket dismissal of what happened by saying that some of that footage we saw was from the past.
Do not reduce violence against university students to mere misuse of social media and spreading of fake videos. Stop walking on politically-correct eggshells and start dealing with the real issues. And the real issue at hand is that the police were sent to quell chaos at the university and they misbehaved.
Do the right thing and make sure that the men who terrified those students do not do it again in the future. I will not make excuses for rowdy university students, I have once been caught up in the melee and it was not a pleasant experience. I am all for quelling chaotic and mannerless university students. But not in this way. There has to be a better way.
Let heads start rolling, Dr Matiang’i.
We want justice for the University of Nairobi students.