By Walter Otieno.
Since the outbreak of Corona virus pandemic in Kenya, we heard from many grassroots groups we work with that there has been a stark increase of police brutality. The Kenyan government introduced measures with the goal of stopping the virus from spreading. The problem is that police officers often use excessive force to enforce these directives. We are not alone in these observations.
The Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) reported increased rates of human rights, economic and social rights violations by police and state agencies. KHRC documented 10 deaths and 67 cases of human rights abuse caused by police officers since the beginning of the pandemic. The Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) documented 87 complaints against police officers that were reported. The complaints range from death, shootings, harassment, assaults resulting to serious injuries, robbery, inhuman treatment, and sexual assault.
Police brutality was a big problem in Kenya before the pandemic, but the Covid-19 crisis made matters worse. In response to this, AfriNov and its partners started supporting grassroots campaigns against police brutality in various parts of Kenya. In North Rift, Monicah, the program officer supported a campaign that stopped police brutality in Langas slums. In Nairobi, AfriNov trained Community Resource persons (CRPs) led by Beatrice Atieno the program Officer, worked with young artists to raise awareness of police brutality through drawings and messaging on walls.
In Kisumu, AfriNov supported the establishment of a community-led partnership campaign together with regional police and Boda Boda (motorcycle taxi) riders. This campaign was led by Disability Agenda Kenya (DAK), a community-based organization advocating for the rights of people living with disabilities which was trained by AfriNov on nonviolent campaigning.
AfriNov helped DAK in analyzing the issue of police brutality in the area and found that most often Boda Boda riders are affected by arbitrary arrest and police harassment. Many times, the police brutality would be met with retaliation from the riders, which makes the situation even more difficult. DAK campaigners met with the Boda Boda riders to talk about the issue and decided to launch the “Don’t arrest, give mask” campaign.
The goal of the campaign was to improve the relationship between the police and the community, and more so to stop the police from arresting people working in the informal sector for not wearing facemasks.
After meeting the police commander and the Boda Boda riders separately, DAK and AfriNov managed to convince both the boda boda riders and some police officers to meet in a safe space to discuss their concerns. After the conversation, moderated by AfriNov field team, the police promised that they would continue to work with the team to find solutions to stop the police brutality. The police and Boda Boda leaders reached a consensus on the role of the police in enforcing the containment measures. Boda Boda riders agreed that they would adhere to containment measures. Both sides also decided to continue meeting in the future to building a working relationship to avoid further conflict. During the meeting, police inspector Omondi said: “We are all brothers and sisters of our parents; we are only separated by our professions. Let us co-exist peacefully”.
AfriNov supported DAK in carrying out these activities by providing advice, training, paying small amounts to campaigners so that they can travel for the campaign activities and moderating the discussions.
Since this meeting, DAK, the boda boda riders and other community members reported that the police brutality has decreased significantly. Disability Agenda Kenya and local communities continue to work closely with the police service in Kisumu to ensure peaceful enforcement of containment measures.