The Kenyan police have killed 12 people in an attempt to enforce a dawn-to-dusk curfew that began more than two weeks ago, making Kenya’s lockdown one of the deadliest in the world.
But the true death toll is higher still: an untold number of others have died because of the curfew itself and the fear prompted by police batons and bullets. This figure is greater than the death toll from the pandemic in the country which stands at 11.
While human rights groups and police oversight agencies collect and verify reports of those killed directly by police during curfew enforcement,more are feared to be dying uncounted.
“At least one a night since curfew began,” said Wilfred Olal, who coordinates a network of social justice centres in slums across Kenya that is trying to keep track of curfew-related deaths since the measure was put into place 19 days ago. “To be honest, we’ve lost count. It’s dozens. There are many more.”
The Kenyan government’s Independent Policing Oversight Authority says it has recorded 35 “watertight” cases of police brutality related to curfew enforcement, 12 of which resulted in death.
“It is spreading all over this country,” said Jonathan Lompodui, the body’s vice chairman.
The police’s national spokesman, Charles Owino, and the government’s spokesman, Cyrus Oguna, did not respond to requests for comment on the documented police killings. Government officials have largely refrained from speaking publicly about the curfew crackdowns.
President Uhuru Kenyatta briefly noted it in a news conference a day after the story of Yassin Moyo, a 13-year-old boy killed by police while on his own balcony, made headlines.
“I want to apologise to all Kenyans, maybe for some excesses that were conducted, or happened,” he said before moving on.
Tallies from independent groups point to a spike in incidents of police brutality on the first night of curfew, 27 March, and sustained cases in the nearly three weeks since.
Police brutality is common in Kenya’s slums and small towns, where corrupt officers act with impunity. Moyo’s father, Hussein Moyo Motte, said that despite the uproar over his son’s killing, he still sees the officer who shot him patrolling the street outside his house. The police did not respond to requests for comment on the officer’s status.
A national survey in 2018 found that most Kenyans believed the biggest risk to their lives was violence by police. Since the inception of Kenya’s police oversight body in 2011, less than 1 per cent of the cases it has pursued have resulted in convictions.
An Amnesty International report in 2017 said that of 177 reported cases of police killings in Africa, 122 of them were in Kenya. According to Amnesty, 624 Kenyans have been killed by police since 2007, including 49 already this year, with only 26 officers having been formally charged. Last year was the deadliest on record.
“The curfew is making the violence so much worse because now they can be killing in the name of corona,” Olal said. “They simply do not understand: You cannot fight corona with a baton and whip.”
Almost all of the incidents have taken place in Kenya’s most marginalized communities, where many aren’t literate and don’t have access to phones they could use to report the violence.
Even in their attempts to help, police have triggered events that led to deaths and injuries. Last week, for instance, a food donation was organised at a police station in Kibera, a sprawling slum in the capital, Nairobi. But instead of creating an orderly distribution for the thousands who gathered there, the food was placed on the ground, and a stampede ensued, killing two and injuring many more.
“They made it so that getting the food depended on how strong you were,” Roselyn Amboka said in an interview as she returned from a hospital, her legs swollen from being trampled on.
On Tuesday, police inspector general Hilary Mutyambai announced that anyone moving about in public without a mask would be arrested, even though the Kenyan government has acknowledged it has nowhere near the 15 million masks it needs for its health-care workers alone. (Source: Independent UK)