Thugs in Uniform? Police Brutality in Kenya

Janet Kimani
Police Brutality: Kenya
Source: Odek, Libel

If there was ever a time to wake up and smell the coffee, this is it. All around the world civilians are opening their eyes to the flagrant brutality employed by the very people sworn to serve and protect them: the police. In part due to social media, the spirit of revolution was ignited in the United States by the unjust murder of George Floyd.

The spark quickly spread to other countries eager to change their own systems, including Kenya. Although not the first of its kind, this murder revealed the rack and ruin of a deeply-rooted racist system perpetuated by the police in the United States.

 While police brutality in Kenya is not necessarily racial, it is nonetheless as brutal, and as systemic, as in the US, prevailing as a result of the inherent foundation and sustenance of the institutions themselves.

Police brutality in Kenya took an unpleasant turn when the government implemented a dusk-till-dawn curfew on the 27th March to contain the spread of Covid-19. The police took curfew enforcement to unforeseen levels when they began using excessive force and violence on those caught violating the new rules. Civilians were battered, shot at, and imprudently attacked with tear gas. Soon after, the police were proving to be a bigger threat to Kenyans than the virus itself, the Human Rights Watch reporting six deaths within the first ten days of the curfew.

Police Brutality: Curfew enforcement in Kenya on a group of ferry passengers, following the use of tear gas.
Source: The Associated Press
Curfew enforcement in Kenya on a group of ferry passengers, following the use of tear gas.
Source: The Associated Press

The police have also been accused of additional malpractice and abuse of power through extortion of civilians, as well as sexual abuse of both men and women being held in the cells. Most odiously, was the rape of a 15-year-old girl who sought refuge at the police station after escaping an abusive home. 

Although Kenyans voiced their outrage at the situation at its conception primarily through social media protesting, the civil movements in the United States may have encouraged Kenyans to push again. Following rejuvenated criticism, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) (the only authority overseeing the police) has received 87 complaints in two months, 21 of which for people who have died at the hands of the police. 16 officers have allegedly been held accountable, which would be a step in the right direction.

Moreover, a dialogue on how to reform the police system in Kenya has been initiated with a Police Reform Working Group, which hopes to reform the system from the inside-out. 

With civil protests currently brewing amidst the escalation of Covid-19 in the country, only time will tell whether, just like in the US, Kenyans will run out of patience; their discontent forcing them to the streets to demand what is so rightfully theirs: concrete accountability, and a renewal of the breached social contract. 

  • Are our current systems broken, or are they functioning ostensibly how they were set up to?
  • Should the Kenyan people take to the streets to try curb this threat, with another invisible one looming over their heads?

Suggested Further Reading

BBC, Kenyans rage against police brutality after beating video

Daily Nation, Why so much apathy for police killings in Kenya?

Human Rights Watch, Kenya: Police Brutality During Curfew

The World, Police killing of George Floyd strikes a chord in Kenya

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