The deaths of students Emmanuel (19) and Benson Ndwiga (22) while in police custody catalysed mass protests and led to further excessive police force, at least one death and the destruction of a police post and vehicle. If we care enough, there are many lessons from KianjoKoma, Embu, this week.
Emmanuel and Benson are the sons of Ndwiga Kamunyoti and Catherine Wawira. The two brothers were studious, hardworking, and entrepreneurial according to family testimonies. Sunday 31 July brought their community’s hopes to a tragic end. Thursday’s post-mortem revealed cracked skulls and ribs, severe injuries probably consistent with assault not a simple fall from a moving police vehicle as claimed by police-officers.
For four days, the family was forced to search several police stations and morgues unassisted while the citizens protested publicly and violently. Alongside the killings of Yusuf Juma (Kakamega), Calvin Omondi (Homa Bay), Eric Waithugi (Kwale) and Yassin Moyo (Kiamaiko) among others, the incident deeply wounds the public credibility of the Police Service. What must we learn from this and other incidents?
Several opportunities to promptly investigate and seek justice for the Ndwiga family were missed. Commanders publicly repeated spurious explanations by junior officers. They failed to re-assure the public that independent and impartial investigations would be carried out. Instead, they unleashed live bullets on protestors, killing one, who only sought justice for the two.
Standard operating procedures for the investigation and prosecution of serious human rights violations by police officers exist but were not initially followed by officers. The use of force rather than dialogue to de-escalate public anger has again caused more deaths and violated the right to protest enshrined in the constitution.
The sense of impunity and blue code of silence is also important to address alongside these tragic blunders. Interior Principal Secretary’s prime time television comments this week that citizens out during curfew not the police are the problem, were callous and fuelled public anger. A public commitment to swiftly investigate the incident would have been more befitting of his office.
Asking the public to understand that COVID-19 management curfew has strained thousands of police officers is valid. However, this cannot justify extortion, torture, and the excessive use of lethal force for misdemeanors. The officers who dropped those battered and lifeless bodies at the Embu Mortuary neglected to inform their families and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority as required by law.
It is reassuring that the Office of Inspector General visited the family and transferred the commanding officers. The Internal Affairs Unit and IPOA must restore our confidence by independently investigating the case. The public demands answers and swift arrests. The public must also demand an end to the recent rise in enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings. This week fourteen-year-old Mathare resident Nyamai was also killed while in the custody of the Pangani police in Nairobi. It has been two months since Zeinab Hussein saw her son Taimur Kariuki Hussein in the custody of the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit. Failed by the authorities, they are asking the public to give them information on 0722711026.
Human monsters do exist, but they are too few to overwhelm the nation. Those of us in the police service, state and society who fail to speak out and act up are more dangerous. We must act together to secure #JusticeForKianjokomaBrothers or we are all lost.
This opinion was also published in the Sunday Standard 8 August 2021