In February 2021, there was a brutal police attack in one of the informal settlements of Kenya called Mathara. A cop shot one of the teenagers, Dominic Kulema, leaving him severely injured. He ran inside a youth centre to save himself. He pleaded to the police for his life with his hands raised. But, the Police forced him out of the building and killed him. This story hardly made it to any news whatsoever. This is part of a normalised pattern that exists in the informal settlements of Kenya. Police kill a lot of young people without any criminal background because they think it is “morally right”.
In 2020, A total number of 167 people were killed or misplaced according to missing voices Kenya (Human rights organisation that tracks extrajudicial killings). Despite well-funded police reforms launched by the government, this brutal practise has not stopped. Some anthropologists are trying to find the grassroots reasons for these activities and it dates back to colonialism. It is also a moral conflict country like Kenya. Police kill young people because they think it is morally right to do.
The foundations of the social division and brutal police system were laid in the first few decades of its existence. In 1899, Great Britain established the settlement as a rail depot between the port of Mombasa and the Nile River. Nairobi was named the capital of Britain’s east Africa protectorate. The European settlers started to capture the better lands of the settlement and left the unhygienic and disease-prone areas for the African workers and localities. They never developed the basic infrastructure that was needed in this settlement.
In 1920, Kenya was declared an official colony, the British also established the Kenyan police force in the same year. African men were required to wear a box around their neck with their name, tribe and employer written on it. These police forces monitored their movement within the city. Administrators had the power to evict or expel African workers which basically means they had the power to kill them.
In the 1950s, The Kenya Land and Freedom Army, comprised of landless Africans gathered and fought for their lost lands, terrorising white settlers. Seeing this, the Administration enlisted a Home Guard, comprised of native Africans working for the colonial government and were fully given the authority to enforce the law and they did that very brutality. It was later formalised as administration police (AP).
This dual system existed even after independence in 1963. In 2019, the AP was absorbed by the Kenya police force. While AP conducted raids, the police force was focused on more day-to-day policing of the affluent areas in Kenya.
Kenya is not the only country that deals with dual law practising. In the united states of America, some people are treated democratically while some minorities are treated harshly.
The day Kulema died, his friend collins witnessed everything and immediately approached the Mathare social justice centre (MSJC), a ray of hope in the doomed land of Kenya. It was co-founded by anthropologist Kimari. MSJC has been trying to track this kind of story for years. They rely upon local community sources like collins. They released their first report of epidemic killings in Nairobi in 2017. Kinnari calls this “ A systematic annihilation of young people “. In February 2021, MSJC reported 14 killings of young people. These brutal police forces also target the families of young people.
They perform female genital mutilation which is just beyond being inhuman.
Organisations like MSJC have made people in Mathara realise their need for basic human rights. It has made people come together and fight for each other. A supporter of MSJC said and I quote “their power vanishes the moment we stop fearing “. Due to the active voice raised by this organisation, the killings have decreased and women are safer now. There is a visible fear in the police’s minds about killing more people. While this is a huge fight, we can already see small changes in place due to the efforts of organisations like these.