On Monday, Kenyan television broadcast shocking images of police descending on protesters with water cannons, batons and tear gas, beating and bloodying people. Police left one man, Boniface Manono, on the roadside after kicking and stomping on his motionless body.
For me, these images rekindle memories of the repression in the 1990s when the Kanu administration tried to suppress civil society leaders and the political opposition’s campaign for reforms to enshrine basic rights in Kenya’s Constitution. Eventually, in the 2010 Constitution, peaceful demonstrations became legal, but Kenyan police don’t seem to understand their obligations.
Unless the government fairly and transparently investigates Monday’s violence, Kenya could lose some of the gains realized in the last decade of reform. The Inspector General of police has ordered an investigation into the violence, but past orders have not yielded very much and that should change.
Monday’s violence came as police confronted protests by opposition parties and civil society calling for the resignation of top officials of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). In 2015 two directors of a UK company, Smith and Ouzman, were convicted of conspiring to bribe Kenyan officials to award it contracts to print electoral materials for Kenya’s 2013 polls.
CORD, a leading opposition party, which lost the 2013 election, accuses Kenya’s electoral commissioners of bias and insists that the same officials should not be allowed to oversee the 2017 general election. Members of the ruling Jubilee party have defended the commissioners. This dispute sparked the protests that are now in their third week.
Human Rights Watch research in the aftermath of Kenya’s 2007 electoral violence documented how heavy-handed policing, including the use of excessive force, claimed hundreds of Kenyan lives, often in circumstances where the police’s use of lethal force was unjustified. Little has been done for victims and survivors and that violence casts a shadow over Kenyan politics to this day.
Kenya will hold elections again next year and many worry that they will again be disputed and plagued by violence. With so much tension in the air, it is crucial that the police can be relied on to use only lawful and proportionate force. Monday’s violence shows that this may not be the case. The only way to change that is to ensure that the police’s actions are investigated and that those responsible for any abuses are held to account.