Policemen attempt to disperse supporters of Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition along Likoni road as they are repulsed from accessing city Centre, in Nairobi, Kenya November 17, 2017. 

© REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

(Nairobi) – Police and armed gangs killed at least 37 people in Nairobi between September and November 2017, during the second phase of Kenya’s presidential election, Human Rights Watch said today. Kenyan authorities should urgently investigate these killings and all others documented during the entire elections period, and ensure that all of those found responsible for unlawful killings are held to account.

“Authorities need to acknowledge the full scale of election-related violence, and thoroughly investigate each and every killing,” said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The families of victims need justice.”

Police killed at least 23 people, most of them opposition supporters, during and after the second phase of the 2017 presidential elections in various Nairobi neighborhoods, and armed gangs killed at least 14. The first presidential election was held on August 8, but the results were annulled by Kenya’s Supreme Court and a second election was held on October 26. President Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in for a second term in November.

Between November 2017 and January 2018, Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed 67 people, including 30 relatives of victims, 27 witnesses, two human rights activists, three aid workers who helped victims’ families, three community leaders and two police officers in the field. Researchers also examined hospital records and bodies in mortuaries, reviewed 32 reports of the government’s chief pathologist on the causes of death, and interviewed people in Nairobi’s Muthurwa, Kawangware, Kibera, Mathare, Dandora, Kariobangi, Babadogo, and Riverside neighborhoods.

The pathologist reports showed that most victims were shot and killed at close range and, in most cases, by a high caliber rifle. Most of these killings, according to Human Rights Watch research, occurred when police confronted protesters with teargas and live bullets, but in some cases police shot at passersby going about their daily routine, or at groups of youths standing together.

Human Rights Watch research since August, when the first vote was held, has found that police and armed gangs killed more than 100 people during Kenya’s prolonged elections period. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International found in a joint report in October that at least 67 people were killed countrywide during the first round of voting in August, most of them either shot or beaten to death by police. During the second election, Human Rights Watch documented 37 more killings, most by police, in Nairobi’s Embakasi, Kawangware, Dandora, Mathare, Kibera, Kangemi, Kariobangi, and Riverside neighborhoods. Armed gangs killed some people they identified by tribe as likely opposition supporters.

During and after the August and October elections, opposition supporters in Nairobi, the coast and western Kenya protested the alleged rigging of polls. The National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition of opposition parties called weekly protests across the country in September and October, first to press for reforms, then to boycott the second vote. In the initial stages, police did not attempt to intervene, and most protests ended peacefully.

Authorities need to acknowledge the full scale of election-related violence, and thoroughly investigate each and every killing

Otsieno Namwaya

Africa Researcher, Human Rights Watch

In October and November, however, Kenyan police violently dispersed protests, in many cases shooting or beating demonstrators and bystanders to death. On significant dates, police carried out house-to-house operations in opposition stronghold areas such as Kariobangi, Dandora, Mathare, and Kibera and shot to death, beat, and injured dozens of people. These dates included the opposition candidate Raila Odinga’s return from overseas on November 17, the supreme court decision to uphold Kenyatta’s second victory on November 20, and Kenyatta’s swearing-in ceremony on November 28.

Under international human rights norms, police may disperse unlawful or violent assemblies but should avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, use force only to the minimum necessary extent. They should use firearms only in extreme cases that involve an imminent threat of death or serious injury – and even then, only when less extreme methods are insufficient. The intentional lethal use of firearms is permissible only when strictly unavoidable to protect life.

The government should thoroughly investigate all killings by police, and hold personnel accountable for any unlawful killings. Kenyan authorities have been slow to investigate all the documented killings.

In a statement on November 14, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), Kenya’s police accountability institution, said that it had only investigated two killings from around the time of the elections – of 6-month-old Samantha Pendo, who was assaulted in her parents’ house in Kisumu and died on August 15, and of 9-year-old Stephanie Moraa, who was shot by police on the third floor balcony of her family’s house in Nairobi and died on August 12. IPOA has recommended a public inquest for both killings and disciplinary action against commanders who were in charge on the day Pendo was assaulted. The inquest on Pendo’s killing started in Kisumu on February 15.

Twice in January and February, Human Rights Watch wrote to IPOA and the police requesting more information on the killings, and the status of the investigations, including a list of names of victims, and for interviews, following a similar request in August. At time of writing, IPOA and the police spokesperson are yet to respond to our requests.

Kenyan and international human rights groups have repeatedly called on Kenyatta to ensure accountability for all unlawful killings carried out during the election period. A report of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, a constitutionally mandated institution, found in December that at least 97 people died countrywide during the 2017 elections. The Independent Medico-legal Unit (IMLU), a Kenyan nongovernmental group, documented at least 36 police killings nationwide between August and November. Both organizations have called on Kenyan authorities to ensure those responsible for unlawful killings are held to account.

Policemen attempt to disperse supporters of Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition along Likoni road as they are repulsed from accessing city Centre, in Nairobi, Kenya November 17, 2017. 

© REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Kenyatta has neither acknowledged the killings nor called for them to be investigated, while at the same time lavishing unqualified praise on the police. In a December 2 letter on behalf of the president, Benson Kibui, the director of operations of the National Police Service, said that Kenyatta praised the police service for “remain[ing] firm in executing its mandate and in the service of the Kenyan people” during the election period.

Kenyan authorities have a responsibility to investigate all the killings that took place in the period before and after the October general elections, whether by police or armed gangs, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities should ensure that all of those responsible for unlawful killings are investigated and prosecuted.

“President Kenyatta needs to demonstrate that he believes in the rule of law by publicly condemning all unlawful killings, and ensuring they are investigated,” Namwaya said. “Lack of accountability is a longtime concern in Kenya, and officials need to show that they are committed to seeing justice done for these killings.”

For details about Human Rights Watch findings, please see below.

The Presidential Elections

Kenya held general elections on August 8. The electoral commission declared Kenyatta, the incumbent, the winner, amid allegations of electoral fraud. On September 1, following a legal challenge by Odinga, the Supreme Court nullified the election and ordered a revote. A new election was held on October 26, but Odinga withdrew from the election, saying that the government had not carried out reforms he considered necessary to ensure its fairness. On October 30, Kenyatta was declared the winner.

On November 7, Odinga left the country amid ongoing tension, returning on November 17. He publicly rejected Kenyatta’s victory, and, on January 30, staged an informal ceremony where he swore himself in as the “people’s president.” The government restricted media organizations from covering the event, shutting down four TV stations for several days. The government also cracked down on opposition politicians involved in Odinga’s swearing in, arresting at least 5, revoking travel documents for 15 opposition legislators, and withdrawing security for over 100 opposition legislators.

Supporters of Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition gather ahead of Odinga's planned swearing-in ceremony as the President of the People's Assembly at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, Kenya, January 30, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters

Kenya has had a history of election related violence since 1992, with the worst in 2007-2008 during which at least 1,100 people were killed and more than 600,000 displaced. A 2008 Human Rights Watch report, alongside numerous other reports by government institutions, have blamed the violence and resultant deaths on both police and armed gangs. In 2008, the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the 2007 Post Election Violence attributed killings and forced circumcision of opposition supporters in Naivasha and Nakuru to the mungiki gang.

Police killings in Nairobi in October and November

Human Rights Watch documented police killings on October 26, the day of the repeat election; on November 17-19, following Odinga’s return from his 10-day trip overseas; November 20, when the Supreme Court upheld Kenyatta’s victory; and November 28, the day Kenyatta was sworn in. Most occurred during protests, public meetings, and on the day of Odinga’s return when police blocked his convoy from the airport to central Nairobi, the site of a planned rally.

Witnesses said that on November 17, police deployed to the airport and along main roads into downtown Nairobi, aimed and shot at and killed opposition supporters who had come out to welcome Odinga. Kenyan television stations also captured police stoning cars in Odinga’s convoy.

Police also blocked roads, fired teargas to disperse protesters, and, in many cases, shot at crowds and passersby at close range.

President Kenyatta needs to demonstrate that he believes in the rule of law by publicly condemning all unlawful killings, and ensuring they are investigated. Lack of accountability is a longtime concern in Kenya, and officials need to show that they are committed to seeing justice done for these killings.

Otsieno Namwaya

Africa Researcher, Human Rights Watch

Armed groups, which witnesses described as pro-government, were responsible for at least 14 of killings Human Rights Watch documented, most on the Friday of Odinga’s return and through that weekend.

Eight witnesses of six incidents of gang killings said that on November 17, armed men around Muthurwa market and along Landhies road all the way to City Stadium, to the east of Nairobi’s Central Business District, demanded to see national identity cards and singled out suspected opposition supporters by their ethnicity, beating and slashing the victims with machetes. Three witnesses said they saw gang members drag two corpses to Landhies road, 100 to 200 meters away, from where police later collected them.

Five witnesses said they saw the killings taking place in the full view of police officers and saw officers collect bodies without apprehending the killers. Witnesses alleged that the armed gangs were mungiki, a pro-government militia that was responsible for much of the violence Kenya suffered in the aftermath of its 2007 elections.

At least two killings occurred in the days just after the repeat election. On the morning of October 26, police shot and killed Willis Ojenge, a 30-year-old man from Homabay. His step-brother, who was with him at the time, said that his brother left his house at about 9 a.m. to go shopping and joined demonstrations. The stepbrother said he saw an armed officer run after Ojenge, who knelt down in surrender, but the officer ordered him to stand up and run, then shot him in the back.

On October 31, police shot and killed Philip Mutisya Musyemi, 31, outside his house on the Riverside estate in Ruaraka. His father, who witnessed the killing, said that Mutisya Musyemi was seated outside the family house with four friends when six anti-riot officers on patrol, who accused them of having been among demonstrators, opened fire on them, shooting him in the stomach. The men were admitted at Kenyatta National Hospital with gunshot injuries, where Mutisya Musyemi died from gunshot injuries on November 21. The others survived.

Many of the killings occurred on November 17 when opposition supporters rallied along several main roads in Nairobi to welcome Odinga from overseas.

At about 11a.m., even before Odinga landed, a police officer allegedly shot dead Patrick Muasya, 39, as he tried to escape the crowd near the GM auto company along Mombasa road on route from the airport. Muasya, a street vendor in Nairobi and a resident of the Mukuru Kwa Reuben neighborhood, was on his way to his rural village, when police shot him through the ribs, killing him instantly, said a friend who was with him.


At 2 p.m., police shot dead Tom Atura, 30, who was demonstrating at Kawangware 56 area, during which the youth lit bonfires and blocked roads. A relative who was with Atura said police appeared to target both demonstrators and other residents with live bullets, in some cases shooting into residential and business premises. The autopsy by the government’s chief pathologist, a copy which is on Human Rights Watch file, found that he was shot four times in the head and chest.

Eleven witnesses told Human Rights Watch that at least six young men were killed along Landhies road as Odinga’s convoy accompanied by his supporters approached central Nairobi. In one case at about 4 p.m. said a businesswoman at Muthurwa market who witnessed the killing, police shot Evans Owino, 23, a college student who had gone to welcome Odinga, in the back, killing him. Owino’s father told Human Rights Watch that neither police nor IPOA had interviewed witnesses to his son’s killing.

The police also shot dead Elisha Osenyo, 25, a construction worker, at about 4 p.m., just moments before Odinga’s convoy passed, said a man who witnessed the killing. Osenyo left his house in Kangemi for work early in the morning but called his family before noon to say he was returning to the house due to the growing tension, his cousin said. He never reached the house. Police collected his body along Landhies road at around 9 p.m. and took it to the Nairobi City Mortuary, according to the mortuary records. The report of the chief government pathologist found that Osenyo was shot through the armpit, damaging his heart, and that he died instantly.

On the evening of November 17, anti-riot police fired a teargas canister directly onto the chest of Kennedy Owino, a 30-year-old man from Nairobi’s Katwekera area, Kibera neighborhood, killing him, his brother said. Owino had been at the airport with his older brother and ran into demonstrations in his neighborhood on his way home. A witness among the demonstrators said a General Service Unit (GSU) police officer deployed to disperse the demonstrators fired the cannister at Owino.

The other people killed by police on November 17 include Josephat Sakas, 39, who, relatives and witnesses said, police shot dead along Landhies road; and Maurice Otieno Odipo, 23, from Kawangware, who witnesses said police shot and killed at the Landies road roundabout. Human Rights Watch also saw records at the city mortuary that police brought an additional five bodies on the night of November 17.

On November 19, police shot dead Gabriel Onyango Obiero, 35, an auto factory employee, along Nairobi’s outer ring road at around 8:30 a.m. His wife said the area was tense after media reported that five people had either been shot or hacked to death and bodies dumped on streets in the Riverside neighborhood, Babadogo. Onyango Obiero, who feared riots might erupt, went out at around 8 a.m. to withdraw money from the bank. A shopkeeper along outer ring road who witnessed the killing said that Onyango Obiero encountered police collecting bodies of people found dead on that road, and that a female officer aimed and shot Onyango Obiero as he walked along the road.

Residents flee as anti-riot policemen pursue opposition protestors in Mathare, Nairobi, on August 12.

© 2017 Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

Also, on November 19, police shot dead Stephen Mbaluka Mbui, a 17-year-old high school student, in Mathare 4A at about 5.p.m. as he was on his way to visit his uncle. A neighbor saw Stephen pass anti-riot police officers, who were battling demonstrators in the area, and saw one of them aim and shoot him in the back of his head. He died minutes later while awaiting treatment at MSF clinic in Eastleigh, his uncle said. Demonstrations escalated with news of his death, and police responded with house-to-house operations in Mathare 4A during which they beat people, mainly men.

On November 20, police shot Elvis Otieno Ogutu, 30, a construction worker, in the chest in the Kariobangi area at about 9 p.m. killing him instantly. Residents said that anti-riot police had deployed heavily in anticipation of any trouble. A relative said that Otieno Ogutu had left the house in Kariobangi to buy groceries for his family. The killing prompted local riots, which police responded to with house-to-house operations, during which they beat and injured scores of residents.

Also, on November 20, a police officer attached to Ayany Police Post shot and killed David Omondi Otieno, 22, in Olympic Kibera area, said his brother, who saw the killing. Omondi had just closed his shop due to violence following the Supreme Court decision, when police shot him. Records at Kilimani Police station seen by Human Rights Watch say that police shot him while he was “looting”. A report by the chief government pathologist found that Otieno Ogutu was killed by a single bullet in the forehead. Family members said they gave a statement to the Industrial Area Police Station and IPOA but knew of no ongoing investigation. As in other cases, police did not respond to Human Rights Watch inquiries about the case.

Demonstrations and political tension continued in many opposition strongholds in Nairobi until November 28, when Kenyatta was sworn in. On that day, police barricaded roads, fired teargas canisters to disperse crowds, and used live ammunition to prevent Odinga from meeting with his supporters in eastern Nairobi.

Human Rights Watch found that, on that day, police shot and killed at least three opposition supporters in Embakasi and Donholm neighborhoods, including a 7-year-old boy, Geoffrey Mutinda, who was shot as he stood on the balcony of his family house in Embakasi. Witnesses said that, beginning early in the morning, police battled opposition youth protesting the swearing-in by lighting bonfires, blocking roads and throwing stones. They said that anti-riot police were using live bullets and shooting randomly into houses and at passersby, as well as at demonstrators.

At about 11 a.m., police shot and killed Faith Oduor Onyango, 30, at Kawangware 56 terminus, while he was buying groceries for the family, said a relative who witnessed the shooting: “He met police just a few meters from the door to his house. One officer aimed and shot him in the stomach.” The autopsy by the government’s chief pathologist, seen by Human Rights Watch, confirmed that the bullet ruptured his intestines.

The other victims on November 28 include Erick Ochieng, 28, who witnesses said police shot dead in Embakasi area. As Kenyatta was taking his oath, Odinga attempted to hold a public meeting in Embakasi area but police sealed off the site and dispersed supporters with teargas, beating some of them with batons.

Killings by armed gangs

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that armed gangs they believe to be aligned with the government attacked people they believed to be opposition supporters, often profiled along ethnic lines, in various neighborhoods in Nairobi. They said the gang members slapped, kicked, beat, and cut the victims with machetes. Witnesses referred to the gang members as the “mungiki,” an outlawed armed gang whose members operate in Nairobi, central Kenya and parts of the Rift Valley region.

Human Rights Watch documented at least 14 deaths these armed gangs appear to have been responsible for. On November 16, as tension rose ahead of Odinga’s return from overseas the next day, witnesses said, pro-government armed youths attacked Martin Otieno Olot, 33, at night as he printed t-shirts for the opposition NASA coalition at his printing business along River road in down town Nairobi.

“A group of youth stormed into his business and beat him unconscious," said a witness who was in a nearby office that evening. “They then locked the door from outside and threw a petrol bomb inside.” His brother said that, although Otieno Olot was rescued by fire fighters who responded to the explosion, he died from severe burns and machete cuts three days later. Hospital records showed over 86 percent of his body was burned.

Most of the killings occurred between November 17 and November 20. On the evening of November 17, a group of armed young men attacked Stephen Omondi, a 20-year-old student, at Muthurwa market in Nairobi’s central business district, where he was running a family shop. A relative who saw the attack said: “the youth dragged his body from the market and dumped it by the roadside in full view of police.”

On November 17, witnesses alleged, police shot dead Kennedy Odhong Obel, 30, along Jogoo road at about 2 p.m. A relative who lived with him said Odhong Obel was among hundreds of young people who had turned up to receive Odinga from his overseas trip. Even though witnesses said they saw police shoot him in the neck, a report of the chief government pathologist appeared to contradict the witness accounts. The report showed he died of injuries caused by a sharp object in the neck.

The same day, in Shauri Moyo neighborhood in eastern Nairobi, relatives said, Collins Owino, 33, a plumber, failed to return from work. A coworker who saw the attack said Jubilee supporters armed with machetes profiled his ethnicity using a language test, then hacked him to death: “Jubilee party supporters first asked him to speak in Kikuyu language. They started beating and cutting him with machetes as police watched when he failed to speak the language.”

Two days later the family found his body at City Mortuary in Nairobi, brought in by a police officer, with machete cuts on his head and arms. A report by the government’s chief pathologist showed that Owino died from the injuries and severe bleeding.

On the same day, armed youth suspected by witnesses to support the ruling Jubilee party killed John Omondi Ojwang, 33, a mechanic near Burma market, not far from Kamukunji police station in eastern Nairobi, witnesses and family members said. Two family members and three witnesses said that pro-government gangs were also responsible for the deaths of Kennedy Okoth Barasa, 30, and Mary Atieno, 31, both from Kibera. The two had gone to receive Odinga at the airport, were assaulted on their way home, and died from the injuries, witnesses said.

A witness said that pro-ruling party youth assaulted Kennedy Okoth Barasa, 35, near City Stadium and that he died four days later. Report of the chief government pathologist showed he died of severe internal bleeding. A relative who was with Atieno said she was assaulted and killed on their way back to his house in Kibera.

On November 19, Kenyan media reported that the bodies of four residents of Riverside, Babadogo and Dandora neighborhoods were found dead on the streets in Riverside, killed overnight by unknown assailants. Residents and a night guard who survived that early morning attack told Human Rights Watch that they saw a man administering a language test and killing people who failed. “He first greeted me in Kikuyu Language and when I responded in Swahili he attacked me with a machete,” the guard said. “He would shoot at or attack with a machete anyone who failed to respond to him in his mother tongue. To him, this meant you were a NASA supporter.” said the survivor.

The same day in Korogocho, suspected Jubilee party supporters beat to death George Owino Odhiambo, 40, witnesses said. His brother said the attackers threw the body from the overhead crossing at the Kariobangi-Huruma interchange: “When we collected his body, all the bones on his body were broken – all arms, legs and the back were broken due to the fall. He also had machete cuts all over his body.”

In some cases, opposition youth gangs fought against the ruling party supporters, or attacked them. On November 17, in the aftermath of the chaos and police killings, opposition youth in Nairobi’s industrial area killed Patrick Baariu Kathure, 25, a businessman. His aunt described his injuries when they found the body at Matter Mission Hospital in industrial area: “The left eye had a big hole. The eye had been removed. The neck too had a big hole and the cheeks had machete cuts.”

A witness said armed opposition youth killed George Mwambura, 34, a businessman, on the night of November 19 in the Dandora neighborhood. “George had deep cuts on one hand, the back, shoulder and one side of his head,” his father said. “All his teeth had been knocked off.”

Human Rights Watch has not confirmed the identity of the gangs operating during the elections period. Human Rights Watch found no evidence that police had opened any investigations into the role of these gangs during the elections violence. In August, the interior cabinet secretary, Fred Matiang’i, denied media reports that pro-government gangs had attacked residents in opposition strongholds in Nairobi and instead threatened those making the allegations with arrest.