BY NGUNJIRI WAMBUGU
Last week two people were shot by policemen in Kawangware. Two police officers came across an elderly man and a youngster at 3am, and suspecting them to be criminals, shot them dead. The initial reports from the police indicated that the two victims were criminals and a vernacular radio presenter even informed the public that the two were carrying machetes, and had left the officers with no choice but to shoot and kill them.
This incident was well on the way to being another statistic of criminals killed by police until Kawangware residents took to the streets stating very firmly that these killings were unlawful, and that the two Kenyans were innocent.
The media then went into the details of the story and we learnt that the older man was 46-year old Ebrahim Ombasa Ondego, and the youngster was his 14-year-old son Joseph Nyaberi Ombasa. We learnt that Ebrahim was on the way to the market to set up shop for his wife, and that he did this every morning as a means of booking space for her as she organised the household.
The wife would then come to the market at 9am and release him to go to Industrial area to look for casual work. At the end of the day Ebrahim would be back to take over from her again, releasing her to go and prepare supper for the family. He would then close down their small business and go home late at night.
Joseph Nyaberi had just completed his KCPE a week or so ago.
Clearly this two were not criminals and the police apologised, both for the shooting, and for providing the public with false information. The officers involved were also charged.
I had a chance to meet Ebrahims’ 36-year-old wife Joyce Ombasa and the other two children: 21-year-old Violet, and 17-year-old Isaac. Listening to their story and watching the helplessness on their faces made me want to weep. The fact is that despite the well-meaning police apologies Ebrahim and his son were dead leaving an already very poor family to struggle and raise money to bury them. The ironies of life are such that the family is even liable for government charges for the two’s mortuary fees!
What’s even sadder is that Ebrahim and Joseph are but two of a long list of innocent Kenyans killed by what can at best be called overzealous police officers. Others include Hon Muiruri’s son, initially booked as a suspected mungiki shooting before it became clear that he was another victim of a police officer gone bad. Add every other Kenyan you know has been shot by police ‘by mistake’ and you will realize we have a problem.
The UN Special Rapporteurs for Extra-Judicial killings Prof Phillip Alston officially stated that the Kenya police force seems to operate a shoot-to-kill system, including having killer squads that are let loose on perceived and/or imagined criminals. The government’s very own Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) has produced several reports on this issue, the most famous being the ‘Cry of Blood’ that indicated over 500 killings and/or forced disappearances of young Kenyans from Central & Nairobi provinces.
The fact that we have a new Constitution has done nothing to change this. The Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) has documented over 200 such incidences since promulgation last year.
Other organisations like Release Political Prisoners, etc, have their own reports. The common denominator in all these reports is that fingers are pointed at the police as being behind the killings.
I am convinced that 99 percent of our police officers are hardworking and brave officers who work in extremely difficult circumstances, to keep what is usually an ungrateful citizenry safe. They are ill-equipped, and face life-threatening situations literally every day they walk out of what are also unmaintained government houses. They are also treated as second class citizens by civil society and the general public.
However what disturbs me is how we have allowed this to excuse the 1 percent bad apples who will shoot rather than arrest anyone they suspect of being a criminal, whatever the circumstances. A song has even been done of the existence of ‘bonoko’: firearms laid besides victims to justify the shooting as legitimate. Then there is the administrative reluctance to accept that that we have too many illegitimate shootings going on. The police bosses will only respond if there is a public outcry.
We are in the era of ‘Siasa Mpya’ so my challenge goes to our 290 elected political representatives. Is there an official policy to consider innocent Kenyans killed in pursuit of dangerous criminals as collateral damage? Should we accept the seemingly unspoken police position that if we focus on guaranteeing the right to life of all innocent people, a few dangerous criminals will escape? Are you, as members of families, willing for the collateral damage to be your child, sibling or parent? If any of the answers above is ‘NO’ can you ensure that the independent oversight police commission interrogates every fatal police shooting, whatever the circumstances?