NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 31 – If that gun was put down, a three-day baby in Pumwani Maternity hospital would have been raised by both parents – but his father has since been killed.
He did not live long enough to see his wife go to labour pain or hear the first cry of his baby.
Jane, a resident of Korogocho, a sprawling slum in the capital Nairobi, is convinced that her son-in-law had reformed when he was accosted by police officers in Dandora late last year and shot dead.
“He deserved to live since he had reformed and joined other youths in productive activities,” Jane told this writer in an interview this week in Korogocho.
Just like many slums in Nairobi, residents say, dozens of youth here have suffered a similar fate – while others have been outrightly executed by law enforcers. There are also those killed while engaging them in a shoot-out.
But a wind of change is blowing in this sprawling slum, where a junior police officer based in Kariobangi police station has adopted dialogue as a way of fighting crime.
Constable Lewis Musuya is gradually changing the narrative and one after the other, youths here say “he is giving us a second chance [to live].”
Capital News spoke to several residents, who described the officer as a ‘mustard seed’ of police reforms – and though their relationship with law enforcers is not all rosy, they say, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Musuya’s story is told and repeated by dozens of youths who were until recently engaging in crime.
Despite being relatively young, Kevin Oguto, 22, has been in and out of remand prisons, a trend that was cut short the day he met Musuya.
The first time he became a ‘state guest’ he was held at a facility for minors; he spent 12 months in Kabete Juvenile Remand prison and the last was in 2018 when he was detained for 8 months at the Industrial Area remand prison.
“The truth is I was a bad boy. I would not have resisted the urge to snatch a handbag or steal,” Oguto told Capital News.
His encounter with Musuya changed his life; “he told me there is more to life than crime and that I can become something in life, despite my background.”
There are words that he doubted, but not these ones; “if you choose to ignore my advice, then know crime doesn’t pay. It ends in tears or death.”
“I lost many friends to crime,” the 22-year-old said, recalling some of his friends killed by police.
Oguto has even married and would be playing parental roles had death not snatched the young couple’s, first-born baby.
“But I am a responsible husband,” he said, with a sense of pride in his voice.
Capital News met Oguto with his newfound buddies and colleagues at the Kombo Green Solutions Youth Group- whose operations are on the shores of Nairobi River.
The youths have reclaimed hundreds of meters along the river, where they are engaging in a series of activities to earn a living and change the landscape.
For example, he said, they have converted at least 200 meters of the periphery of the reeking Nairobi river to a “people’s park”, what is an isolated ‘Island’ of tranquility.
A well-manicured lawn, sprouting flowers and trees, and even a pavement make the place a choice for young and the old, in the sprawling slum.
-How the youth group is receiving reforming thugs-
Under the leadership of the youth group Chairperson Fredrick Okindo, they have started a modern agricultural project, that might see them supply vegetables to residents in the slum.
Some of the new entrants in the 70-member group were brought by Musuya – once their dreaded enemy- according to Okindo.
“Most members of these groups were gangsters while girls were engaging in prostitution,” he said.
Okindo said youths, the majority in Kenya’s 47 million people, deserve a second chance since they are facing a myriad of challenges, including unemployment and runaway crime.
He has welcomed a few members recommended by Musuya, in his efforts to change their evil ways.
“He has been challenging us on real issues and has even brought senior officers from Kariobangi Police Station to talk to us,” Okindo said.
Recently, the group hosted the officer for hours, where they discussed their shortcomings and ways to curb crime despite their poor economic state.
“It was an open conversation,” Okindo said. “Before we used to fear him but with time, the relationship between him and the youths has drastically improved.”
The cop’s efforts have borne fruits according to Felsita Nabulele, a slum dweller for decades and one who has witnessed crime and youths losing their lives due to crime.
Nabulele knows that there are rogue officers, who pull the trigger at will, but she said the new approach by Musuya is the way to go.
“For once we can say that police reforms are working. Even though we still have many others harassing the youths and even killing them without a reason, Lewis (Musuya) is changing that,” she said.
For the longest, youths have perceived police as an enemy and wouldn’t have shared information with them according to Nabulele.
“Our children used to say it was better to meet an armed thug than a police officer. With Lewis, it is different,” the mother of 9 said.
Then, sounds of a gunshot had become a norm as police engaged thugs – not that it has entirely been eliminated, Nabulele pointed out, but it is not as often.
-The era of extra-judicial killings-
Residents who spoke to Capital News said extra-judicial killings, often rampant in urban slum areas like Korogocho, yielded no fruits.
They called on members of the National Police Service to adopt modern policing initiatives, like that of involving community members in the war against crime.
Police have been in the spotlight for killing hundreds of youths over the years, in what lobby groups led by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) have termed as a counterproductive move.
“We have police officers who love killing our children. That has not finished crime in Nairobi,” Mary Waigwa, a resident said.
It is a trend that has caught the attention of the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA which has already launched an investigation.
“As custodians of the rule of law in this country, it goes without saying that the Inspector General [of Police], his deputies and the entire National Police Service are expected to be the strongest advocate for respecting the Constitution and the law,” Anne Makori, the IPOA Chairperson said at a press conference recently, “IPOA has noted with a lot of concern that the misuse of firearms and use of excessive force continue to be the biggest challenge facing the National Police Service.”
The Sixth Schedule of the National Police Service Act, 2011, she said, is very clear and provides for the use of force; firearms and specific responsibilities of senior officers during amongst others, public order management.
She asked police officers to act within the National Police Service (NPS) Standing Orders, NPS Act of 2011 and in compliance with International Laws.
The latest report by Human Rights Watch, released last in August last year, accused police of killing 21 youthful men from low-income areas, within Nairobi.
According to the report, there was no justification for the killings other than “claiming they were criminals.”
“The extrajudicial killings point to a broader problem of police using excessive, unlawful force in the name of maintaining law and order in Nairobi’s informal settlements and failing to comply with the law in ensuring all police killings are reported, investigated, and those responsible for unlawful killings are prosecuted,” reads the report.
Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch Otsieno Namwaya called for investigations with a motive of bringing those found culpable to book.
“Police are arresting unarmed people and then gunning them down, and neither the police service nor its watchdog agency is doing much to stop it,” he said.
The Independent Medico-Legal Unit, Kenya Human Rights Commission and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, a state-funded constitutional institution, have over the years consistently reported on killings by police in low-income areas.
Recently, Interior Ministry Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi warned that rogue cops will not be spared.
“No one is above the law,” he said after a security meeting in Mombasa, early this year saying there is no policy supporting police executions. “The police do not execute anyone as a means of policing.”
Like the youths of Korogocho have done, she encouraged members of the public to also give feedback on the conduct of police officers.
It is the hope of Korogocho residents that there will be many other police officers like Musuya- who could not speak to Capital News due to his rank- as the police service continues to adopt new changes.