Kenya: Arbitrary Arrests do not translate into better Security – Opinion
On March 23, the Joyland Church in Likoni area of Mombasa County was brutally attacked by unknown gunmen and 6 people were killed and 15 others injured. In what appears to be a pattern of attacks by “criminal” elements targeting the civilian population, the gunmen executed their objective swiftly, and escaped effortlessly. The emerging story of one little boy, baby Satrine Osinya has now captivated the national attention even as the public condemnation of the attack changed direction from blaming “criminals” to blaming Muslims.
The immediate response by the Mombasa County commissioner was to give the police a “shoot-to-kill” order even before any investigations were conducted and suspects identified. The police response since that church attack has been quite shocking. They arrested over 100 villagers, and then detained a further 59 people of whom 49 were later released for loitering. 2 “suspects” were shot to death and thus far no direct link between all these individuals including the people killed has been made.
Almost predictably, an outspoken Muslim activist, Abubakar Sharrif aka “Makaburi” was shot dead outside the Mombasa courts in an execution style killing. Makaburi was known for his virulent and aggressive style of talking, and his most heinous crime against Kenyans can be said to be supporting the killings at Westgate in 2013. Unfortunately, we are burdened as a democratic nation to have to tolerate freedom of speech for all, even if what people say is offensive. Other than his utterances, Makaburi was yet to be convicted for crimes related to terror activities or murder
Following his assassination, there was a grenade attack in Eastleigh section of Nairobi, in which another 6 people were killed and several more injured. Bizarrely, the police chose to arrest 627 people and did a further swoop in which 2600 people were arrested. It is interesting to note that not only did the police make arrests among the affected community; they targeted the very people who were attacked!
Arresting over 3000 people isn’t a security measure nor is it conducting investigations. It’s just a blatant abuse of power, disregard for the rule of law, and state sanctioned targeting of communities. Not surprisingly during these police raids, the narrative being spun is that those arrested were Somali refugees, a narrative that is in tandem with an illegal directive by Cabinet Secretary for Internal Security Joseph Ole Lenku in which he “ordered” over 50,000 refugees back to camps under the guise of seeking security measures.
It is just sheer laziness and cowardice to blame asylum seekers for the gross incompetence of the security forces. This isn’t a police state nor is there a state of emergency in this country. Arresting thousands of people has not added one iota of security to the rest of public; rather it has just spread fear and terror among civilians. For the record, not just refugees were arrested but Kenyan citizens as well, some of whom were not even Somali ethnicity.
It would be fantastic if the police could understand that you don’t secure the nation by arresting people for loitering. Actual security measures need to be implemented and this is done when a genuine effort to address the situation is made. Ever since Westgate, private businesses have undertaken the extra cost of having security guards check patrons with handheld metal detectors, searching vehicles at entry points and requesting documentation. Certainly these measures make it more difficult for criminals to access certain premises but this is not enough. It is incumbent upon the police themselves and the internal security ministry to go further and do more on a wider scale as a government.
Instead, we have the pleasure now of having to source for 15,000 kshs per person in order to have them released from jail because they were arrested for “loitering”. Mark you, many of those arrested in Eastleigh were inside their own homes.
There is no correlation between these arbitrary arrests and increased security whatsoever, and Kenyans do not feel safer simply because Joseph Ole Lenku decides to pin the blame on asylum seekers. Despite all the activity by the police after the gruesome attacks in Likoni and Eastleigh, not a single person arrested has been charged with criminal offences of any kind, and not a single person has been charged with crimes linked to terror activities.
The bottom-line is that the police are just arresting people without any sort of merit or real cause. In the meantime, soft targets such as malls, shopping centers, churches, mosques, hotels, buses and restaurants remain vulnerable and open to attack because the cops are doing a truly shoddy job.
This article was first published at the author’s blog.
About the author
Betty Waitherero is a journalist, writer and producer for television working with Journalists For Justice, based in Nairobi, Kenya that seeks to promote accurate and impactful coverage of international criminal justice stories and victims of violence in the mass media.