They Come to Steal, Kill and Destroy
By Waga Odongo
Kisumu was a city under siege in the week after the August 8 General Elections. Every few minutes you would see a lorry filled with policemen on patrol. The pair of officers on the last row of the benches always had their guns pointed outwards towards the public as if expecting an attack. The police around Kondele always have more guns than riot shields and the roving platoons had bulletproof vests than clubs. They do not seem to have come to pacify or deescalate the tension. Here their occupation is occupation.
The gangrene green anti-riot vehicle is also doing the rounds. The police on foot walk in groups rifles pointed down with their hands on the pistol grip.
Every supermarket we drove past had a complimentary government lorry with a squadron at their disposal. They are here to protect businesses from the locals it seems.
One seemingly friendly officer in riot-ready gear in the affluent Milimani area told me “The supermarkets are major targets for looting.” He refuses to talk of any arrests they made and will not even answer as to whether he has any handcuffs with him to aid in arrests. “We have guns and rungus, that is what we came with,” he said. He won’t answer why they have bullet proof vests and whether they have been shot at by the locals. He gets offended and marches away when I ask whether you can use rubber bullets on a rifle like the one he is carrying. Can you use a rubber bullets on police G3 rifles? Also does the Eldoret bullet factory make rubber bullets? His partner is a lot angrier than he is and begins to interrogate me before a curt dismissal.
The simmering political tension in the country is being taken out on civilians in places perceived to be pro-opposition. Tens are reported dead around the country, many more are nursing injuries and locals have to deal with nearly nightly raids.
In Kisumu, the mission of these raids is simple: create terror and inflict humiliation on a community.
Kisumu Terror and Humiliation
On August 10, a day before the announcement of Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory in the Presidential elections, a contingent of police officers were dropped by lorry at Nyalenda, a central Kisumu suburb.
The men - who numbered about 40 according to one witness - went about from house to house beating, robbing and sexually assaulting residents. In one area, every single house we visited was ransacked as police went door-to-door.
Officers broke into Winnie’s house and four days later she was yet to get a permanent fix for the broken latch. The four men who got inside her house took Sh200 from her purse and grabbed her phone. They slapped her and pushed her to the floor. “They asked me where my husband was, when I said I did not have one they pushed me and called me a liar,” Winnie says in between sobs.
The Sh200 was all the money Winnie had and she said that she considers herself lucky to only have been slapped and pushed.
Anna, a widow who lives a few houses down from Winnie, willingly opened her door to the police. She thought that by cooperating she would be spared. At least three men entered her house armed. They broke possessions as they were searching the house for valuables. When she told them she had no money, one officer began groping her in front of her son. Eventually one officer found her purse, which had Sh8000.
“I had saved the money to go and buy food after the elections when the prices come down,” Anna said. The men then slapped her and punched her. The beatings only stopped when they saw a picture of a man in a military uniform hanging from the wall.
“Is that your husband?” The officers asked in fear. “Yes,” Anna lied. They promptly left but not before splitting her money amongst themselves right in front of her. The soldier in the picture was her younger brother.
“I am glad I had that photo on display”, she said, “It saved me.”
Ronald’s shop was raided at ten o’clock an hour into the pillage. The officers did not lay a glove on him. After a long day’s work of robbing the people of Nyalenda they were thirst and hungry. So they took all the milk and bread he had. Also emptied was the drawer where he kept all the days takings. “I don’t know how much they took,” Ronald begun, “Are they here to keep the peace or steal from us?”
The raiders did not drink all the milk by themselves. They went about their business, brutalising Ochieng, a boda boda operator, in a nearby house. They hit his two-year old son Samuel with a club on the leg. The wound was still raw days later. The officers feeling sorry for Samuel gave the boy a packet of milk and bread for his trouble. His father was then dragged outside where the beating continued. Ochieng estimates that they took Sh20,000 from him, which he had hidden in his socks.“They accused me of being a protestor and throwing stones at them,” Ochieng said as he showed the scars on his legs and arms to the camera.
Atieno, meanwhile, was beaten even more when she said her husband had not yet arrived home. -“They said he was one of the protestors who throw stones at police”.
Michael, on the other hand, was found hiding in the toilet. After beating him, they realised he had no money, so the officers pushed him into the pit latrine. Residents came and pulled him out an hour after the police left. He has sworn never to vote again.
The men in Kisumu are left in a bind - if they stay at home, they will be singled out in the door-to-door violence; if they leave their families behind, they will be seen as cowards. In most houses we visited, men were absent during the house attacks. But, those who leave their houses are likely to be shot dead as protestors. Stay at home and you will be beaten sometimes to death. Even hiding in the toilet isn’t an option.
People are presently terrified and will be traumatised long afterwards. There is a sense of desperation: a terrified community worried about the thieving patrols of an occupying force and nightly humiliations. In a community where police are considered the enemy, the true figures of deaths and assaults can only be guessed at; it is likely to be higher than those reported.
Oduol at Ligingo shopping centre close to the Busia- Siaya border couldn’t walk without the aid of a cane five days after his assault. He was beaten by five officers until he professed “Mimi napenda amani! (I love peace!)”. The police left him unconscious and in a bloody heap. He never went to hospital because he lacks the money and had not reported the attacks at the local police post because of fear.
“How can I go and report to the police and they are the ones who beat me? Am I mad?”
Oduol pictured above
Ouma, meanwhile, was found at Ligingo shopping centre on the night after the election results were announced. He was clobbered and left for dead. His second cousin later found him and carried him home. He doesn’t have the money to go to hospital and has sought out traditional remedies instead. And no, he was yet to report the incident to the police.
“If you complain they will mark you and can even kill you,” he explained.
Ouma pictured above
Edgar a sixteen-year-old student was sent to be with his grandmother in Siaya by his parents who feared an eruption of violence in Kisumu. The violence followed him to the village.
After the announcement, there was commotion in Ligingo town. A man had been shot dead. Edgar saw police officers arrive to disperse the crowd that was protesting the murder of a young man. As he ran, a police officer tripped him, hit him with a rungu and kicked him. He got up and kept running. On the road, someone asked him what happened to his head.
“That is when I realised that they had hit me on the head. My shirt was soaked in blood, “Edgar said.
He was carried home to his grandmother who took him to hospital. Edgar needed stitches and, when we met them, the family was still waiting for things to calm down before sending him to Kisumu for further treatment.
This indiscriminate violence - this robbing of those with the least, this brutalisation of the poor - is what is irreparably wrong with our police force.
In Kisumu and Siaya, they are a law unto themselves.
They act as savages that kill with impunity and can plunder without consequence in a population already marginalised by the government. The police do it knowing that the locals are so distrustful, they will not - or dare not - report it.
One elderly widow we interviewed, in a pink wimple worn by members of the Legio Maria sect, put it best. She is grieving her son who was shot dead in Siaya a day after the announcement of the Presidential results. Of the police, she said: “They are like the devil. They come here to steal, kill and destroy.”