Challenging Police Brutality with Citizen Journalism in Laikipia

Residents from Salama Ward caught our attention in one of our community film screening sessions - and what came out during the post-film discussion prompted us to organize a one-day training on citizen journalism.


Salama Ward is situated in Laikipia West Constituency of Laikipia County. It is a semi-arid area and has been marginalized by previous regimes. Its multiple ethnic communities are predominantly herders/pastoralists and farmers, including the Meru, Kikuyu, Borana, Maasai, Samburu, Turkana, and Somali. It is also home to several White Settler ranches, and game conservancies.


During the film screening, the audience complained of police brutality during police operations, which are meant to flush out illegal herders, bandits, cattle rustlers, and poachers. The operations also target illicit charcoal and saddle wood businesses.


The community has constantly felt the heavy hand – or boot, or rifle butt - of Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), the Anti-Stock Theft Police Unit (ASTPU), and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). They use excess and cruel force against the local community while claiming to rid the area of criminals.


According to the community, one of the flashpoints is where the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) set up Mutara Conservancy, which borders Ol Pejeta Conservancy. There has been constant conflict, with the local herders accused of grazing inside the private ranches, while the farmers accuse the KWS of allowing elephants, zebras, and buffalos to wreak havoc on their crops, and the lions, leopards, and hyenas to eat their livestock.


The region has an inadequate infrastructure - a poor road network, no permanent bridges, very few schools, and only one referral hospital - that contribute to the inhumanity and suffering in the area. Many cases of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and burning of Manyattas by the forces, go undocumented and unreported.


IFA believed the community could usefully harness social media to alter the concept of news reporting in their area. IFA thought it would be important to train a group of youth on how to use their smartphones to record video and capture evidence of illegal police action. The young citizen journalists were encouraged to document not only brutality by the security forces, but also the commonly used ‘Kangaroo Courts” where the Sub-Chief works with the Anti-Stock Theft Unit to extort money or deliver judgement to the alleged criminals, without involving the regular police.


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On 29 July 2020, a selection of twelve members from a youth group, representing different villages in the vast area, were trained on how to use their smartphones to record usable audio and video, what to record and report, and how to upload and share the footage with agencies and organisations that could help challenge the inhumanity in Laikipia.


By Anthony Mathenge

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