Challenging Police Brutality with Citizen Journalism in Laikipia

Published in News from the field

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


Let’s Talk! Flash Mob and the Koru-Soin Dam Saga

Published in News from the field

Two IFA Field Teams - IFA Kericho and IFA Western – joined forces to help the Koru and Soin communities get a voice as the rightful landowners of the area earmarked for the Koru-Soin Dam.


Construction of the dam dates back to President Moi's regime and involves the displacement of people given little or no public participation in the fate of their community. The result has been unlawful evictions. Construction of the dam has now attracted huge funding under the Jubilee government - Ksh. 25 billion to be precise.


The massive structure would be over the River Nyando, bordering Kisumu County on one side and Kericho on the other, with the affected Koru community from Kisumu, and the Soin from Kericho. The National Water and Harvesting Storage Authority (NWHSA) are overseeing the construction of this proposed dam.


The government has used a top-down approach with no public participation, using the Ministry of Interior to stifle those who tried to advocate for due process.


IFA started organizing meetings through a community leadership structure to plan for a protest to demand a bottom-up approach. The community wanted to be consulted through public participation forums. These forums would be about land valuation and a feasibility study report, among other issues. 


But when the government got wind of this, it started threatening the community organisers, with the Koru Assistant County Commissioner sent to prohibit the meetings.


Enter the Flash Mob Idea


A Flash Mob Protest is made up of a group of people who arrive suddenly in a public space, demonstrate briefly, then quickly disperse. Gone in a flash…


It is a protest of something or someone. It may be in the form of a quick march, a dance, an exhibition, satire, or a well detailed but rapidly delivered press statement.


Flash Mob Protests are becoming increasingly useful for repressive government action on peaceful protests. Presently, Covid-19 containment measures are giving governments a good excuse to stifle peaceful assemblies and protests.


IFA knew that government did not want the community to organise and would be ready to use its Covid-19 containment measures to stop any gathering; so, we proposed the Flash Mob idea to the community.


Two IFA teams made contact with the community leaders in low-key meetings to help organize. But there was fear of victimization, so most of the community leadership retreated and left only two members to continue with the plan. These two bold leaders mobilized the affected community, including people living with disability, along with local media stations.


On 7th August 2020, the Flash Mob Protest was executed.


It lasted for a total of 40 minutes. Protesters from both Koru and Soin occupied the Muhoroni-Lodiani highway for ten minutes before disappearing, finishing with a 30-minute press conference on the side of the road.


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Too Late


Just five minutes after the press conference finished, around ten armed police officers from Koru Police Station arrived in a lorry. They looked out of place and disoriented, because the protesters had dispersed, and they had no one to chase away or illegally arrest. They were in the company of the Koru Assistant County Commissioner Raphael Nakuwa, who also had very little to do.


Result of the Flash Mob Protest


Two days later, the National Water Harvesting Storage Authority (NWHSA), through Raphael Nakuwa, issued letters of invitation to landowners for public participation in the construction of the dam. Due to the Covid-19 containment measures, each family was to be represented by only one person. 


The meeting took place at Manera Secondary School on 11th August 2020. But the NWHSA didn't engage with the community and the purported public participation had no substantive agenda. It ended in disarray.


The NWHSA crossed the border to Soin in Kericho County - where they planned to have three other sham public participation forums - to bring the community a revised gazette notice. 


The community representatives who participated in the Flash Mob mobilized the community to attend, to demand a later date for public participation and a clearer agenda. 


The NWHSA backed off and gave one month for a public participation forum at Koiyabei and Kapkormom Primary Schools on 10 September.


During this meeting, the affected communities asserted they were not ready to move out of their ancestral land. They raised a number of concerns, including that their names were mismatched with the plot numbers in the gazette notice issued by NWHSA.


The officials present from NWHSA were unable to respond satisfactorily to these concerns.


Watch this space…


By SK Wandimi, with the IFA Western and Kericho Teams


A population can only share information, mobilize, organize, and claim their rights if civic space is open. Now, Covid-19 has presented governments with a golden opportunity to shrink the civic space more. Activists and human rights workers need to go back to the drawing board and push back hard against these attempts.


Insert Video on Demo in Mombasa against Covid Corruption


Corrupt systems have had a field day stealing funds that are meant to address the plight of citizens affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Civil society and the general population have expressed their disgust using various platforms.  Protests have so far been held in Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu, and Nairobi, calling out the corrupt individuals and government who have been charged with the duty of containing the pandemic. But these demonstrations were immediately deemed illegal. The first reasons cited by the government when it dispersed the protesters were directly related to Covid -19 containment measures, like social distancing and limited numbers of persons in social gatherings.


This reminds me of an old Chinese fable….


The Monkey Master Fable


In the 14th century in China, there was a man named Mr. Jugong - the "monkey master". On his farm, he lived with monkeys and he had a very simple rule – their tenancy on his farm would be anchored on loyalty and obedience. Every morning, the monkeys would go out to the forest to eat fruits to their satisfaction, but each had to come back with a tenth of their collection to give to their master. Failure to do this would result in a ruthless flogging. This arrangement lasted for centuries without any protest from the monkeys.


One day, a young monkey decided to challenge the thinking of the old monkeys. He did this by asking simple questions, which were thought-provoking to the rest of the monkeys:


Did the master plant the fruits? The older monkeys replied: no, they grow naturally.

Can’t we take the fruits without his permission? "We all can", replied the monkeys.

Then why should we depend on the master? Must we serve him?

Before the young monkey finished his questions, the other monkeys had become enlightened.


That night, the monkeys tore down the barricades of the farm stockade and took all the fruits before running off into the woods, never to return to the master. The master later died of starvation.


The fable is a classic analogy of the government’s new Covid-19 tactics at closing the ever-shrinking civic space. Now civil society must ask itself the hard question about how to fight back. How do we protect and expand civic space under these circumstances?


The recent protests were termed illegal, but the government stopped the protesters illegally. It criminalised citizen’s rights of assembly and association, to demonstrate, and picket; and on the flip side, it legitimized the rampant corruption around Covid-19.


Insert Video on Demo in Nairobi against Covid Corruption


To gain freedom, we must challenge the rules or laws that are used to take freedom away. We must challenge bad laws that govern protests, including the so-called Covid-19 containment measures, and more so discriminatory ones.

Why don’t these pandemic containment measures apply to market places and meet the people tour by Kenyan politicians?


Just like in the monkey master fable, we need to change the power balance by asking ourselves the right questions.


If the Covid-19 regulations suspended Article 37 of our Constitution, what new tactics can we use to open up the civic space? Would 15 people who came out in several public spaces in Mombasa or Nairobi really have an impact? Why are we not mobilizing a large number of protesters to come out – more than the Police Officers deployed to crush the protests?


The Covid -19 regulations on public gathering have brought the fight right to our doorsteps. We are at ground zero, but we can only fight the thieves better with a new way of thinking, because their new Covid tactics are here to stay.


By SK Wandimi

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