Video from Kenya Television Network of Nairobi, Kenya.
Kamiti Prison inmates on hunger strike: top officers implicated in supply of laptops and mobile phones
Kenya’s prison warders were recorded beating naked inmates in a lengthy orgy of violence whose video has shocked the nation.
An inmate died in the ordeal while dozens are nursing life-threatening injuries. Initially, the Prisons Department attributed the death of the inmate to natural causes.
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The mutiny by Kenya’s prison warders entered its 5th day today, epitomizing a nation lurching from one crisis to another.
Though less confrontational than they had been last week, Kenya’s prison guards harbor deep bitterness against the state over numerous failed promises in the provision of adequate housing, payment of allowances and generally better terms of service. The government, through Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, has threatened to prosecute striking prison warders while promising to address these grievances. Media reports indicate that several senior prisons officers have been questioned by the Criminal Investigations Department.
The Prison warder’s strike is an explosion of social discontent over the conduct of the State in the past three months. Kenyans have become disillusioned with the country’s leadership which is seen to sacrifice the lives of the poor for the purpose of seeking political goodies. And with discontent growing across the country, sociologists fear that worse is to come.
Unlike most of Africa, Kenya’s security forces are regarded as highly professional and have largely kept out of politics. The last time there was a mutiny of similar proportions was in August 1982, when junior officers of the Kenya Airforce went on a rampage on the streets of Nairobi and declared a coup. However, the coup lasted a couple of hours and was crushed by combined elements of the Army and paramilitary police. In 1964, just after independence, sections of the Army mutinied but the presence of British forces prevented the situation from getting out of hand.
The December 2007 General Elections that plunged the country into an orgy of looting and killings divided the country socially and politically. It is believed that these divisions have affected the security forces as well, with personnel professing split loyalties to either political faction. On the national scene, the country’s political leaders show little inclination towards creating a process of social healing.
As further testimony to the infighting wrecking the country, Kenya’s Minister for Labour said that his ministry should not be sidelined in seeking a solution to the prison department’s labor dispute. “I will not allow my ministry to be sidelined. As the Minister for Labour, I must be involved,” said Mr John Munyes.
The current situation in Kenya has all the ingredients that a coup-plotter could exploit. Indeed, had Kenya been any other African country, a coup (military or otherwise) would have taken place long ago. It remains to be seen whether the country’s leaders are awake to the crisis they have created or whether they are waiting for the tide to sweep them off the stage.
Prison warders threatened to release inmates today in a second day of strikes demanding risk allowances from the government.
The prison warders strike which began on Thursday in a few prisons now appears to have spread countrywide. In addition to the payment of risk allowances, prison warders are demanding the resignation of Prisons Commissioner Gilbert Omondi as well as better housing. As a result of the strike, court cases could not be heard as warders declined to take remand prisoners to court.
Prison warders in Naivasha gave the government until Monday, April 28th to accede to their demands, failure to which they would release the jailed Mungiki leader, Maina Njenga.
Top prisons officials have acknowledged that prison warders have not been paid a Shs10,000 shilling allowance (US$160) that the government gave all police officers. The allowances were a token for their role in subduing post elections violence. Prison warders allege discrimination since they were not included in the package. The Shs10,000 was a bonus in addition to the regular monthly salary. This amount of money can make a big difference for a police officer whose monthly salary averages the same amount.
Since 2003, the government has undertaken widespread reforms to improve the conditions of prisons in the country. Kenya’s jails were said to be among the worst in Africa. Today, prisoners are treated humanely and are given opportunities to complete their education. However, prison warders say the government has neglected their lot during the reforms. As one protester put it, the prisoners seem to be getting a better deal the warders!