Building a police state

Men sprayed with machine gun fire. Police with sub-machine guns patrolling the streets on horseback. Checkpoints on every major highway. Armed escort for inter-city buses.

A police patrol car in the country side.

A new police patrol car in the country side.

These are characteristics of a country either under occupation or a state of emergency. It could also imply a fearsome dictatorship. But these are the characteristics of today’s Kenya. But inspite of this high visibility of police, crime soars while political instability threatens to tear the country apart.

It gets worse: recruitment of 50,000 police in the next two years. Massive government spending on tanks, guns, helicopters, patrol boats and patrol cars. Mandatory registration of mobile phones.  Very soon: registration will be required for all internet users.

Kenya has the highest deployment of armed police on the streets in East and Central Africa. Even countries that have experienced political instability, such as Rwanda and Uganda, do not have such a visible presence of police officers yet crime figures in those countries is much lower than in Kenya.

On the streets of Nairobi, police with AK-47 stand guard at every intersection, including side steets. There are uncountable numbers of plain clothes police supplemented by mounted police and City Council askaris.

At all major roundabouts leading into and out of the city centre will be found truckloads of riot police ready to move into action at a moment’s notice. All highways leading into Nairobi have checkpoints each with dozens of heavily armed police.

The same situation is replicated in the countryside. Though the smaller towns have a lesser police presence, there still exist checkpoints at every highway.

The War against Crime has resulted many deaths both on the side of police and among civilians. In the past month alone, more than a dozen police officers have been killed in the line of duty. On the other hand, elite police squads have shot people simply for “behaving suspiciously.” In many cases, its only the word of the police against a dead man.

The Kenya Police is headed by Major General Mohammed Hussein Ali. Poached from the army by President Mwai Kibaki in 2003, Gen Ali took over when the police was at its worst: street patrols had ceased, vehicles were grounded for lack of spares and the public had little confidence in the force. Gen Ali re-introduced patrols and popularized community policing. However, the old habits of summary execution, corruption and police connivance with criminals persist and may even have seen a resurgence since 2008.

With wide income inequalities, Kenya will continue investing more of its scarce resources in providing security for its elite amidst growing resentment from the majority of the population living in squalor. In other words, instead of building roads, schools and hospitals, government revenue is instead going into hiring more police and soldiers. Instead of supplying medicine, books and piped water, public funds are buying guns, bullets and teargas.

Yesterday, President Mwai Kibaki directed that all mobile phones in Kenya be registered by the end of the year. This, he said, is to enable the police apprehend fraudsters and extortionists. Critics are reading sinister motives because mobile phones were extensively used to disseminate campaign messages by Kibaki’s opponents in the 2007 elections. Mobile phone text messages relayed election results far ahead of the state electoral body.

Mobile phone providers, Safaricom and Zain, have said the move to register mobile phone subscribers will not make a difference in the fight against crime. “The issue of subscriber registration has been over-simplified by the political class and, in itself, it is not a panacea for addressing rising incidents of crime,” said Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph.

And in a bid to control the thought and political conscience of Kenyans, the government is secretly creating a new broadcast monopoly through the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation by exploiting the worldwide transition from analogue broadcasting to digital broadcasting.

According to the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) will be the only authorized digital broadcaster for the country. Anybody else wishing to operate a private radio or television station will be required to channel their signal through KBC.

It is becoming rather obvious that there exist elements in Kenya who wish to turn the country into a totalitarian state, where freedom and dissent is crushed mercilessly. It is up to all Kenyans to uphold the democratic rights of everybody else in order to guarantee our future liberties.

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Patrol car photo by Kiplagat

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The dark side of Dubai

A video tape smuggled out of the United Arab Emirates shows a member of the country’s royal family mercilessly torturing a man with whips, electric cattle prods and wooden planks with protruding nails.

A man in a UAE police uniform is seen on the tape tying the victim’s arms and legs, and later holding him down as Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan pours salt on the man’s wounds and then drives over him with his Mercedes SUV.

In a statement to ABC News, the UAE Ministry of the Interior said it had reviewed the tape and acknowledged the involvement of Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan, brother of the country’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed.

WARNING: The images you are about to see may be disturbing.

Click here to watch more graphic footage of Sheikh Issa bin Zayed’s grim hobby.

Read the BBC report.

Gruesome confessions of police killings by death squad driver

Testimony by a former member of a Kenya Police death squad reveals the extent to which senior police officers ordered the killings of thousands of people.

Former police driver, Bernard Kiriinya, seen here in this video grab from a testimony he made to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

Former police driver, Bernard Kiriinya, seen here in this video grab from a testimony he made to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

Bernard Kiriinya told the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights of police officers abducting people from homes, roadsides and restaurants. The victims were taken to isolated locations where they were shot dead and the bodies chopped to pieces.

The bodies of the victims were deliberately disfigured with rungus and pangas to conceal their identity. This explains why hundreds of people are listed as missing even though their bodies may be lying in mortuaries across the country.

For those Kenyans who support police death squads on grounds of eliminating Mungiki, Kiriinya revealed in his taped testimony that police officers killed people in order to steal money and property.

A Corporal Njoroge took a new Subaru Outback owned by a man he abducted and killed in Kiambu. The same Corporal Njoroge took two vehicles from a Kariobangi based businessman known as, “Mashukaru” after abducting and torturing him to death. Mashukaru had his eyes removed during torture at Matuu, where he had been taken. After he was killed, the body was dumped in a dam. Njoroge returned to Nairobi and gave the two vehicles to senior policemen as gifts.

Virginia Nyakio, wife to jailed Mungiki leader Maina Njenga, was abducted and killed because of Kshs5 million (US$62,500) in her possession. Her body and that of her driver were extensively mutilated by police officers to make it appear as the work of a rival Mungiki faction. This was the line of investigation that police sold to the public back in April 2008.

Unfortunately, Bernard Kiriinya is no longer available to produce further evidence. He was shot and killed in Nairobi soon after his testimony. The gunmen have never been caught. However, the tapes he left behind prove that truth will always defeat evil. Whatever is done in the dark will someday come to light regardless of how long it takes.

To what extent was the police command involved? Kiriinya said that Police Commissioner Mohammed Hussein Ali and senior commanders were fully briefed on the activities of police death squads. Officers who were involved in killings regularly received cash payments ranging from Kshs 2,000 (US$25) to Kshs15,000 ($187) for each successful “assignment.”

During the torture of suspected Mungiki leader Kimani Ruo at Ngong Forest, police officers called their bosses and replayed tapes of his confessions. On hearing the tapes, Provincial Police Officer Njagi Njue ordered over the telephone that, “kazi iendelee,” meaning the work should continue. Police Commissioner Ali ordered that Kimani Ruo be killed with instructions that the body should never be discovered. Indeed, Kimani Ruo’s family never knew what happened to him, until Kiriinya’s tape was made public in February.

The Police Commissioner recommended for promotion several police officers who excelled in death squad operations. A Mr Maina was promoted overnight from a Corporal to Inspector of Police. His colleague was promoted from Constable to Corporal under similar circumstances. There are many such promotions that continue to take place within the Kenya Police force.

Police commanders encouraged financial fraud in order to reward death squad operatives. Senior officers in the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) ordered junior officers to make false overtime claims in order to get paid for their secret activities. The officers complied and went home with Shs10,000 each ($125).

Such tactics are deliberately designed to frustrate future investigations as records will only show payments for overtime. It also makes it easier for police to request extra funds from the Ministry of Finance on grounds that officers are putting in “extra hours.”

Police officers outside of the death squads were not spared either. At one time, a Constable hiked a lift in a police Land Rover that was ferrying four Mungiki suspects to Murang’a. On arrival, the four suspects were ordered to get out and lie on their bellies where afterwards they were shot. The innocent constable was also killed in order to conceal the executions.

Most Kenyans do not appreciate the extent of rot within the police force. It is common to hear individuals arguing that the deaths of a few innocent people is a worthy price to pay in the war against crime and Mungiki. But who decides between innocence and guilt? Isn’t that what the courts are for?

Giving individual police officers the power to decide between guilt and innocence is a disaster in the making. Kiriinya’s testimony reveals that the officers involved in death squad operations are driven by the desire for wealth and glory. Police officers get overnight promotions for torturing and killing people. Others do it in order to steal money, vehicles and other property.

Surely, this is a lawless society. Unless death squads are stopped and the guilty officers brought to book, the future of Kenya is in doubt. And for this, President Mwai Kibaki must accept responsibility.

The Nairobi Chronicle recommends that every Kenyan read for themselves the signed confession by Bernard Kiriinya. Its only 16 pages long and just 1.4 MB in size. Click here to download the PDF document from Mars Group.
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Oscar: murdered by injustices he fought

Like most well educated, middle class Kenyans – and a trained lawyer at that – 38 year old Oscar Kamau Kingara had not planned to campaign for the poor, downtrodden citizens.

The late Oscar Kamau Kingara

The late Oscar Kamau Kingara

After graduating with a law degree, Oscar joined the family business that was involved manufacturing, meat and fish processing, real estate, import/export and sale of building materials within Kenya.

He planned to marry, have children, then live happily and quietly ever after. However, fate had other plans in store for him.

In 1996, Oscar experienced the injustices perpetuated by the state through a policy of destroying local industries for the benefit of multinationals. The government issued a statement meant to ensure that fish exports from Kenya were stopped. Oscar wrote in his website that the decision was, “aimed at punishing people from Nyanza province who were perceived by the KANU government to be anti-establishment. The policy was (Siasa mbaya maisha mbaya) meaning, “bad politics equals bad life.”

The government suspended fish exports to the European market, forcing Oscar to close down a multi million dollar factory in Kisumu that was processing and exporting fish. This first hand experience of high handed impunity by the state was an eye opener and Oscar realized how justice is hard to get especially for the vulnerable poor.

In 1998, Oscar founded the Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic Kenya (OFFLACK). Oscar Foundation offers free legal services to poor Kenyans who cannot afford a lawyer. The foundation trains paralegals across the country in peaceful resolution of grievances.

In its website, Oscar Foundation says: “We educate youths to respect the rule of law, more so the Foundation encourages the poor and the youth to seek justice through the law and due process and not through violence or any other unlawful means.”

It was through the fulfillment of this mandate that Oscar Foundation was drawn into the Mungiki issue. Mungiki is an underground movement drawing its membership from ethnic Kikuyu youths in urban slums and rural squatter settlements.

In mid 2007, after a series of brutal murders blamed on the Mungiki sect, the Kenya Police launched the War on Mungiki. By September 2007, the government admitted complicity in the deaths of at least 300 suspected Kikuyu youth accused of Mungiki membership. Human rights organizations believed the figure to be closer to 500. It is estimated that between mid 2007 and today, at least 1,000 people were abducted and killed by police death squads. A United Nations report says that death squads operate with the full knowledge of the top police command.

The families of the dead and missing had no legal recourse. As expected, most of them were too poor to afford lawyers. Kenya’s mainstream media were too afraid to get involved in the Mungiki issue, for good reasons obviously. This is why the families of the disappeared turned to Oscar Foundation to help them trace their loved ones, or at least use legal processes to bring identify those behind the killings.

The late Oscar Kamau and his Foundation were exposing the secretive killings perpetrated by the Kenyan government against its own citizens. It was not something they had initially set out to do but they simply could not ignore the horrific tales they encountered with each passing day.

On February 25th 2008, the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Prof Philip Alston, issued a report condemning the Kenya Police for illegal killings. Alston recommended the dismissal of Attorney General Amos Wako and Police Commissioner Mohammed Hussein Ali. The government contemptuously rejected the report and vowed to continue its War on Mungiki.

Yesterday, March 5th, the Oscar Foundation called demonstrations in support of the United Nations recommendations. Transport was disrupted in Nairobi, Central Province and the Rift Valley which are the Mungiki strongholds. The government vowed to crack down hard against the organizers of the demonstration.

Yesterday, as Mungiki members and sympathisers engaged in street battles with police, government spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua issued a chilling warning: “the Government assures the people that all security measures have been put in place to ensure they are not harassed or their daily lives disrupted any longer.” Mutua attacked Oscar as a supporter and financier of Mungiki activities.

By nightfall, Oscar’s lifeless body was the subject of tug-of-war between University of Nairobi students and the Kenyan Police. Oscar and his associate at the Oscar Foundation, Paul Oulu, were shot on a public road adjacent to university hostels. The location where Oscar and Paul Oulu were killed is less than a kilometre from State House – the official home of the Kenyan president.

Witnesses say that armed men in one, perhaps two or more vehicles struck as Oscar and Oulu sat in their car. The gunmen sprayed Oscar and Oulu with bullets. They two activists had no chance of surviving the onslaught. It is clear that the mission of the gunmen was to kill and silence forever those frustrating the War on Mungiki.

With usual short-sightedness, Kenyans are celebrating the War on Mungiki, rationalizing the killing of innocents as a, “necessary price to pay.” Experience from other parts of the world shows that when human rights are violated, nobody is safe.

Today, the target of state brutality is Mungiki. Next year it will be another group.

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Find out more about the Oscar Foundation on this website: http://www.oscarfound.org/

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Activists killed near State House

A Kenyan human rights activist who has criticized the Kenyan government for abducting and killing thousands of people has been shot dead near the president’s official residence.

Oscar Kamau Kingara was shot in his car alongside his colleague, Paul Oulu. Oscar leads a legal aid organization, the Oscar Foundation, which is agitating for the rights of suspected members of the Mungiki sect, which has borne the brunt of the government’s death squad operations.

Kenyan security forces accuse Oscar of supporting Mungiki.

Incidentally, the shooting came hours after a government spokesman said that, “all security measures have been put in place to ensure the public not harassed …” It is not clear whether last night’s public execution was among the raft of “security measures” that the government is alluding to.

Mungiki held a series of demonstrations across Kenya yesterday, backing a United Nations call for the country’s police commissioner and the Attorney General to resign for complicity in illegal police executions. Both Oscar and Oulu had testified before United Nations Special Rapporteur, Philip Alston.

The Kenyan government has dismissed Alston’s recommendations that the police chief and Attorney General resign. Minister for Internal Security, Professor George Saitoti, has vowed to continue the war against Mungiki, raising fears of further abductions, killings and disappearances.

Government fearful of rebellion amidst growing despair

A little noted event occurred on Nairobi streets during the weekend. For the first time since the 1982 coup attempt, paramilitary police wearing ammunition belts around their bodies patrolled the streets of Nairobi.

President Mwai Kibaki (right) surrounded by heavy security (left) at a government function in Nairobi.

President Mwai Kibaki (right) surrounded by heavy security (left) at a government function in Nairobi.

The paramilitaries were drawn from the recently formed Rapid Deployment Unit (RDU) of the Administration Police. RDU is the equivalent of the well-known General Service Unit (GSU).

The weekend’s show of might indicates alarm within government circles at widespread discontent among Kenya’s people. Senior security officers are worried that a tiny spark, especially in Nairobi, could result in massive protests that could topple the country’s present leadership.

President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga are painfully waking up to the reality that their power duopoly has produced the most unpopular government in collective memory.

Not even ex-President Daniel arap Moi suffered the universal hatred Kibaki and Raila are experiencing. President Kenyatta fared reasonably well in the popularity ratings. The colonial administration also did much better compared to the Kibaki – Raila government.

So unpopular has the Giant Coalition become that if somebody were to launch a rebel movement today, Kenyans are likely to flood the streets in celebration. For most people, change from widespread corruption, decay, death and hopelessness is long overdue.

Today’s Kibaki – Raila government waits for things to worsen before reacting feebly. The government has only itself to blame for losing face in front of its people. The blunders committed by this administration are too numerous to recount, but suggest widespread incompetence and a general lack of direction from the principle partners of the coalition. Indeed, among the many complaints raised by religious leaders is lack of leadership by the Kibaki – Raila duopoly.

Both Kibaki and Raila have given state jobs and contracts to their family, relatives and friends. Their ministers have followed suit, with some giving state positions to mistresses and toy-boys.

Indeed, the whole government reeks of tribalism and nepotism. So bad has the situation become that in many cases, a Kikuyu head of department is deputized by a Luo, or vice versa. Many of Kenya’s other tribes are wondering whether only the Kikuyu and Luo are qualified to hold government jobs.

The last time there was widespread revolt in Kenya was during the Mau Mau war of the 1950s. After decades of British military expeditions against the Kikuyu where vast tracts of land were appropriated for use by white settlers, World War 2 veterans from the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru ethnic groups banded together into the Kenya Land and Freedom Army. Their focal areas of operation were the Mount Kenya and Aberdare forests. The rebellion made the British realize that their occupation of Kenya could not continue indefinitely.

Over the years, Kenyan authorities have been careful not to allow the proliferation of firearms among the populace. This makes a widespread Mau Mau like revolt impossible but there are other ways for the people to instigate revolution. A good case in point is the overthrow of Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, through the “People Power” movement.

Millions of Filipinos converged on the streets of Manila with the blessings of the Catholic Church. The number of protesters was so huge that security forces refused to fight, fearing that they might kill their own family members. President Marcos succumbed to pressure and fled into exile.

Another avid example is the 1979 revolution in Iran that overthrew the Shah and marked the beginnings of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Shah of Iran had massive fire power supplied by the United States, including sophisticated Cobra attack helicopters and F-4 Phantom fighter jets. These weaponry could not defend the Shah from the wrath of the people.

Clerics and student leaders, who included current president Ahmadinejad, led the Iranian people through the capital city, Tehran. Security forces abandoned arms and joined the people in revolt. Since the US was the main backer of the Shah, protesters invaded the US Embassy and occupied it for 444 days. The Shah was eventually overthrown and Islamic leaders took over the running of government (now you know why the US hates Iran).

Kenyans blame the Kibaki – Raila government for hunger and economic hardships occasioned by rising food and energy prices. Massive corruption scandals are going unpunished as guilty parties spend millions of shillings bribing legislators to vote for them in Parliament.

Interestingly, Thursday’s criticism by religious leaders came a day after a censure motion against Agriculture Minister William Ruto failed in Parliament. Ruto is accused of mismanaging the Ministry of Agriculture, thereby worsening food shortages and food price increases in Kenya. There is a clear string of evidence showing that Ruto was complicit in the sale of government maize reserves to individuals who later made huge profits reselling the same maize to commercial millers.

After days of lobbying, Ruto succeeded in getting majority of legislators to shoot down the censure motion. So successful was Ruto that only 22 members of parliament voted against. On the night prior to the motion, legislators were booked in hotel rooms by Ruto’s henchmen where millions of shillings exchanged hands.

Though trading in maize is not a crime, there was a clear conflict of interest when the man in charge of food stocks became a broker in cereal trading. As a result of government maize stocks being depleted, billions of shillings must now be spent importing maize at prices far higher than what was paid to local farmers.

During the same week, United Nations investigators flew into Kenya to investigate police killings of innocent people. According to local human rights bodies, at least 1,000 youths have been killed mostly in Kenya’s central province. The youths were accused of belonging to Mungiki, a Kikuyu traditionalist sect that the government views as a potential threat. Many of the youths have simply been made to disappear as families cry in agony.

Another pointer to Kibaki and Raila’s growing impotence is the failure to enact constitutional changes that would prosecute perpetrators of election violence locally. It is a fact that the ring leaders of the 2008 post election violence are intimate allies of Kibaki and Raila. The personalities, who include Agriculture Minister William Ruto, Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta among others, lobbied hard for legislators to reject a local tribunal.

Of course, this now means that their cases will be handed over to the International Criminal Court but these evil men have realized that the path to The Hague is cumbersome and extremely lengthy. Whereas a local war crimes tribunal could be ready in months, court cases at The Hague will not be ready for several years. It will be difficult to locate and organize travel arrangements for thousands of witnesses, many of whom are scattered in refugee camps across the country.

The issue of internally displaced persons is hanging like a bad omen around the Kibaki – Raila government. A year after a peace agreement was reached between them, hundreds of thousands of their kinsfolk displaced in the fighting remain in camps. The displaced feel abandoned by the government and many are living through self help efforts. Majority of displaced families lost at least a family member to the fighting.

The bitterness is worsened by memories of their lives prior to the 2007 elections. Most of these people owned the homes they lived in, and were financially independent. Today, they live in tents, surviving on charity.

Who Supplied the Missiles to the LRA?

By Scott A Morgan

Around Christmas Day the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels (LRA) used an anti-aircraft missile to shoot down a Ugandan aircraft.

The question now becomes: how did the LRA get their hands on these weapons? There are two possible answers. First of all is that these are leftovers from US aid to the Mobutu regime that ruled Congo for 32 years until 1997. Its possible that they still remain but they more than likely were used during the Congolese wars of the late 1990s.

The most logical answer is that the weapons were provided by Sudan. For a long time, Sudanese intelligence supported the LRA by providing arms and logistical support. This was a tactic used to keep prying eyes from seeing what has been occurring in Darfur.

For people struggling to survive in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and northern Uganda the events of the last month is a microcosm of the last couple of decades.

The area is rife with militia activity. Some of the lowlights include the use of rape as a tactic of punishment and children being forcibly recruited to take an active role in fighting. In extreme cases people get murdered in church. Sadly it seems that such are a daily occurrence.

But there are differences as well. The United Nations has seen it fit to send peacekeepers to the strife-ridden Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In contrast, the long suffering Acholi tribe in northern Uganda has had to fend for itself against a ruthless militia and a Government that has proven to be just as ruthless.

At the end of November, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – which just happens to be the main insurgent group active in Uganda – walked away from Peace Talks that were taking place in Southern Sudan. Depending on who you talk, to the reason for the talks breaking down are due to a threat against the life of the leader of the LRA or the fact that they have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

When LRA walked away from the peace talks in November, they were warned that they risked being attacked. In a bold move the rebels called what they perceived to be a bluff. It was a serious tactical error in judgement. Within a fortnight the militaries of Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Southern Sudan launched an attack designed to bring the LRA back to the table.

So there were a series of strikes and reprisals. The main base of the LRA was attacked and reportedly leveled by an air strike by the Ugandan Air Force. The LRA went on a rampage attacking villages and killing 500 people.

The possession of anti-aircraft missiles by the LRA is potentially troubling. If it is proven that Sudan provided these missiles then tensions will once again rise in the region.

And that is not what the African Great Lakes need right now.