The mowing down of seven taxi drivers in Kawangware, Nairobi, by some trigger-happy police officers last week was outrageous. The incident that shocked the nation came at a time the police force is working on internal reforms, to present the formation as a friendly service provider that citizens can count on for their security. Just as their motto indicate “UTUMISHI KWA WOTE” (SERVICE TO ALL)
This is not the first time police officers are shooting unarmed civilians. The history of the police is wrought with cases of police brutality of worrying proportions. This is why both the Justice Philip Waki Commission report and the report by the United Nations Special Reporter on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions findings faulted the police on the rule of law and called for reforms.
Police officers must understand that the country bestows on them the noble responsibility of enforcing the law and it defeats reason when a police officer breaks that same law they are meant to enforce. Police should be reoriented to approach incidents of crime with professionalism and an open mind and only use their firearms when a suspect poses a risk either to them or to others.
They should seek to investigate crime well enough to present airtight cases in court. In the case of protests causing a breach of the peace, they are required to disperse mobs using reasonable force.
Take the Kawangware case for instance. It started off as a simple argument over parking space between taxi drivers and boda boda (motorcycle taxi) drivers before some of the boda boda drivers reported to police at a nearby camp, claiming gangsters were attacking them. The police should have gone to the scene to verify the reports and, if need be, arrest suspects.
However, reports indicate that police officers went to the parking area and opened fire on unarmed taxi drivers, killing seven of them.
Police have for long been under scrutiny for extra-judicial killings. The epitome of police brutality is often seen whenever there is a police operation. Police officers seem to have taken operations to mean use of excessive force to harass citizens and trample on their rights at will. From the post-election violence shootings and the Mt Elgon District operation to the clamping down of Mungiki in Nairobi and Central provinces, police have left a trail of unnecessary brutality.
As Police Commissioner Matthew Iteere aptly put it, carrying a firearm is a huge responsibility that should not be abused. It is paramount that this sense of responsibility is instilled in the police. That encourages impunity in the rank and file of the police force as more and more extra-judicial killings go uninvestigated and unpunished.
Whereas it was heartening for Police Spokesman Eric Kiraithe to assure that investigations would be conducted and even more comforting for Internal Security Minister George Saitoti to report that the seven suspects had been interdicted and arrested, contrary claims are even more disturbing.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga could not be more right. Interdiction’s are not enough. More must be done to end impunity among law enforcers.
The families of the seven felled drivers deserve justice and the Government must ensure that independent investigations are conducted and the guilty brought to account.