As the killing of George Floyd sparked protests worldwide, Kenyans marched against local police brutality during the country’s coronavirus curfew.
A crowd of up to 200 people peacefully marched through Mathare slum in Nairobi this week to protest against police brutality and an increase in extrajudicial killings in the Kenyan capital.
The march was organised by three grassroots organisations from the area in response to a rise in the number of police killings since a dusk-till-dawn curfew was enforced in March to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. It was also organised to show solidarity with movements worldwide to protest against police brutality.
Rachel Wanjiku told the Guardian she joined the march because their message resonated with her. “I know about the police,” she said, her eyes welling up with tears. Wanjiku said her boyfriend Alex was shot by police the same night she was in hospital giving birth to their child. He was 19 when he died. Wanjiku says she doesn’t know why he was killed.
She said police often target young men after dark. “You can’t understand,” she said.
“We are here to protest against police killing us in the name of protecting us from corona. The police have killed us more than corona,” said another protester, Sobukwe Nonkwe, 30, a filmmaker, whose friend was shot and killed by the police.
At least 15 people have been killed by police, and 31 people injured since the curfew was imposed, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) said last week.
“The poor people of Mathare stand in solidarity with the poor people of America, the black people of America. We want them to know that this struggle is one,” said Juliet Wanjira, 25, the co-founder of Mathare Social Justice Centre. While the global protests have localised contexts, Wanjira sees a common theme. “This is a poor people’s struggle,” she said. “Poor people are [treated as] criminals and not given dignity.”
“I am here today to talk on behalf of all the boys out there that can’t speak for themselves. They are so scared of the police,” said Faith Adoyo, 20. Adoyo’s brother was left critically injured after being beaten in the street by police.
The police in Kenya have a historically antagonistic relationship with civilians. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented eight cases of police killings in less than two months. Last year, HRW reported that police killed “dozens” of men and boys in two poor areas of Nairobi, “apparently with no justification”.
Writer and commentator Patrick Gathara said policing in Kenya inherited its violence from British colonial forces, and has done nothing to change in the decades since independence. “It is the same colonial force. It never changed whether in attitude or mission,” he told the Guardian. “The brutality is just a function of how the state sees and deals with its subjects. It does not see us as citizens with rights but rather subjects with obligations.”
This week’s marchers stopped at places where people had been killed. The demonstration ended near the apartment block of 13-year-old Yasin Moyo, who was shot and killed by police when he was playing on his balcony after curfew in March.
At the end of the march, police used teargas to disperse the crowd.
This feature was originally published by The Guardian’s global development project.
Amanda Sperber is a correspondent focusing on East Africa, especially Somalia. Follow her on Twitter @hysperbole.