Security forces say they’re targeting terrorists, but it’s young people who keep dying. Why do so few Kenyans seem to care?
One day in 2014, university students Felix Nyangena and Dennis Magomere, 21 and 22 years old respectively, were walking from the Globe Cinema roundabout in Nairobi’s central business district to the nearby offices of the Higher Education Loans Board, a government agency that oversees financial disbursements to students.
The Globe Cinema roundabout is one of the Kenyan capital’s busiest bus terminals, and during the day it can be among the most densely populated parts of the city.
There, in the gentle light of the still-rising sun, Nyangena and Magomere were gunned down by two plainclothes police officers attached to the city’s anti-mugging unit. Nyangena did not die immediately. So the officer stood over his body and fired twice more, killing the young man in broad daylight. The officer then calmly wiped his fingerprints off the gun, planted it on the young man’s body, and made a call — presumably to report a robbery.
We know all of this because unlike many other extrajudicial killings by police and security officials in Kenya, Nyangena and Magomere’s murder was captured on video.
The crisp, high-quality footage of the crime, taken on a witness’s mobile phone, is the centerpiece of a recent documentary by noted Kenyan journalist Mohammed Ali on the epidemic of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances by security services.
And perhaps as a result of both the video and the documentary, Kenya’s public prosecutor has announced that for the first time in recent memory, his office will charge a police officer for the unlawful killing of a civilian.
Unfortunately, the only unusual thing about this horrific story is the judicial outcome.
Through a conspiracy of public apathy and sinister cover-ups, Kenyan security forces have essentially acquired carte blanche to kill and disappear citizens, particularly young ones, on the pretext of fighting crime and terrorism
Through a conspiracy of public apathy and sinister cover-ups, Kenyan security forces have essentially acquired carte blanche to kill and disappear citizens, particularly young ones, on the pretext of fighting crime and terrorism.
The scourge of killings and disappearances has accelerated in recent years as the Somali militant group al-Shabab has trained its sights on Kenya, but abuse and impunity long have been the calling cards of the Kenyan security services.
And while the discriminatory religious contours of the “War on Terror” would suggest that the problem is confined to northeastern and coastal Kenya, regions that are predominantly Muslim and have a high proportion of ethnic Somalis, the truth is that Kenyan authorities routinely commit violent crimes against young people all over the country.