Kenya’s presidential election held on August 8, 2017, has stirred significant unrest within the country for its serious human rights violations, involving killings and beatings by police. At least 37 people, including three children, have been killed, and over 100 badly injured in the protests that followed the election results. Almost all of the victims were killed in opposition strongholds in the slums of Nairobi or the western part of Kenya.
The protests started following the announcement of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory at the polls. Opposition leader Raila Odinga claimed the election was rigged and he had won the vote. Opposition supporters in Nairobi and western parts of the country started protesting with chants of “Uhuru must go.” On Monday, hundreds of opposition supporters, led by James Orengo, took to the streets of Nairobi in a call for electoral officials to be sacked. “We will only participate in an election where we know the outcome will be free and fair,” Orengo told the opposition supporters. Rallies were also reported in several other cities.
Police have responded unnecessarily to protests with excessive force and violence, including carrying out abusive house-to-house operations. In western Kenya, police fired water cannons and teargas canisters to disperse protesters, who threw stones and other objects at police and blocked roads. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights stated in a recent report that some of the deaths were a result of “police using live bullets,” while others were caused by police “bludgeoning using clubs.” Among the deceased was a six-month-old girl who was “clobbered by armed security agents whilst under the care of its mother,” the report said. On August 11 and 12, police carried out house-to-house operations, reportedly asking residents for any men in the house, then beating or shooting them.
Hospital staff and county government officials in the town of Kisumu confirmed that at least 100 people were seriously injured in the shootings and beatings. Many others did not seek treatment at the hospital for fear of being further targeted or arrested. As of August 17, at least 92 victims with serious injuries had not sought any medical help. Many Kenyan citizens feel unsafe seeking help in their own country.
International law as well as Kenya’s own constitution protect the right to freedom of assembly and expression, also prohibiting the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials. Otsieno Namwaya, Africa Researcher at Human Rights Watch, stated, “People have a right to protest peacefully, and Kenyan authorities should urgently put a stop to police abuse and hold those responsible to account.” However, acting interior minister Fred Matiangi denied police using live bullets or excessive force in dealing with protesters, blaming the violence on “criminal elements.”
The response by the police has been unnecessary with dire consequences, and the lack of acknowledgement and action by government officials will create further unrest. The Kenyan government must publicly acknowledge and condemn any and all unlawful police killings and shootings, Human Rights Watch has said. Adding to that, accountability for police is sorely missing. Kenyan authorities must be vigilant in preventing further police abuses and uphold citizens’ rights to peaceful protest in order for stability to be restored in the country.