Kenya's Lethal Crackdown

by Robin Forman

Most of the people who read this blog have no idea what it’s like to live in a country where you are not free to speak your mind.

In Kenya, three days of protests are underway.

Kenya’s government has not — and it looks like it will not — order police to stop using lethal force against protestors.

In fact, a police chief in Kisumu, Grace Kaindi said she ordered her officers to fire on a rioting crowd. Kaindi said she was forced to because police were overwhelmed during protests over disputed elections.

The comments from Kaindi came from an exclusive interview with The Associated Press.

These were the first official comments to acknowledge police fired on crowds. Previously, police had denied shooting anyone in the turmoil.

"It was an extreme situation and there was no other way to control them," Kaindi said of the clash on Dec. 29, 2007 in Kisumu. "I gave the order to open fire myself when I heard that my officers were being overwhelmed. If we had not killed them, things would have got very bad."

Human Rights Watch said even people who did not attend rallies were shot, hit by police gunfire on the fringes of protests.

The toll in Kisumu, according to hospital records: 44 shot dead, 143 wounded.

Do you understand that these people are being killed for protesting? Killed. Dead. For protesting. For walking down a street with others who share their opinion.

Maybe they’re holding signs or chanting. And then, they’re killed.

Here in D.C., this is like an every day activity. Somebody’s always protesting something. Can you imagine if the D.C. police just shot them? Or hacked them to death with machetes?

It’s unheard of because it’s wrong.

It is so wrong.

Police in Kenya have also banned all demonstrations since President Mwai Kibaki was re-elected. This is an attempt to thwart Kibaki's opposition, which is led by Raila Odinga who says the election was rigged.

Human rights workers say Kisumu, 200 miles northwest of Nairobi, suffered the worst police brutality because it is a stronghold for Odinga.

Since the disputed election during the last week of 2007, the death toll has risen to 600 people killed with some 250,000 people being displaced from their homes. Opposition groups say those figures may be too low.

The United Nations estimates that about half a million people have been affected by the clashes and Wednesday the U.N. called for member states to provide $42 million in humanitarian aid.

They need to do more.

So much more. And fast.

(Editor's Note: Bloggers in Kenya and elsewhere have set up an electronic network to track violence and police brutality; the network is called Ushahidi.)

(Graphic from radicalgraphics.org, which offers its material for free. To see a photo essay on the protests, please go here.)

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Anonymous said...

wow. the usahidi site is fascinating. what a travesty

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