On June 8 children in Mathare (an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya) joined a march against police violence. Photo by the Mathare Social Justice Centre.

On June 8, the Peace Brigades International-Kenya Project tweeted: “Last week, [human rights defender] and member of the [women human rights defender toolkit organizers] network [Sakwa Francis] was summoned to Pangani police station to record a statement on the killing of James Mirithi Waitheru (Vaite) and a protest that followed afterward.”

On June 4, Sakwa tweeted: “I spent nearly 3 hours at Pangani police station DCI [Directorate of Criminal Investigations] after being summoned to record a statement on the killing of Vaite and if I took part in the ‘protest’ that happened afterwards.”

Sakwa has perviously commented on the PBI-Kenya website: “There is a lot of hardship growing up in Mathare, like in any other informal settlement. Reaching 30 years for a young man and not being dead is an achievement.”

What happened?

On June 1, the Social Justice Centres Working Group tweeted: “A homeless elderly man has been shot dead today in Mathare at around 8PM by the police from Pangani Police Station, for being found outside during curfew hours, the killing happens just hours after the president’s speech on Madaraka Day [that commemorates the day in 1963 that Kenya attained internal self rule after being a British colony since 1920].”

The Kenyan Star has reported: “Vaite was shot dead on Monday night [June 1] in Mathare. Residents blamed police; police blamed thugs for killing the harmless, friendly man. Outraged residents took to the streets.”

That article adds: “A post-mortem showed he had been shot three times at close range and his leg fractured at the knee, suggesting he had been struck. He was shot in the chest, near the stomach and in the thigh. He died from loss of blood.”

And Opera News notes: “Mathare residents especially those that knew him staged a night protest, ignoring curfew rule that the government put in place on March 27 to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease. They blamed the police for not finding out who he was before pumping three bullets inside of him.”

What is the broader context?

The Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC) report Who Is Next? A Participatory Action Research Report Against the Normalization of Extrajudicial Executions in Mathare documents that the police killed more than 50 people in Mathare and a total of 803 people in Kenya between 2013 and 2015.

And on February 14 of this year, the Missing Voices network released its 2019 Annual Report on the State of Police Killings and Enforced Disappearances in Kenya. That report noted that Kenyan police had killed 107 people in 2019, most of whom were young men living in the informal settlements.

PBI-Kenya has commented: “Extrajudicial executions are frequently carried out in these areas by murderous police officers, whose collaboration with the regular police units and with the operational and support structures remains a mystery. Such experiences do not occur in Nairobi’s affluent neighborhoods, highlighting the scorn and widespread criminalization of the urban poor.”

Calls to abolish the police

On June 8, Kenyans.co reported: “Mothers of police brutality victims led a huge protest in Mathare Constituency, Nairobi on Monday, June 8 as they demanded justice for victims of extra-judicial killings and police brutality.”

That article adds: “With many of the protesters being Mathare residents, they also demanded justice for Vaite, a homeless man allegedly gunned down by police during curfew hours on Monday, June 1.”

During the protest march on June 8, the Mathare Social Justice Centre was tweeting about it. The MSJC tweeted: “Mathare says abolish the police! Power to the people. We want dignified lives not ‘good relations with the police’. Mathare residents demanding justice and an end to police killings now.” It also tweeted: “The ghetto can’t breathe. Mothers can’t breathe. Young people can’t breathe.”

Peace Brigades International in Kenya

PBI established the Kenya Project in December 2012. It works to amplify the voices of grassroots human rights defenders and strengthen their protection networks.

Our 2019 Annual Review notes: “In Kenya PBI supports a range of grassroots defenders across Nairobi’s urban settlements, raising their profile in the national and international contexts. In 2019, defenders took part in advocacy tours to Europe to discuss the challenges they face defending human rights in Kenya.”

PBI-Kenya is part of the Missing Voices network and the Police Reforms Working Group network. It also works with the Mathare Social Justice Centre and Dandora Community Justice Centre as well as other social justice centres in Nairobi.

Prior to the pandemic it was also organizing a monthly in-person mandazi meeting with toolkit organizers on gender-based violence. A mandazi is a fried snack, similar to a doughnut, only triangular and far less sweet. Mandazis are always had with tea and it’s a time to gather in solidarity and share stories, initiatives, problems and successes. During the pandemic, those monthly meetings have continued virtually.

For more on the work of PBI-Kenya, please see its website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and Instagram account.