He fell right in front of me. I was standing next to him, trying to talk to the woman in uniform, but she would not listen. She said that the paper we had presented to her meant nothing because she had just spoken to her boss, and her boss did what men like him do when the moment requires him to stand up for what is right; he did not. So she made to leave, but Boniface told her not to leave us here with these men. Because the moment she left, they would attack. I turned to the officer standing next to me and asked him why they were here with clubs and guns. I asked him what we had done. We were not throwing any stones. We were not disrupting anyone’s business. We did not even stop traffic. We marched. And chanted. The man said nothing. He asked me to move or he would make me move. But before he could make good on his threat, that familiar sound went off. It explodes, if you know it well, in a way that reminds you that these chaps in uniform are not here to sing Christmas Carols. That sound is designed to instill fear, and it does a stellar job at it.
It is funny how when that sound comes out, it grounds you for a moment. You do not take off immediately. No. There is a brief moment in which you remain rooted – usually nothing more than a second – when you consider yourself. Your mind does this quick systems check to see if there is an unexpected visitor in your body. And then when it determines you are good, it tells you to make use of those limbs. To prove that you love your life. To run.
Many ran. Me too. But not before I looked at the direction the blast came from. That is when I saw him fall. He fell on his back. And is that fire on his T-shirt? They had shot him. But by now the stinging white smoke had covered him up. I wanted to go pick him up. Lakini those men in green uniform were charging at us, wielding death in their hands. And their hearts.
Shamefully, I ran away. I did not exactly run, rather I half-walked, half-ran. I was utterly undecided. On one hand I was leaving a man behind – probably dead – while on the other, I did not want to share the same fate as him. The instinct of self preservation makes a pretty convincing argument. I looked to my left as we tried to get away from the police and there was Zukiswa Wanner offering me water to wash away the teargas stinging my eyes. I do not remember accepting that water. I remember looking back to see how far those men were. They were still coming at us, wooden deaths in hand.
Wameshoot Boni, one of the women who was with us said.
A police officer had shot Boniface in the chest, point blank, at close range. The irony here is that he was leading us in a march against police brutality, because according to Amnesty International, there have been 67 recorded cases of people who have been killed by the police ever since the August 8 elections took place.
— Robert Nagila (@Rnagila) October 19, 2017
Same script. There is a lot of shit going on in the country – from the doctor’s strike to corruption scandals everywhere – and we are not happy. We get a permit to march peacefully. We do. Then even before we have even begun, a cop car speeds past us and a man in uniform steps out. He declares the march illegal. We refuse. We show him our permit. He refuses. We refuse to be taken for granted. He gets into his car and just as his door is slammed shut, that horrendous sound echoes. Something explodes next to me, and shrapnel hits me on the chest. That shit is fucking painful, but have you ever been too angry to feel pain?
The tarmac beneath our feet exhales white smoke. It is almost like a magic trick. You know, the kind that puffs just before something disappears or appears? Only that there is nothing magical that happens around us. Girls shriek. Others wail. The rest of the people who were merely onlookers who could not give a toss about what you were protesting about, laugh, pointing at you. One of them says, Si mlikua mnajiona sana, haiya kuleni hiyo.
The smoke crawls up into my eyes and sets them on fire. I blink repeatedly and rub my eyes, trying to quell it. But that seems to only make it worse. That smoke enters my nose to free mucus from bondage. I cannot breathe. I open my mouth, trying to gasp for air and that sneaky bastard of a smoke rushes in immediately and by all the gods of Karuoth Clan, I can swear I’ve swallowed an invisible ball of burning sulphur.
When I open my eyes, it is pandemonium. Everyone is running everywhere in full fright. More bangs are coming from ahead. Policemen are right behind them, and I would be a fool to imagine that they just want to talk. It is Jamhuri Day, after all. 50 something years since Kenya became a republic. Well over half a decade after colonization. And even though Kenyans are no longer in chains, we sure aren’t free.
Here is a bit of truth. There is no meaningful and significant change that has ever come about without resistance. Many times change is not simply handed over to you, so it will not be given simply because you asked nicely. It did not happen like that when Harry Thuku was fighting for rights of Kenyan workers to unionize. It did not happen like that during the struggle for independence. It did not work like that during the clamour for multiparty democracy. Apartheid did not end because Mandela had coffee with the Dutch. The white man did not hand over Civil Rights Liberties to the black folk in America over a session of high tea. It is because of this truth that the drafters of our constitution saw it fit to include it into our supreme law:
Every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket, and to present petitions to public authorities. – Article 37, Constitution of Kenya 2010
The constitution does not leave anything to chance. It foreshadows the possibility of a people’s collective stupidity to put in power a maniac like the ones we have had before, and as such gives the people the permission to demand for better.
Here is another sour truth. When a gang of people attack a person and take something from him by use of force, that is a capital offence called Robbery with Violence that is only punishable by Death. Meaning when a ring of goons at a protest loot and destroy business property, then they have forfeited their right to live. However, the police are not the ones to decide this. That is what the judicial system is for. Even the vilest person has the right to a fair hearing. The right to the process that deems him innocent until proven guilty. So yeah, if you want to kill demonstrators, you do not shoot them dead on the streets, you arrest them, present them to court and let the magistrate decide whether his head will snap or not.
This the right thing to do. The right thing, however, is not a popular thing to do. It is too tedious. The government has a muscle to flex, so it prefers instant coffee. They give shoot to kill orders. In other words, mob justice. The state becomes the very same criminal it is trying to kill. So I wonder, who will kill the government for its crimes? Who will offer it the same courtesy? Who will hunt it down like a dog and shoot it point blank in the face? Now that that is the justice we are meting out. And who will kill the murderer of the government?
Afrocinema continues shortly.
[It would be so hypocritical to sentence someone who resorts to violence as a way to get his oppressor’s attention, though. Because that is what the oppressors of today did to the oppressors before them. The people who cause the worst kind of pain are those who have felt the worst kind of pain.]
The reason Boniface Mwangi was shot in the chest yesterday is because of what I asked of him. On Tuesday morning, I woke up to the news that yet another Luo had been killed by the police for doing nothing. He was a Form 3 student of Vihiga Boys High School who had been sent home from school because of pending school fees. He went out to buy icecream from a shop and that is how a policeman put a piece of lead into his head. He was not the first one of my kind to be murdered just for kicks. So I called Boni and poured my heart out to him like it was a drink. I told him I wanted to march, and would he help me?
People say that the reason police shoot and kill demonstrators, is because these protestors loot and destroy property. That is simply not true. There were violent protestors in Kikuyu after the Maraga decision but nobody was shot there. There were violent demonstrators in Meru the other day where Raila was supposed to attend a rally, but nobody was beaten within an inch of heaven. Demos have never been the problem. Demos against this government are the problem. Our government does not like being challenged. Like a spoilt child it believes that it can do no wrong. Like a brat, it does not want to be told.
When we marched last year during the #TakeBackKenya protest, we did nothing more than throw our fists in the air, hold up placards and sing songs until our throats hurt. Yet we were teargassed. Yet we were beaten. Yet a police officer wearing badge number 38795 said to a colleague of his, in the presence of my friend Gufy, Leo nataka kuangusha vijana wawili pekee. People forget quickly, but even during the doctors’ strike, police ambushed them at a country club during a meeting, surrounded them and asked them to disperse from their meeting or else…. Yesterday, the same thing. It is a miracle that Boni did not die because if that canister had hit him just a little harder, or at a more vulnerable spot, he would have remained on the ground like many others have.
I am George Williams Magunga Oduor to the government; simply G to my family and girlfriend; Goon to my former campus mates; and Tond Meli or Mand kwach to my mother. I am as Luo as they come. I am as Luo as you would imagine a Luo would be. I am a 5”11’ goon with skin the colour of midnight. I walk and speak as if I was created using imported soil. I have a nose that takes up too much real estate on my face and the only two things I am scared shitless of are Death and my mother. And if you have ever crossed Mother Karua, then you would know that those two are the same things. I claim my place in the larger Karuoth Clan. I am a descendant of Nyang’or of ancient Komenya – a fearless warrior and cattle rustler who, on his deathbed, requested to be buried in his war clothes so that he could go and fight smallpox (that had nearly done in his entire family) in the after life. The day he transcended into spiritdom is the day smallpox tucked its tail and ran, never to harm a JaKaruoth ever again. I was named after a fearless man who escaped colonial captivity because he did not believe in fighting another white man’s war. But I am also the grandson of a man who fought in this war, killed enough men to survive and come back home. The words Wuod Meja are emboldened on my chest in permanent ink. They do not make men like Oduor Meja anymore. I am the bone of Mother Karua’s womb – a woman from Alego Kalkada whose brand of tenderness is an acquired taste.
I am Luo through and through.
Yet today, because of politics, being a Luo is slowly becoming a capital offence. We are being killed and this murder is being justified by saying that we are looting and destroying other people’s property. In essence, we have all been branded as thugs deserving nothing less that the courtesy of metal tearing into our flesh.
One day even death will die.
KILL THOSE CRIMINALS
[a report by Amnesty International]
“On Saturday August 12, in Mathare, police officers in GSU uniform beat two men to death during these house to house operations…eight police officers stormed into the house of Silas Owiti Lebo, kicking the door open, and beating him and his friend with batons and gun butts.”
“In Mathare on August 13, a nine-year old school girl, Stephanie Moraa Nyarangi, was shot dead while standing on her balcony.”
“Around 9 p.m. on the evening of August 11 in Babadogo area, moments before Kenyatta was declared winner, police shot dead one boy and two men: Raphael Ayieko, 17, his close friend and neighbor, Privel Ochieng Ameso, 18, and Shady Omondi Juma, 18, according to witnesses. An eyewitness described what happened: We were together. We saw looting and saw men come in military uniforms, jungle green. I heard one officer shout ‘kill those criminals’ and they shot live bullets. I saw an officer push Raphael, on a wall and then shoot him. Shady was shot in the chest. Privel tried to run away but was shot in the back.”
“…as the game with police and protestors continued, police shot dead Thomas Odhiambo Okul, age 26, in the back, right outside the gate to his house in an alleyway. A relative told researchers how Thomas had stepped out of his home to see what was happening. A short while later, he came running home again and was shot and killed. Police also shot Kevin Otieno, age 23, in the stomach, in same neighborhood, about one hundred meters away. Residents said he was trying to get home and avoid the shooting.”
“Sammy Amira Loka, who sold tea, was hit by a tear gas canister in the chest as he tried to escape the fighting. Bystanders said he was not beaten but he began coughing blood and vomiting and was taken to Kenyatta Hospital where relatives said he died on August 16.”
“Vitalis Otieno, a 35-year-old man suffering from tuberculosis, died of shock…a relative told researchers that on August 11, neighborhood youth had come banging on doors calling men to come to defend the neighborhood against Mungiki. Vitalis looked out of the gate and saw police shooting his friend Thomas in the back. He did not leave the house, but spent the rest of the day and night panicking, struggling to breathe, believing he would be trapped and unable to flee if the Mungiki or the police came house to house. He passed away around 4am on Saturday morning.”
They are committing the greatest indignity human beings can inflict on one another: telling people who have suffered excruciating pain and loss that their pain and loss were illusions. – Night, by Ellie Wiesel
Michael Okoth, an 18-year-old student at Vihiga Boys High School was shot as he stepped out from their house to buy ice cream.
The 6-month-old baby hospitalised in Kisumu after she was hit by anti-riot police officers has died. Samantha Pendo succumbed to her injuries while undergoing treatment at the Aga Khan hospital ICU.
Doctors removed a bullet lodged in shoulder of two-and-half-year-old baby who was shot during anti-IEBC demos in Kisumu on Monday. The operation took four hours. Santel was shot were playing with other children in their compound in Nyamasaria.
At least 20 nursery school pupils of Mount Carmel Academy in Nyalenda Kisumu have been rushed to Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Referal Hospital after they were teargased and sprayed with water from police canons.
LUO LIVES MATTERWhen we say Luo Lives Matter, we do not mean that they are the only lives that matter. What we are saying is that we are being targeted and killed. We are not saying that you should stand with us because one day the tides will change and your tribe will be the one with a target on its back. No. We do not wish upon you what is happening to us. Stand with us simply because we are people just like you. All lives will matter when the lives of the oppressed start to matter. Luo Lives Matter does not mean that it is only Luos who have died from police brutality, it simply means that we are the ones being hunted. We are the ones whose deaths are often intended. Luo Lives Matter is not a plea for life. We are not begging for existence. It is the revolutionary concept that we are also human beings. We are begging for your voice.
“Kenya’s official languages: English, Kiswahili and Silence. But there was also memory” – Dust, by Yvonne Awuor.
Yesterday after we had had our fill of teargas and police brutality, I found myself walking with a photographer friend of mine hapo karibu na Supreme Court. An old man sitting on the bench stopped us to ask, Nyinyi mlikuwa kwa hii maandamno? From his accent I could immediately place that he is from Central Kenya.
Mbona watu wanaandamana?
Walikuwa wanaambia polisi waache kuua watu.
Noooo. Hapana. Ni hawa watu wa maandamano ndio wanauana wenyewe.
Hapana. It is the police.
Wewe kijana ukifikiria vizuri unadhani polisi anaweza kupiga mtoto wa miaka mbili risasi?
I walked away. Here is a man who is convinced that protestors are killing themselves and blaming it all on the police. He could not fathom that the Kenya Police can be capable of such brutality. He places them on such a high moral pedestal on which they can do no wrong. As we walked away, I envied that man. I was jealous of how unbothered he was. Not scared that he might be killed at any point merely because of the tribe in which the lottery of birth put him in.
It must be really nice to enjoy such peace of mind.
It must be so wonderful to be so privileged.