Who’re the kidnappers? Police?

Milen Mezgebo

Milen Mezgebo whose husband Samson Teklemichael was kidnapped by unknown people in Nairobi. 

Photo credit: Diana Ngila | Nation Media Group

An Ethiopian national was kidnapped in November last year allegedly by security forces as another police officer manning the traffic appeared to facilitate the vice.

The man, whom we later learnt is called Samson Teklemichael, was dragged out of his car, a Mercedes Benz, in the middle of a busy Thika Superhighway, in the full glare of the public, and bundled into a white car. It’s thanks to the public who took the video of the incident and posted it that we learnt of it. Despite the uproar and pleas from other citizens, his family, lawyer and friends, Sammy is still missing.

Mohammed Hassan is also reported to have been kidnapped from outside his business premises in Machakos — again allegedly by policemen enforcing the Covid-19 mask-wearing rule — and forced into, yet again, a white car. The picture that is imaging is that most of those targeted are of Muslim appearance.

As the face of the victims is, in no doubt, we still don’t know who exactly the kidnappers are as the government is denying its officers are involved. If security agents are not kidnapping a targeted group of people in Kenya, then who is? This is a question that only the government can and should answer. It is the sole responsibility of the security agents to quickly pursue the kidnappers and save the victims and their families prolonged anguish.

There have been glaring clues left in most of the kidnapping cases. The affected families have pointed the finger at the police and alleged that those who took their loved ones (mostly male relatives) away were people claiming to be police officers. With all the intelligence and police database in its hands, the government should have been able to easily identify the rogue officers involved, if at all.

When children were being kidnapped, police moved very swiftly and hunted down the kidnappers and stamped out child kidnappings. They have done this successfully a few times now. Why has it become so difficult to stop kidnappings of adults if the police are not acquiescent?

The silence from the Interior minister, under whom national security docket falls, is concerning. He has not uttered a word to date to reassure Kenyans or bother to set up special forces as he did in Laikipia while pursuing herders who had invaded private ranches. Action from him should be expected, whether the kidnappers are police officers or civilians.

Kidnappings have become a national emergency. It is no longer a job that is to be left to the police. Asking police to self-regulate on something they are implicated in, is counter-productive.

Fear and anxiety

This is a matter that now needs to be discussed at the highest level in government to stamp it out once and for all. It is causing fear and anxiety in targeted communities, especially within Muslim communities and particularly those of Cushitic, Asian and Arab backgrounds. Most of their men no longer feel safe.

Many of those who were kidnapped were previously accused of being involved in terrorism activities. Executions and disappearances followed such kidnappings. There are many families still waiting the return of their loved ones years later who were allegedly picked up by the police under the guise of anti-terrorism measures.

Only recently, human rights NGOs reported findings of bodies in rivers and that some of the bodies allegedly belonged to victims of kidnappings. Such findings did not rattle or shock the government at all. They are yet to issue a statement to show their dismay at such injustice. Neither have they initiated investigations into how the bodies of terrorism suspects ended up dead in rivers.

Police — and indeed, the government — has one important job to do above all else: To keep citizens safe and secure. If they are implicated in being part and parcel of kidnapping gangs, then we are heading towards a dangerous and disturbing phase.

There have been countless denials from the government on the involvement of the police in kidnappings. However, the law can’t emphasise enough that it is still their duty to investigate and put a face to these shadowy figures out to destroy community cohesion and bring them to book. If police are not the kidnappers, then some other people are — and we deserve to be protected from them.

The omission from the government on the kidnappings issue has suspended due process of the law. Terrorism ‘suspects’ deserve their day in court too than be made to face extortion or summary execution.

Continued silence on the kidnappers of otherwise innocent individuals will not augur well for the image of the police or the country. No investor would be mad enough to throw good money after bad and risk to move to a country that disappears its citizens. The ball is in Dr Fred Matiang’i’s court as minister in charge of security to deal with the kidnappings menace.

It’s a happy New Year for most but not for the families of victims of kidnappings still waiting for their relatives to return home.

Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected]. @kdiguyo