Murders, muggings and theft: Where are police as Kenyans suffer?

Globe roundabout in Nairobi

Globe roundabout in Nairobi. City dwellers say it is one of the most dangerous places to be. (Inset) Keagan Githua, 24, was stabbed in the chest in Ridgeways on October 30

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Kenyans are a tense lot as they walk on the streets, especially in Nairobi and other urban areas, when blatant cases of mugging, theft and robbery are almost the order of the day.

It does not matter what time it is or how safe or unsafe a place is typically considered. The criminals often carry clubs, knives and guns.

Phones, tablets, laptops and cash are the most desired items on the list of the armed criminals whose aggression and violent modus operandi point to a growing state of lawlessness.

“Muggings, cattle rustling or other forms of insecurity must stop,” the President said, adding that the National Police Service is independent and properly resourced to execute its mandate.

But this is of little consolation to victims of the criminals. Keagan Githua, 24, was stabbed in the chest in Ridgeways on October 30. The assailants, who were on a motorbike, targeted Githua’s mobile phone and other items. The young man died minutes later.

A week later, a social media post by a user identified as Lilian Munyua – who claimed to be working at Kenyatta National Hospital – captured the chilling situation. She said the country’s biggest hospital dealt with four to seven stabbing cases daily, most being victims of muggings in Nairobi.

“I have helplessly watched young and old men and women breath their last while trying to save them. Some are in the ICU while others have survived but with lifelong injuries,” she said.

On the same Sunday that Githua was killed, Ms Jacqueline Jeruto, an advocate, watched helplessly as her mobile phone was snatched as she was driving on Chiromo Road. The car’s window had been lowered.

“I did not record a statement with police for that would be an exercise in futility. I just called Safaricom to block my line. The thief vanished in the bush,” she said.

“Reporting such an incident to police is emotionally draining.”

The following morning, another advocate showed up at a court in Nairobi with a bruised face. He had been attacked on Ngong Road.

Around 1pm on November 9, a Strathmore University student was confronted by two men on a motorbike near Madaraka Primary School. Witnesses say he was held at gunpoint. The criminals took his phone and laptop.

The incident quickly appeared on social media. A comment below the post threw some light on the reason for the escalating insecurity.

The social media user said police officers countrywide were on a go-slow.

Some users blamed the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa) and the Internal Affairs Unit (IAU) of police for the sad state of affairs.

Ipoa is civilian-led while IAU is chaired by the police. The two agencies handle indiscipline in the service. They often make recommendations on the action to be taken against errant police officers.

Since its inception a decade ago, Ipoa has conducted investigations into the conduct of officers, especially in situations of civilian deaths and injuries arising from the use of firearms.

Some police officers – mostly based in Nairobi – who spoke to the Sunday Nation, said there is low morale in the force as they fear being victimised while performing their duties.

There has been talk of a go-slow but none of those we spoke to confirmed this. However, their description of the situation appeared to point to discontent.

The officers said they have nobody to turn to or listen to their side of the story, not even the National Police Service Commission (NPSC).

“Investigations by Ipoa are one-sided. It is only interested in fixing police officers. Criminals have an upper hand. Police officers lose lives in the line of duty but their families are left to their own devices,” an officer based in Nairobi said.

He added that recent statements by senior politicians and government officials against the police have also contributed to the disquiet.

A police officer based in Ongata Rongai said it is better to sit at the station and wait for complaints from citizens instead of responding to calls, especially in situations of armed criminals.

He added that chances of police being accused of using excessive force in such a case are high.

Screenshots shared with the Sunday Nation from a WhatsApp group with tens of officers across the country gave insights to why innocent Kenyans have borne the brunt of criminals.

Group members say the welfare of police officers has been relegated to the dustbin.

They decry the changes in their medical insurance cover. The government recently ordered that police officers seek treatment at public hospitals and not private as was the case before.

Many say the National Health Insurance Fund does not work for them.

The officers add that remarks by national leaders regarding their welfare are demeaning. Such include the suggestion that police officers have body cameras with the purpose of monitoring their actions and enhancing accountability.

“Everyone has been sent to target police,” one officer said in a text.

Another added: “Will they (leaders) also have cameras in their offices?”

The conversation then continues on a sarcastic note, with some suggesting that the officers walk naked.

“There are malicious intentions of an anti-police agenda. No matter what we do, there seems to be no justifiable situation to protect ourselves!” another commented before a user suggested that it is better to retrain and sensitise officers on human rights instead of constantly threatening them with dismissal or imprisonment.

The comments were made after an incident in Kakamega on Wednesday when police went to rescue a student from a mob.

The angry locals turned on the officers, pelting them with stones.

In the confusion that followed, a civilian was shot dead and another left with serious injuries. Ipoa has already launched investigations into the incident.

“How could the police not use firearms in a hostile environment? Ipoa says it was a peaceful demonstration yet our colleagues would have died,” an officer based in Kakamega wrote in the group.

Another spoke to the Sunday Nation but insisted on remaining anonymous.

“With all these problems, with everyone – including the government against you – would you be motivated to work? We will simply sit back,” he said, adding that he has no problem documenting crimes in the OB.

Ipoa chairperson, Ann Makori, denied claims that the authority has been victimising police officers.

She said Ipoa is executing its mandate as outlined in the Constitution. Ms Makori said Ipoa would use all resources and energy at its disposal to oversee police officers and ensure they do their work as provided for by law.

“It is strange to note that they have realised Ipoa is a demoralising agent 10 years after its formation. Our mandate is an obligation to the people of Kenya,” she said.

“Whenever there is a reason to believe excessive force was used, resulting in deaths or injuries, we will carry out investigations. If an officer is innocent, we exonerate him or her.”

Ipoa was among the institutions created as part of police reforms. Human rights groups and activists have lauded its role in ensuring accountability in the National Police Service.

According to reports, the most dangerous areas in Nairobi are Drive-In flyover up to the KCA University underpass and Total energy station exit, Globe roundabout and Kipande Road, ABC Place and Kangemi on Waiyaki Way, Kenya National Archives, River Road, Fig Tree area, the area near Kenya Broadcasting Corporation offices and Naivas Allsops on Outer Ring Road.

Nairobi Police Commander, James Mugera, dismissed reports of rising insecurity, saying it has in fact declined.

“We hold regional security briefings. Despite what everyone is saying, some 243 cases have been reported in the last three months, compared to 255 from June to August. There is no rise in crime. People have to analyse issues deeply,” he said.

The officially recorded incidents Mr Mugera referred to include six homicides, assault (39), robbery (nine), break-ins and burglary (five), theft (32), motor vehicle theft (one), criminal/malicious damage (10) and nine penal code offences.

Though these cases may have been reported to police, many victims hardly record statements.

Mr Mugera added that some of the content, especially videos shared on social media, is misleading. He said some incidents may not even have happened in Kenya while others might have been recorded many years ago.

Yesterday, senior police officers and boda boda riders in Nairobi met to find ways to weed out criminals in the sector.