About one in eight of the 101 people killed by police in Nairobi County in the past nine months happened in Dandora, according to Nation Newsplex Deadly Force database, in a period when 180 people were killed by law enforcement officers nationally.
Deadly Force is the most comprehensive database on death from police encounters collected and collated from media stories that quote police crime reports, Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) reports, and reference records from human rights organisations.
Some 13 people had been killed by police in Dandora estate in Nairobi as at September 30 this year.
When I had gone to see his body in the mortuary, the mortuary attendant said that it was too late and I would only be allowed to enter if they paid Sh500.
The cases recorded in Dandora have translated into never-ending painful episodes that have defined the lives of many people in a dozen families.
However, a casual stroll around Dandora perfectly conceals this troubled underbelly, instead presenting one with the usual hustle and buzzle that characterise any working-class city residential area.
It is only at the Dandora Community Justice Centre where these controversial police killings, which families and residents can only talk about in hushed tones, are documented and openly discussed.
A visit by the Newsplex team coincides with a fresh report that a young man has just been picked up by the police. The urgency and seriousness with which the volunteer staff treat the case shows that they are too familiar with the script and are almost certain of how it will all end up.
As we talk with the families of some of the victims, we realise that this dramatic script is a common thread in many of the accounts.
“A matatu conductor who was with him last before his death received a phone call that he had been shot. His brother, on the other hand, had been told that he was arrested and so I urged him to rush and see what had happened to him since he was supposed to be going to work,” says the mother of 25-year-old Makasi (name changed to protect family from police reprisal), a matatu driver, who was gunned down in May this year, for allegedly attempting to steal a car together with two other men.
When Makasi was shot and killed by the police in May this year, his baby boy was barely a year old. His mother has had to let his widow return to her parents. “Now she does informal jobs here and there, so when things get hard, my sisters help her with money,” says the mother in law. The widow was too overcome with grief to speak during the interview.
His mother had gone through the worst since her son’s death. “When I had gone to see his body in the mortuary, the mortuary attendant said that it was too late and I would only be allowed to enter if they paid Sh500. I had Sh1,000 in my pocket so I gave her Sh500” she says.
Against this narrative of unarmed civilians dying in the hands of the police is a police record alleging that about four in five of the suspects gunned down in Nairobi were armed, and therefore posed threats to the police.
While the police and families of the victims have stuck to these two conflicting accounts, a 2014 audit by the Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) revealed that in six police killings, one case has police shooting their victims from behind, suggesting that they were fleeing and therefore harmless.
Deadly Force captures killings by police, wrongful or justified. According to the National Police Service Act, an officer can use their firearm under such special circumstances as saving or protecting their life, protecting a life and property through justifiable use of force, and preventing a person charged with felony from escaping lawful custody or being assisted to do so.
As the standoff between the police and families of the bereaved persists, even more accusations pile up at the doorstep of the police. Speaking recently at the Dandora Community Justice Centre during the marking the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, Mr Gacheke Gachini, coordinator at the Mathare Social Justice Centre, cited the police as potentially being a reliable source of firearms. “Where are these guns coming from? This could point to some collaboration between some members of the police force and criminals,” he said.
At the same event, Dandora Officer Commanding Police Station, Samin Athumani pledged to work with the community to address security issues in the area, but also cautioned that police would never shy away from dealing with criminals breaking the law.
The number of police killings in Nairobi declined by a fifth from 128 in 2017 to 101 this year as at the end of September. This was the first slump in the past four years.
If one of the reasons for the ongoing police reforms is to make the police accountable in their line of work, including the use of firearms, then failure to prove that these killings were justifiable only points to slow progress in the reforms.
“We are dealing with a police force that for the longest time has not been under any form of oversight. This has led to some resistance and non-cooperation from some factions,” says Dennis Oketch, head of communications at the Independent Policing Oversight Authority.
Access to justice
The families’ aguish transcends the loss of loved ones, as thereafter follows a journey few are willing to travel.
Whether their families consider them innocent or guilty of the crimes for which they were executed, the pain and suffering their death has visited upon those left behind has been profound, and many say the police should have not taken the law into their own hands.
“Even if someone is a thief, why would they kill young people when there are prisons? Why can’t they arrest them? I have no other son, and not expecting to give birth to another,” says a mother to a 21-year-old youth who was gunned down by the police in May, 2016 inside a church compound in Dandora, with his hands up in surrender.
All the families of the victims interviewed by Newsplex in Dandora said they are reluctant to seek justice, largely for lack of trust in the judicial system and fear of reprisals from the officers they accuse.
Generally, such has been the predicament faced by families of victims of police killings in Nairobi. In April this year, some Githurai estate residents took to the streets protesting the sentencing of police officer Titus Musila, alias Katitu, who was found guilty of shooting dead a man at close range three times during an operation in Githurai 45 in 2013.
Second to Dandora in the number of killings in Nairobi County was Umoja (nine killings), Buruburu and Kariobangi (eight killings each), and Kayole and Kitisuru with seven killings each.