Written by 09:27 World

Kenya Police Force Has a Bloody Past With Protesters

Excessive force. Extrajudicial killings. A long history of brutality and impunity.

That’s the reputation of Kenyan policing, which is under scrutiny again after at least five people were reported to have died of gunshot wounds when officers confronted protesters in the capital, Nairobi, on Tuesday.

It was the very day a contingent of Kenyan police officers arrived in Haiti to lead a mission to restore order in the gang-ravaged Caribbean nation, a deployment that activists and human rights groups, citing the police’s history of abuse and unlawful killings, have roundly denounced.

The Kenyan police force is an extension of a colonial-era creation that the British used to control the population and stamp out dissent. During the 1950s, as Kenyans began to assert their right to rule themselves, the police and other British-run security services rounded up tens of thousands of Kenyans and hanged more than a thousand. It was an especially disturbing chapter of British rule, detailed in a prizewinning book, “Imperial Reckoning.”

Kenya’s independence in 1963 didn’t dramatically change policing. The police, and especially the paramilitary wing called the General Services Unit and another group known as the Flying Squad, became dreaded characters, known for quick trigger fingers and wide impunity.

In the summer of 1990, Kenyans held one of their first major pro-democracy protests. Thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets of Nairobi, calling for an end to the dictatorship that then ruled the country. The police responded by shooting dozens of them.

During an election crisis in 2007 and early 2008, police officers killed dozens of protesters. There were even instances of officers seen on television fatally shooting unarmed demonstrators.


Last modified: 26 June 2024