Police or coronavirus: What will kill more Kenyans?

Police officers whip a boda boda operator along the Kisii- Kilgoris road on March 29, 2020.

On April 1, President Uhuru Kenyatta was prompted to apologise to Kenyans following violence meted out by police enforcing the 7pm- 5 am curfew aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

"I want to apologise to all Kenyans for ... some excesses that were conducted. But I want to assure you that if we work together, if we all understand that this problem needs all of us, and if we pull in the same direction, we will overcome," said President Uhuru.

Since the curfew began on Friday 27, Kenyans have been on the receiving end of police brutality, with the cops killing three people, the same death toll as the coronavirus. This could sabotage government’s ability to win popular support and cooperation as it tries to curb the spread of the virus.

Four days after Kenya recorded its first coronavirus death on March 26, a 13-year-old boy died after being shot by police enforcing the curfew. The March 30 shooting in Kiamaiko, Nairobi happened while the boy stood on his balcony.  Hussein Moyo, the victim’s father told AFP that the bullet "ripped through his intestines".

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"This operation was planned in the wrong way. The police arrive yelling and when people see that they run scared. They beat and rob people, they also throw tear gas into our houses. During the day we are fighting coronavirus, and yet we have to deal with bullets during the night,” he said.

As Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji directed Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai to launch a probe into the incident, Nairobi Regional Police Commander Philip Ndolo said it was an ‘accident.’ According to Ndolo, the teen was “accidentally hit by a ricochet as police were trying to disperse a gang who had defied the curfew directive.”

In Mombasa, a former General Service Unit officer turned bodaboda rider is said to have succumbed to injuries sustained from a beating police enforcing the curfew.  Hamisi Juma Mbega, 49, died at Msambweni Hospital.

In Kosele trading centre, Rachuonyo South Sub-county, another boda boda rider died at Rachuonyo South Sub-County Hospital in Oyugis town after being assaulted by police officers at about 8pm on Friday.

Police in Nakuru whip residents found outside during the curfew.

Danger to Kenyans, self

While the role played by police cannot be understated, the very same force meant to safeguard Kenyans could expose them to COVID-19 should they continue operating in the same way. Police were accused of breaching social distancing directives by huddling people together during the exercise.  Two police officers who spoke to Human Rights Watch said they were dispatched to enforce the curfew grouped together in vehicles without protective gear.

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Here are some reactions to the use of excessive force by police:

“Stop supporting police brutality for whatever reason and don’t call Kenyans ignorant or ‘hard-headed’ for not meeting the curfew. You don’t know why they are late or whether they even have a home to stay at. These Kenyans will come for your food if they can’t go to work. They will risk it all to feed their families even if it means coming for you, and just in case you are not aware, they are the majority,” Standard Group Socal media editor Julian Kamau wrote.

With deaths from coronavirus and police brutality currently tied, the police’s actions in coming days will determine whether the president's apology was sincere.