35 police killings documented in Kenya in post-election violence

Residents flee as anti-riot policemen pursue opposition protestors in Mathare, Nairobi, August 12, 2017 (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

Human rights researchers say 23 people have been shot or beaten to death by police in Nairobi in the weeks since Kenya’s tense and controversial August 9 presidential vote, while another 12 died at the hands of police in western Kenya.

Others were killed by tear gas or pepper spray fired at close range, in clashes between gangs along ethnic political lines, or were trampled by fleeing crowds or stoned by mobs, bringing the death toll of post-election violence to 33 people in Nairobi alone. Added to the 12 killings in western Kenya, and five additional killings confirmed by the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission, the national death toll could be as high as 67.

Hundreds of residents have suffered severe injuries including gunshot wounds, debilitating injuries such as broken bones and extensive bruising as a result of the police violence.

In a joint report, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch describe police brutality in informal settlements of Nairobi that erupted after opposition protests in August after the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta was declared winner in the presidential contest.

The report is based on interviews with victims, witnesses, health workers, police officers and family members of people killed. In all cases of death, researchers obtained the name of the deceased, spoke to relatives and witnesses, and in most cases viewed hospital, postmortem or mortuary records, or the corpse to confirm deaths.

Below are descriptions of some of the incidents detailed in this report:

  • Mathare, Nairobi, August 12: Police officers in GSU uniform beat two men to death during house to house operations in pursuit of youths who they alleged had thrown stones at them. One man initially survived the beating and was left by police on the floor bleeding from his ears but he died the next day at Kenyatta National Hospital.
  • Mathare, Nairobi, August 13: a nine-year old school girl, Stephanie Moraa Nyarangi, was shot dead while standing on her balcony. Residents and neighbors told researchers that policemen on the street deliberately shot at the balcony where children were watching the clashes below “Other girls on the balcony ran inside and told us that police were aiming at them. …. Stephanie was standing at the railing. I heard a shot and saw that the bullet had hit her and went through to hit the wall,” a witness told researchers.

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 1.46.24 PM

  • Kawangware No 56, Nairobi: Paul Mungai, a charcoal seller, was shot by police as he was shuttering his shop in the face of violence between police and protesters, according to witnesses. The bullet pierced the tin wall of his shop and hit him in the abdomen, exiting at the other side of his back. Friends rushed him to a local clinic which was initially reluctant to treat shooting victims for fear of police reprisals, family members said. He was eventually transferred to Kenyatta Hospital where he died from internal bleeding two days later.
  • Mathare, Nairobi, August 9: Bernard Okoth Odoyo, 25, a carpenter, and Victor Okoth Obondo aka Agwambo, 24, were among four people shot dead around 9 p.m. as a combined team of security officers fought off demonstrators at Number 10 area, according to relatives and eyewitnesses. An eyewitness said the police at Number 10 area were clearly overwhelmed by protestors and tried to “shoot their way out” of a crowd. “However, both Odoyo and Obondo were shot in the back and died instantly, while trying to flee from security officers, suggesting that force was at least by that point unnecessary,” the report says.
  • Babadogo area, Nairobi, August 11: Around 9 p.m. in the evening, moments before Kenyatta was declared winner, police shot dead one boy and two men: Raphael Ayieko, 17, his close friend and neighbor, Privel Ochieng Ameso, 18, and Shady Omondi Juma, 18, according to witnesses. Witnesses claimed the three were watching other youth looting. Raphael, a student at Usenge Boys High School in Siaya county was visiting his parents in Nairobi for holidays and had gone to carry some groceries to Privel’s house. Privel’s mother said the two boys then went out to observe youth looting nearby kiosks when they were shot by police. An eyewitness described what happened:

“We were together. We saw looting and saw men come in military uniforms, jungle green. I heard one officer shout ‘kill those criminals’ and they shot live bullets. I saw an officer push Raphael, on a wall and then shoot him. Shady was shot in the chest. Privel tried to run away but was shot in the back.”

  • Kibera, Nairobi, August 11: Henry Matete died as a result of beating by police. Matete, who had an unrelated wound that needed daily dressing, was intercepted by GSU police when returning from a clinic in Bombolulu area in the afternoon. When they saw him limping, the officers ordered him to kneel. Witnesses said he raised his hands but the GSU police beat him anyway, on his back, legs and body. The police left him on the road and bystanders carried him home. The next day he died at Muthaiga hospital. The family could not afford a post-mortem and buried him in their ancestral area in Western Kenya on August 26.

Non-lethal beatings

Other incidents involved police beatings that did not result in deaths. According to the Amnesty/HRW joint report, “The excessive force seemed to follow a pattern of police reprisals for violence by protestors.”

  • In Mathare, police went door to door looking for all males. Shouting “wanaume!” (men! In Swahili). A 32-year-old carpenter in Mathare 4A said police beat and broke both his legs at around 9 a.m. on August 12.
  • Police beat another man, Gordon Onyango, an opposition youth leader, on August 12 in Kiandaa on the rail tracks near Kibera Town Centre. Onyango was leading a small protest, holding aloft a stool:

“I was in the front line of the demonstration. I went up to the police to talk to them but they just grabbed me and threw me on the ground and they beat me with… As they were doing it one of them said to me: ‘If we had the time, we’d kill you. You are really disturbing people.’”

Violations by police were concentrated in opposition areas, while ruling party areas such as Kiamaiko and Mlango Kubwa remained calm, according to the rights report. The actual death toll could be higher because not all cases reported to the researchers could be immediately confirmed, sometimes because relatives had gone up-country for burials. Additionally, more deaths have been reported in the days since the rights report was published, including a killing of a student on Monday in the western city of Kisumu, an opposition stronghold, according to Kenyan media reports.

Raila Odinga, leader of the opposition National Super Alliance, wants the police inspector-general and interior secretary held responsible for the deaths. “The murders that have occurred during recent protests, together with those committed immediately after August elections, were clearly premeditated and carefully planned,” Odinga said in a statement. “The government must stop this alliance between thugs and security officers and the unconstitutional and reckless deployment of troops to annihilate Nasa supporters.”

National Police Service spokesman George Kinoti has termed the accusations of police brutality as false. “We wish to refute the claims as totally misleading and based on falsehoods. We are studying the report and will issue a comprehensive report later,” he said in a statement. The two human rights organizations say that they wrote to the Inspector General of police detailing their concerns prior to publication requesting a meeting but received no response.

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch note that there are sometimes legitimate reasons for police to use lethal force. “In some cases, our research suggests that police may have been overwhelmed by violence directed at them and may have used firearms in circumstances that met the criteria for lawful self-defense or defense of others against an imminent threat of death or serious injury. But every instance of such use of firearms by police should be subject to an independent investigation to scrutinize whether it was lawful in terms of domestic and international law and standards,” says the report.

Under Kenyan law, police may use lethal force only when necessary for self-defence or to save a life. Section 4 of the Sixth Schedule of the National Police Service Act of 2011 requires police officers who use lethal force to report to their immediate superior explaining the circumstances that necessitated the use of force. Section 5 of the same act requires officials to report any use of force that leads to death or serious injury to the Independent Policing Oversight Authority for investigation.


The Messenger is dedicated to investigative and expository reporting in East Africa. For updates, sign up for our newsletter here.