Photo: Police officers and commuters at the Likoni Ferry terminal, Kenya, 27 March 2020. Credit: All Rights Reserved - Photo: 2020

Kenyans Under Brute Attack Amidst COVID-19 Curfew

By Saida Ali

Saida Ali is an intersectional feminist and an international policy analyst. She is an Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity. She tweets at @SaidaAaliyah

NAIROBI (IDN) – On March 27, in response to the threat of COVID-19, Kenya instituted a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew. That night, a man was beaten by police and later died of his injuries. A few days later, a boy looking out from the balcony of his home was killed by a police bullet.

These are not isolated cases. Kenyan police are killing the poor. At a time when the forces charged with protecting and serving us should be doing their utmost to help, they continue to pathologise people facing multiple and intersecting inequalities, and a daily struggle to earn a living.

People such as the man attacked by police in Mombasa on March 27, 49-year-old Hamisi Juma Idd, a boda boda (motorbike) rider returning home after the curfew. He was beaten unconscious and died two days later: his postmortem report showed his intestines were perforated by blows from a blunt object. Idd’s ostensible crime was working to put food on his family’s table, and trying to save two lives: he was returning home late after taking a pregnant woman to hospital in Likoni.

The mother-to-be that Idd died helping is one of millions of Kenyan women facing the compounded challenges of health inequity and economic inequality. Just imagine: a heavily pregnant woman on the back of a boda boda, probably at the onset of labour, because it was the only affordable and accessible means of transport.

Many such medical emergencies will go unreported in the weeks to come. A child in the womb cannot respect a curfew, and women still need access to health facilities. Life is already hard for the millions of Kenyan women at risk of sexual violence, and now at risk of unplanned pregnancies because of lack of access to services such as family planning.

For many women, the concept of “sheltering in place” is a myth: around the world, reported cases of domestic violence are rising. On April 1, David K. Maraga, the Chief Justice of Kenya and Chair of the National Council on the Administration of Justice, spoke publicly of “a significant spike in sexual offences in many parts of the country”, with perpetrators who are “close relatives, guardians or persons living with the victims”.  

Thirteen-year-old Yassin Hussein Moyo was the boy who met his death on March 30 as he watched the police enforce the curfew from the balcony of his home in Kiamaiko on the outskirts of Nairobi.

He was shot in the stomach, and pronounced dead on arrival at hospital. Moyo was exactly where the COVID-19 curfew required him to be, but he died because he was not born with the advantages of citizenship and wealth that would have meant his home was on the other side of town. The kind of place where, even in a lockdown, a walk in the garden carries no threat of a police bullet.

Despite outcry from citizens and condemnation by human rights organisations, social media reports show that the first evening of Kenya’s curfew was rife with fear, intimidation and assaults by official forces. A pregnant woman who lost her baby following an attack by police. A mother with an ailing child, beaten senseless as she tried to shield him. A working journalist harassed, shoved and kicked by police, despite journalists being officially identified as essential service providers.

The shocking, violent scenes captured in photographs and on video of crowds of women, men and children piled on top of each other and beaten with police batons at the Likoni Ferry terminal on the first day of the curfew will remain in our minds for a long time.

Those who monitor unlawful police behaviour know that the use of teargas, beatings and intimidation are not new phenomena in our country, and Kenya’s countless unresolved cases of extrajudicial killings suggest many police officers have literally got away with murder. What we are witnessing in the COVID-19 crisis is the continuation of a longstanding pattern of violence and killings targeting those in Kenya’s low-income neighbourhoods, already pushed to the wall by social and economic inequalities.

For the millions of Kenyans who live on incomes earned mainly on a daily basis, including house cleaners, street vendors, boda boda riders and sex workers, harassment, extortion and brutality at the hands of State agents is already at epidemic proportions.

Officially, Kenya’s curfew is aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 by enforcing physical distancing. But as police violence pushes people into more dangerous and frequent exposure to infection, the curfew will be yet another way of criminalising those whose daily work involves long, difficult and unpredictable commutes.

“Social distancing”, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), is nearly impossible for high-density, low-income communities with poor infrastructure, limited access to clean water and sanitation facilities, inadequate health facilities and frequent violence against women and girls in their homes.

Moreover, interpersonal relations and community care are at the heart of how such communities put food on the table. For those who have the privilege of retreating into comfortable and well-resourced isolation, social distancing is an effective option: for the poor, it is impossible.

The coronavirus curfew has been imposed on all Kenyans, but the least advantaged will pay the heaviest price. Not every Kenyan will experience the arbitrary and terrifying brute force of the police during the COVID-19 restrictions: as the nightly curfew kicks in, your socio-economic status will determine where you will be.

There will be no places for the homeless to go to, no toilets for people living in informal settlements, no safe passage for pregnant women going into labour at night, no protection from increased sexual violence, and no additional food or social protection measures.

For millions of Kenyans, like countless people across Africa, coronavirus and the official responses to it will only exacerbate poverty and powerlessness. The fight against a deadly virus will have deadly consequences. [IDN-InDepthNews – 06 April 2020]

Photo: Police officers and commuters at the Likoni Ferry terminal, Kenya, 27 March 2020. Credit: All Rights Reserved

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

Take care. Stay safe in time of Corona.

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