The other day I watched in dismay as a squad of plainclothes police officers purporting to arrest chang'aa drinkers hiding in a quarry near the Chania River in Thika mercilessly battered the poor drunkards, who included women.
In their zeal to capture the ‘dangerous criminals’, the officers chased these poor fellows down the rocky terrain, clobbered them with rungus and sticks, slapped them around, kicked their butts, beat them with their own shoes and even lifted them up and threw them on the ground as if they were practising for a wrestling match. Finally they frog-matched them towards their van reciting a poem about chang'aa being bad and that they would never take it again.
Unfortunately, the rhyme was not a vow they were willingly taking, but one that was forced down their throats at the pain of suffering another ‘dog’s beating’ (kichapo cha mbwa). Finally they were flung onto the police van in the fashion of potato sacks. Ironically, word would later have it that police had known about the den all along and probably went there daily to collect protection money. They could only have carried out the arrests at the order of someone else.
This narrative is not about excusing illicit brews, but rather the uncalled for violence used to arrest the petty offenders. Unabated alcoholic drinking has been the bane of the youth and other idle folks, especially in Central Kenya, and many are eternally grateful to President Uhuru for ordering a crackdown on those who have been poisoning our youth with these demon drinks.
In the last few months, the fruits of this crackdown have been visible and the young and old who previously begged for Sh20 early in the morning to ‘unlock’ themselves are now doing an honest day’s work. A good example is this agemate of mine who was once the lead mechanic at a top-notch garage in Nakuru. Before the crackdown, he had been completely messed up by these drinks and was usually drunk by nine in the morning.
The man, who would have detected any mechanical problem back in the 1990s, could barely change a spark plug and even if he did, you were not sure that the spark plug was the problem that had initially taken you to the garage. Today he is sober, has reverted to his trouble-shooting days and actually has become the busiest mechanic at the jua kali garage where he works.
Turning alcoholics into productive labourers does not, however, excuse the manner in which police go about arresting petty offenders and, even evidently innocent Kenyans. A few weeks ago, a pastor friend of mine was doing some work at a cyber café when two plainclothes police officers came and manhandled and slapped the attendant before arresting her for some undisclosed offence. As a responsible citizen and a ‘man of God’, he queried this violence on a helpless woman and even followed the officers to the station to express his displeasure. Instead of listening to him, the officers at the station ordered his arrest and locked him up. It took several hours and the intervention of friends for him to be released on police bail.
We have in the recent past witnessed public violence against the police in various parts of this country, violence that should be condemned in no uncertain terms, but on reflection, this could be as a result of the brutality police mete out to the ordinary Kenyans when making arrests. Understandably, police are allowed to use ‘reasonable force’ while making arrests, but no right-thinking member of this society will tell you that police used reasonable force while arresting the chang'aa drinking offenders at the Thika quarry. That was brute force.
We have a constitution that guarantees the rights of all Kenyans, police and the lowly chang'aa drinkers included. There is need to arrest and arraign people who are manufacturing, selling and drinking these illegal and sometimes deadly alcoholic drinks that are turning our people into ‘cabbages’. But this should be done with dignity and respect for human dignity.
Whether arresting a ‘mdosi’ for driving his Mercedes Benz limousine under the influence, a renowned televangelist for running over a lesser mortal or a humble mechanic for taking an illicit brew, this must be done with restraint. The constitution guarantees the personal rights of a governor as well as those of a village truant and police, whose work is to maintain law and order and protect lives and property. Police must treat all with respect.