EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS

Mathare 'birthing for bullets' of killer cops

Young men in the slum are widely regarded as thugs, and killing them is considered an effective strategy to reduce crime

In Summary

• At least 50 young men in Mathare and 803 nationally have been killed extrajudicially between 2013 and 2016. 

• Sgt Rashid Mohammed of Pangani police station has featured prominently in cases of police killings in Mathare.

Protesters march in Mathare on June 8, 2020 to call for an end to police brutality.
Protesters march in Mathare on June 8, 2020 to call for an end to police brutality.
Image: MERCY MUMO

It is 3pm in Mathare, a sprawling informal settlement at the heart of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.

Terry Musyoka, 16, and his four friends are seated next to a heap of garbage next to his iron-roofed and walled shanty, measuring 10 sq. m, the size of a standard pig shed.

They are relaxing at their ‘base’ after a busy day. Musyoka is a water vendor. He transports water on a cart from the other side of the slum for families in his Kibigori area at a fee. On a good day, he makes up to Sh500, selling a 20-litre jerrican at Sh25.

He fared well enough in his primary school exams, scoring 340 marks out of 500. Had he proceeded to secondary school, the tall, dark and dreadlocked teenager could be sitting for O-level exams next year after Covid-19 pandemic interrupted the school calendar.

His only known parent, mother, died the same year he sat his KCPE exam.

Although Musyoki has the burden of taking care of his three younger siblings amid tough living conditions, he thanks God for the gift of life and for protecting him against police bullets.

“It is a crime to be a young man in Mathare. It is even worse being found in a group. Police have killed six of my friends in the last three years,” Musyoka says, scanning around for any other unfamiliar face in fear.

His friend, who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of courting ‘enmity’ with authorities, chipped in, saying there are only two things most feared in Mathare: police and fire.

There is an average of two cases of police killings in the slum per week, according to the Mathare Social Justice Centre. MSJC is a community-based organisation formed in 2015 to champion participatory reforms on justice and speak against extrajudicial killings. 

MSJC coordinator Gacheke Gachihi says the killing of young men mostly in slums has been normalised, with police officers and ignorant members of public even justifying crude death.

“Why would an officer pump bullets in a 15-year-old on his knees, pleading to be spared? Some of these executions happen in broad daylight, witnessed by friends and relatives. The kind of trauma is unfathomable,” Gachihi said.

'ANTI-CRIME' STRATEGY

A journal published late last year by Naomi Van Stapele, a researcher and human rights defender, explores the ways in which local divisions contribute to “permissive spaces” for police killings in Mathare and other urban informal settlements.

The journal is titled, ‘Police killings and the vicissitudes of borders and bounding orders in Mathare, Nairobi.’ The author has worked with youth groups in Mathare for almost two decades.

Stapele says following the criminalisation of residents of urban settlement, young men specifically are widely taken as “thugs” in dominant discourse. Killing them is generally considered an effective strategy to reduce crime in the city. 

In 2017, the MSJC released a participatory action report on extrajudicial killings in Kenya. Titled “Who is Next?” it chronicled the killing of at least 50 young men in Mathare and 803 nationally between 2013 and 2016. 

The number has been surging by the day, thanks to the laxity of relevant authorities and generic lip-service statements by a police oversight agency.

Dorcas* (not her real name), a mother of four who lost her only boy to police bullets in 2018, is crying for parents with teenage boys in the area.

“It hurts to raise a child amid hunger and other socioeconomic challenges, only for them to be killed by the police for allegedly being found with one roll of bhang,” she says, wiping tears in her reddened eyes.

“What happened to our justice system?”

Parents in urban informal settlements, she says, know not the joy of siring a boy. She remembers with nostalgia how she cheerfully broadcast the news of birthing a baby boy to members of her extended family.

“I was on cloud nine. He restored my bartered dignity. Little did I know I was birthing for the police bullet. It hurts,” she says, before burying her face in her palms in tears.

She is now part of the Mothers of Victims and Survivors Network, a member group of mothers across the city’s low-income settlements, who have joined forces to seek justice for the killing or brutal victimisation of members of their families by the police.

It hurts to raise a child amid hunger and other socioeconomic challenges, only for them to be killed by the police for allegedly being found with one roll of bhang
Dorcas*, mother of four

THE RASHID FACTOR

The name Sgt Rashid Mohammed of Pangani police station has featured prominently in cases of police killings in Mathare.

His name is mentioned in hush tones in the sprawling slum, with those brave enough like Gacheke Gachihi referring to him as “the killer cop”.

According to the MSJC, Rashid has been directly linked to 23 extrajudicial killings in Mathare and Eastleigh areas in three years, and he seems not about to stop anytime soon, despite several complaints lodged against him.

In 2017, Rashid was caught on camera shooting at two unarmed men in Eastleigh. The video, which went viral on social media, showed a plainclothes police officer shooting at the two as a shocked crowd watched on.

Human rights activists say the condemned officer perpetuates killings and forced disappearances unchecked, an indication that he is protected by high authorities.

A police officer told the Star Rashid, the undocumented leader of the ‘Pangani Six’, is well connected.

“The guy is moneyed. A group of Somali businessmen from the Ogaden subtribe contributes a ‘protection’ fee that has seen Rashid survive perennial reshuffles. He is untouchable and feared even by his seniors,” the officer said.

The police source denied recent rumours of Rashid being transferred to a police station in Northeastern, saying he is still stationed at Pangani.

The officer's claims corroborate another those by Ali Mohamed, a businessman in Nairobi forced to flee the country after being tortured by Rashid for speaking against his alleged extortionist tendencies in Eastleigh and Pangani.

Ali, who now lives in the US, says Rashid is being financed by Ogaden-allied businessmen in Nairobi to offer them cover to conduct illicit trade, human transfers and illicit financial flows.

Ali said while operating businesses in Kenya, he pretended to be from the Ogaden clan to benefit from the cover offered by Rashid. He claimed businesses voluntarily offer their money to Rashid.

“He disguises as a crime-buster, killing young people in the neighbouring Mathare slums to conceal his actual activities in Eastleigh,” Ali, who is well known to the condemned cop, told the Star

Efforts to reach the police officer for comment hit a snag as his phone calls remained answered. The same was the case with Starehe police boss Alice Kmeli, who did not respond to our calls and numerous messages.

We had, for instance, sought to establish the status of the Attorney General’s directive civil application 709 of 2017 to Pangani police station to unconditionally release Ali’s property seized by Rashid at Pangani’s Luna Park.

Ali operated a Shisha store in the area. He says Rashid used to collect Sh15,000 from him to allow the business to be conducted uninterrupted. But when Ali declined to pay bribes, he turned against him, broke into the business and handed it over to another party.

When Ali reported the matter to several authorities, including Vigilance House, and aired his plight on social media, Rashid and other two other officers beat him up and detained him at Pangani police station without trial for two weeks on trumped-up charges.

The Star is in possession of tens of correspondences between Ali and various security agencies as he fights for justice from thousands of miles away.

POLICE BOSS DENIAL

Nairobi county police commandant Philip Ndolo distanced himself from the alleged atrocities meted on Ali by Pangani police officers, saying some of those cases happened long before he became the city police boss in January last year.

Even so, the police brutality and threats against the businessman, who in his heyday owned fleets of matatus plying Eastleigh and South C routes, happened months after he took office.

“All that is talked about that officer (Rashid) when I was not the Nairobi commandant and should have been followed then,” Ndolo said in a text message.

He also dismissed the most recent complaint against Rashid of alleged intimidation as hearsay.

“Recently somebody alleged he (Rashid) went to Mathare and ordered to be given tea by a certain lady, which was a total lie. By that time, he was at his rural home,” Ndolo said.

On June 30, MSJC alleged that Rashid visited the centre to lodge a complaint against one of them, whom he accused of “discrediting him on social media”. But the centre interpreted the visit as a threat meant to intimidate them.

It is during this visit that the organisation claimed Rashid insisted on being served tea by Lucy Wambui, the centre’s administrative officer, whose husband had been gunned down by Rashid in 2018.

Commenting on cases against Rashid during his weekly interaction with members of the public, Inspector-General of Police Hillary Mutyamba said he was aware of multiple complaints and that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution has returned the file to IPOA to fill gaps.

IPOA told the Star investigation into the officer’s conduct is at an advanced stage.

Just like Ali, many families who have lost loved ones to police bullets or experienced any form of brutality are hoping for justice to prevail someday.

Edited by T Jalio