• Kenya Police will treat protesters like a guerilla army trying to overthrow government
Part of my job here in Cape Town is reporting on the regular protests South Africans and others in the Western Cape Province stage from time to time.
These protests and demonstrations range from demands for better service delivery from the municipality to marches for better pay. It also includes the handing in of petitions to the national Parliament, the provincial legislature, the Premier of the province and even occasionally to the President, if he is in town.
I suppose because of this country’s rich history of protests in the struggle for democracy and against apartheid, the right to protest is taken very seriously by everybody, from the protesters to the politicians and most importantly, by the police.
A few weeks ago, I attended the official opening of the provincial legislature, which was staged away from the regular chamber at the provincial headquarters.
In a move to take the legislature to the people, the speaker had decided that the State of the Province Address by the Premier and the response by the opposition should take place at a community hall in the giant suburb of Mitchells Plain. Mitchells Plain is the most gang-riddled part of the province. Last year, the army was deployed there to assist the national police and the City’s Law Enforcement arm in keeping the peace.
What I liked about the whole event was the fact that there was provision made and a space set aside outside the hall for the groups that wanted to come and protest. This alongside planning for the catering and the red carpet for the MPLs (members of the provincial legislature) and their invited guests, who included community leaders and influential business people.
I couldn’t imagine the planners of such an event anywhere in Kenya making such a contingency a priority. As for the Kenya Police, I live for the day that they will not treat protesters as though they were an invading guerilla army trying to violently overthrow the government.
I agree with the theory I read or heard somewhere that the institutional memory of the police force has never recovered from the PTSD of being made to feel puny by the order given on that first Sunday of August back in 1982 to “kaa kama raia”.
For those whose history of Kenya is challenged, here is a primer. That is the day when for a few hours, members of the armed forces, led by junior officers in the Kenya Airforce, overthrew the government of President Daniel arap Moi and upended the constitution and ordered the Kenya Police to stand down.
Ever since then, I agree with the Kenya Human Rights Commission, which said a while back: The Kenya Police persist in the use of unconventional, illegal means in managing crowds during peaceful street protests and demonstrations.
I know the police force, like many of us, is change-resistant. But I wonder if they can ever imagine the kudos they’d get from the public if they treated protesters with humanity and just did their job controlling crowds and protests without cracking heads.
I can tell them now that the sky would not fall to the ground and moon would not erupt in blood if they tried.