Intelligent. Kenyan.

Published: 4 years ago

Disposable Kenyans

“We must see killability as too high a price to pay for development, for peace”

~Keguro Macharia 

Last week there were five suspected gangsters shot down in the Loresho area. The police said that they were suspected of committing several crimes, hence their deaths made things better in the long run, because it brought safety to the area.

Disposability is a long word. It speaks about the value of an object within a certain space. Say, for example, the wrapper of the chewing gum that you just had. That is very disposable. Unless, of course, if you collect chewing gum wrappers. The idea of disposability of people within a community works the same way. How can society work with or without, say, you?

It would be very easy to say that the suspects were indeed gangsters and pile evidence of how the court system is overwhelmed and rife with corruption. To say the 100 people who were killed by police over the last four months were, most probably, criminals.

However, it is of great concern how easily we can be disposed of. If the police decided to gun me down today and say they suspected me of committing a robbery, they really wouldn’t have to report to anyone. The word suspected is slowly developing into a word that allows a lot of extra judicial killing.

Our Cabinet Secretary for internal security, Ole Lenku, was on record saying that he will kill people because of guns. Granted, he said they may be killed by mistake but one must ask how Kenyans treat a person who predicts a mistake to kill someone in the future. The few books of law I have managed to read make me feel like that is very premeditated. With this establishment of mens rea any act of killing that happens in the future should be classified as murder.

What’s even more interesting is that, despite how easy it is to ‘dispose’ of people in the country, we have no interest in killing people that our court system has decided need to be killed. The last prisoner on death row in Kenya who was killed was killed back in 1983 for trying to overthrow Moi’s government.

However, it seems very hypocritical of us as a nation to go around killing people on the streets for mere suspicion and leave people who have actually been convicted to rot in jail indefinitely. Not only is it hypocritical, it is also very inhumane. Think about this for a second. You wake up every morning knowing your state-set date to die passed years ago. You never know whether the government will finally decide to get rid of you. Sure there is talk around that they never really kill anyone on death row. You all laugh about how it shouldn’t be called death row, but everyone knows that laughter is a mask.

Yes, the above is a hypothetical situation. The real situation is probably far worse than any writer could ever condense to fit the space within which letters reside. Yet we keep them there. Day after day, and celebrate when the police kill five suspects in Loresho.

In this article Rasna Warah talks about the class separation within Nairobi.  The thriving private security business, she argues, is a legacy of colonial principles upon which Nairobi was built. The segmentation of the city such that the poor may live on one side and the rich on the other was all planned to create a sense of ownership. To keep the settlers living in Nairobi and us, the rest of the people, working in Nairobi, but never living there. Symbols of this oppression, like Kipande house, still assert themselves. Except, in place of our colonial masters, is the well to do class of the country. The people that rejoice when the police shoot down the poor who have no one to speak for them, and therefore can be disposed for any reason, at any time.

On 26th February a young boy was shot dead in Sanford, Florida a small town in the USA. Trayvon Martin made global headlines and turned the debate across the entire world to the scale on which we value human life. Is a life worth less than property, for example? What do we value it at? One shoe? Two diamonds? Three gold rings? To bring this essay back home one wonders about the scale with which we value human life in Kenya. Whose life is worth more that whose? And who makes those decisions?

When Mercy Keino was murdered and her body dumped on the road, it was somehow her fault. She should have known better, we said. She shouldn’t have been partying with politicians, we said. She shouldn’t have taken drugs, we said. What about the fact that she shouldn’t have been killed? Shouldn’t it matter? Or are we to kill everyone who parties and does drugs? How did the fact that she had been drinking negate the fact that she was murdered?

On the flip side, we go into vicious bouts of public mourning when a politician dies. We hold ceremonies and write dirges for them on social media, completely romanticizing how they had lived. This is not to take away from the very real grief that the families of the deceased feel. Mourning is important and as such, should be accorded respect. This isn’t even to challenge the public life of these figures. The simple fact is; the more people know you, the more people will mourn for you.

This is to worry about permission to mourn. About the mothers of those five suspected gangsters who will not be allowed to mourn because their sons were found guilty by a bullet and an AK-47, not by a court or by evidence. This is to ask why those fathers will not be allowed to mourn the loss of their sons.

One of the poems in the ICC witnesses project states:

Dholuo

Pi wang’a chwer achwera.

Naneno gik malich miwuoro.

Chunya nogik.

Atarora atara.

English

My eyes keep leaking. Keep leaking.

They saw things too terrible to voice.

My heart stopped.

Now I merely exist. Merely exist.

One has to think about how the whole idea of disposability plays on the mentality of the Kenya we have day by day. How do we survive with the thought that, at any point, we could be no more? Or do we merely exist?

This thought explains a lot of things to me. It explains why we all tense up when we see police men in front of us. It explains why we are so desperate to embrace the ‘Accept and move on’ mantra that we preach. It explains why everyone in Nairobi walks with their faces to the ground, as if afraid to stare into the wrong stranger’s eyes.

Trayvon Martin’s killer said he was “afraid” and so he shot to protect himself, because of a fear he felt. A fear of something that was yet to manifest, that may, or may not have been real. A fear of a young black man going about his own business. Five suspected gangsters were shot last week. I can’t help but wonder; are we doing the same thing?

7 Comments.
  1. Momanyi says:

    Good read. Now, all I need to kill you is a gun. Plant it on you sir and use the new 999 to set you up. Good luck explaining where you got it from

  2. Mash says:

    An article that is out of touch with the realities “on the ground”.

  3. Sam Mwangi says:

    Out some , I would now say macabre, interest in guns I used to wonder..how come the cops seem to be recovering only Tokalev pistols from ‘thugs’ this month , then after some it changes to Brownings, then Ceskas?…and the pattern continues. The answer to that was chilling: they were planting the same gun over and over after shooting dead a ‘suspected criminal’. From then on I never celebrate the shooting of any alleged criminals.

  4. adolphus lwova says:

    Our forces have pre-cogs in there pre-crime department they just don’t have a place to hold this future criminals ..resolution death (permanent ,affordable) that’s the only explanation for the killings

  5. Akinyi says:

    A good article but appears to require some more depth. It would be good to read, for instance, more on police service/force’s frustrations on fighting crime, the failures of the judicial system, more on the complexity of the kenyan psyche, especially based on the sum/contradictions of many different events. The failings/achievements of wananchi in Community policing, the failings of our political system and education and job market systems that produces robbers in the first Place, etc.

  1. By How Round is A Circle : Michael on September 30, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    […] lives running. Because life has been lost, life will be lost. I think about this as I think of our disposability. About the jubilation when suspects are gunned down.  We celebrate death as if it comes with a […]

  2. By Brainstorm | A Shot in the Dark on February 25, 2014 at 12:00 am

    […] killing. This is something that completely refuses to sit well with me. So I write about it here. One comment tells me that the essay is good, in theory, but completely out of touch with the […]

  3. By Brainstorm | Footnotes On Death on March 25, 2014 at 1:56 am

    […] this week, death has really been with me. Michael Onsando has written extensively on killing (here, here and here), more than I ever will. Still, we have barely touched on death here, and with what has […]

  4. By Are you Safe Now? : Michael on April 21, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    […] so we continue to stay silent, hoping that somehow someone else’s disposability will buy our […]

  5. By Brainstorm | Repersoning on November 4, 2014 at 12:01 am

    […] with me. The song War in my Heart is a powerful social commentary. It reiterates thoughts of black disposability that have long been heard by black artists across the globe. To want to live, we must already be […]

  6. […] and our sense of empathy. Certain lives, especially those of poor people, have been thought of as disposable, and as such, when they are lost, be it to terrorism (such as the Garissa attack), we mourn, but we […]

  7. By What Is The Value Of A Kenyan Life? – Africa Blogging on December 9, 2015 at 11:49 am

    […] and our sense of empathy. Certain lives, especially those of poor people, have been thought of as disposable, and as such, when they are lost, be it to terrorism (such as the Garissa attack), we mourn, but we […]

  8. […] dignity at the centre of what we do as a state. Yet, this is Kenya, where human beings remain as disposable as […]

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