"No Youth: No Revolution:" Extra Judicial Killings in Nairobi, Kenya
My colleague, who is a youth and urban agriculture activist in Mathare slum in Nairobi, has been telling me about the loss of two of his friends, youth, over the past several months, which he deemed extra judicial killings. One was involved in protesting the termination of the 14 seater matatus or small white Nissan vans that pack in 14 people or more. They are in bad condition; doors are hung on with hangar wire; seat belts are busted, the vehicles are old and dented. Sometime, they are loudly blarring the most lude and vulgar American hip hop music—to attract the youth—I was told.
Matatus are big business, I am told. They are also corrupt, but they provide a few jobs for youth in a country where unemployment is at 60% and underemployment is at 40%. Young men compete and hawk to get more riders on their matatus. The owners make the most money, but the youth who drive and “hawk” the matatus get a cut of the traffic so they are incentivized to pack in all the riders they can.
Matatus are neither a safe nor dignified way of transport for most Kenyans (and Sub-Saharan Africans), but they are all that is affordable for most people, costing twenty shillings or about 24 cents US, at low peak time for short destinations, and up to 40 or 50 shillings or about 50 to 60 cents US for longer and shorter routes at peak time. This is “affordable” for most of Nairobi’s inhabitants who are unemployed or employed for the very low wages paid here: $40 a month for house help and $200 a month for a college graduate.
Nairobi, like most African and other metropolitan areas, is overwhelmed by its vehicle traffic, with traffic jams that last hours at peak times. Drivers have little respect for pedestrians who have to scurry across traffic at their own risk. Matatus and other vehicles drive in opposing lanes and on sidewalks and center medians to get where they want to go during these jams. It is chaotic and dangerous and the Kenyan Parliament has recognized that the “carnage” on Kenya’s roads is one of the worst problems the country faces.
When I arrived in Novemeber, 2011, 23 people were killed in a grizzly accident on the road to Kisumu. My friend,the urban agriculture activist from Mathare, lost a friend who was hit by a matatu just this past week, a youth.
Most of Kenya’s population is youth like the demographics of most countries in the Global South and unlike the demographics of countries in the Global North where the largest demographic group is older people. It is the poor youth of Kenya who are perceived as the biggest threat to the status quo, my colleague informed me. “No youth, no revolution,” said another colleague who works to promote urban agriculture in Nairobi, to explain the extra judicial killings of youth in the city.
Today’s Nairobi Daily Nation confirmed my colleagues’ statements about extra judicial killings. An article in today’s paper, March 27, 2012 claimed that “Police executed 800 men, Truth team told” in the last five years. Hassan Omar, the Commissioner of the Kenya National Human Rights Commission (KNCHR) testified to this before the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission recently and claimed that his own life was threatened as well and that two of his colleagues advocating against the killings were also killed by the police.
Between 2007 and 2008, about 500 people were executed by the Police due to links with the Mungiki group which was challenging Kenya’s leadership at that time and is now under protection as witnesses against three of Kenya’s political leaders who have been brought to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, for leading and causing tribal killings that resulted in over 1500 people being killed in the 2007 post election violence in Kenya.
Once the KNCHR alerted authorities to the killings, Mr. Hassan said, the police found new ways to kill people, where the bodies would not be found. Mr. Hassan testified that over 60 people were killed in 2011 alone due to these extra judicial killings by the police.“No youth, no revolution,” echoes in my head as I witness the inhumane conditions and oppression under which my fellow human beings, most Nairobians live. It is no surprise to me, with so many people living in hunger, in bad conditions, and under such injustice, that violence erupted after the last election was suspected to have been stolen. Extended hunger alone would be enough to make many people violent.