Observers

After some of their classmates were killed by armed bandits, a group of students from Jomo Kenyatta University near Nairobi gathered on November 11 to protest the police’s failure to quell rising insecurity on campus and its environs. However, to their horror, police moved in and violently dispersed the anti-violence protest. One video showing police officers beating up a student has become a symbol for students’ claims that those meant to be protecting them are actually doing the opposite.

The 22-second video shows a student wearing a red T-shirt lying on the ground as four police officers surround him, hitting him repeatedly with batons and kicking him in the head. Finally, the officers stop to arrest the student and drag him out of the camera’s view.

Allan Omondi, the student in the video, was taking part in protests against the mounting insecurity in the area around Jomo Kenyatta University, a university specialising in agriculture and technology located in Juja, in the northeast of the Kenyan capital. Over the past few weeks, students have been killed during robberies carried out by armed bandits.

The students, who say that the police aren’t doing enough to secure the area around their campus, blocked a highway on November 11 before being dispersed by the police. Local residents, frustrated by the blocked road, also participated in breaking up the protests and specifically went after student protesters, according to Kenyan media.

Some clashes took place on the grounds of Jomo Kenyatta University. The video of the student being beaten up was filmed just a few metres off campus. Online, many people have been commenting on this video using the hashtag #StopPoliceBrutality, which has been trending in Kenya since the incident.

'This video is a symbol of a victim suffering at the hands of those who should be protecting him'

Former student Moses Kyeba left Jomo Kenyatta University in December 2018 and now runs a small business near campus, where he is also a victim of the rising insecurity in the area. He joined the protest on November 11 in solidarity with his former classmates.

This started as a peaceful protest calling on police to increase their efforts in keeping the university safe. On Monday, the police pushed us back and we ran to the campus. But some of the officers pursued protesters all the way into classrooms.

In the last two weeks alone, several students have been stabbed on their way home from campus. The perpetrators are gang members who know that students are vulnerable and that they often carry objects of value like smartphones or laptops, especially as the university specialises in technological studies and we often use these tools as part of our work.

'I was the victim of an attempted robbery'

When I was a student at Jomo Kenyatta University, I was the victim of an attempted robbery near campus in the middle of the day. I had just walked a few metres past the campus gates when two boys blocked me from both sides and started searching me. Just then, a taxi driver saw what was going on and got out of his car and started running towards us to scare them off. He’s the only reason I escaped unharmed.

We always feel unsafe near campus. Armed bandits recently forced open the door of the house across my street. I’ve seen people climbing up walls to rob apartments.

The video of police beating up a student is a symbol of a victim who suffers at the hands of those meant to protect him. The police have become criminals themselves.

In a statement published after the release of the video, Kenya's police chief Hillary Mutyambai said that the four officers involved in the incident had been identified and suspended. Earlier, he had described the beating as an "unfortunate incident".

The human rights organisation Amnesty International called on Kenya authorities to end violent policing during protests and said that the officers who abuse their power should be “held individually guilty of misconduct, sanctioned and made to compensate victims”.

Since the indicent, Jomo Kenyatta University has been closed indefinitely. As for Omondi, the student shown in the video, he was released from police detention the day after his arrest and brought to a hospital in Nairobi, according to the Kenyan media outlet CitizenTV. He is now recovering at home.

Article by Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron)