The police remain a threat to the Bill of Rights

The Constitution of Kenya 2010 (CoK2010) contains at its core a promise for the recognition, promotion and protection of fundamental human rights principles, including a whole chapter dedicated to the protection of the civil, political, economic and social rights of Kenyans. It is little wonder therefore that the Constitution has continued to be proclaimed by many as one of the most progressive documents of its kind in the world even today.

However, and in spite of this progressive document, we mark the sixth anniversary of the Constitution faced with a harsh reality of a Bill of Rights whose promise is yet to be fully realised even as Kenya seems to struggle to free itself from the stranglehold of the old ways of impunity.

Image courtesy of Article 19Article 37 of the Constitution of Kenya guarantees all citizens the right to assemble, demonstrate, picket and present petitions to public authorities, peacefully. In 2015, Article19 documented 140 protests in Kenya36 of which turned violent. In five of the 36 violent cases, violence   originated from the protesters while state actors initiated violence in the remaining 31 cases. Excessive use of force by the police, including firing live bullets and tear gas into crowds to disperse demonstrators have become a new norm. Approximately 1 in every 4 demonstrations has resulted in excessive use of force by the police. Images of police brutality witnessed today rekindle memories of the repression in the 1990s when the dictatorial KANU regime tried to repress divergent civil voices. The State is yet to recognise the concept of the right to peaceful demonstrations as enshrined in our Constitution.

While the use of force by State agents to undermine the right to demonstrate, we are now confronted by a new era of bold extrajudicial killings by the police. The kidnapping, torture and eventual murder of human rights lawyer Willy Kimani, his client and their taxi driver serves a chilling notice to the levels of impunity and human rights violations the State has descended into. In spite of the public outrage locally and globally against these anti-constitutional acts, the murder of the 25-year-old Fredrick Ngandi, in cold blood on his hospital bed at Mwingi Level Four Hospital by police means that the forces of impunity within the police service and the State generally, remain robust and unrelenting. Even as experts now suggest that Kenya could have one of the highest rates of extrajudicial killings per capita in the world[1], the top Police Service top leadership maintains that these murders as mere isolated incidents an attitude that now casts significant doubts on prospects of any meaningful police reforms.

What was initially the Police Force, article 243 (1) of the Constitution established the National Police Service, a shift in language that envisaged the desire to change the mind-set of police officers. The culture of heavy-handedness and impunity within the police “force” needs to be addressed if we are to realise the promise enshrined in our constitution. The police need to be held accountable for their actions if we are to deter and transform the culture of impunity and violence within the police. The recent violent intimidation of IPOA officials by Kayole OCPD, Ali Nuno, should not go unpunished. Beyond this, there is a need for police training that places emphasis on the highest standards of ethics, integrity, respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and dignity of all Kenyans. The Constitution of Kenya envisions a professional, competent and accountable Police Service that respects human rights and fundamental freedoms at all times. Unfortunately, we are far from realising this, but the struggle for a better service must not relent.


[1] Why everyone should be worried about police impunity in Kenya.