By Dorcas Sarkozy
Professional football players in America’s National Football League (NFL) are currently engaged in a face-off with US President Trump over the former’s protests against police brutality. The players, >70% black men, are standing up against an American law enforcement culture that has, over the years, dehumanized them and felt little need to de-escalate any contact with them, instead choosing a more aggressive exchange oftentimes resulting in the use of deadly force – even when the suspect is running away – with his back to the policeman!
The country’s law enforcement has a sad and dark history re: its relationship, first with slave, and now with their descendants.
Victor E. Kappeler, PhD in a piece titled “Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing” writes that “The institution of slavery and the control of minorities were two of the more formidable historic features of American society shaping the country’s early police force (and law enforcement) culture. Slave patrols and Night Watches, which later became modern police departments, were both designed to control the behaviors of the minorities i.e. black slaves.”
Similarly, Kenya’s police and law enforcement apparatus has its roots in the desire by the colonial government to “bring an end to the (Mau Mau) violence and restore order” to the country – this according to Caroline Elkins (Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya).
The Harvard historian writes that General Sir George Erskine was “given full operational control over the security forces in the colony including the King’s African Rifle (KAR), settlers in the Kenya Regiment and Kenya Police…and loyalists….”
Even more indicting is her characterization of the force’s origin – that of “a lowbrow corps of recruits who, in keeping with their racist upbringing, routinely roughed up the local Africans.” (Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya).
As argued by Maina Kiai in his piece titled “Homeguards never quite went away, their spirit is still strong among us”, the descendants/offsprings of Kenya’s homeguards are now in power and are applying the same law enforcement tactics “employed by the colonial regime to maintain order within the African population.”
To all save partisans and/or bigoted xenophobes in either society, law enforcement/police & security forces regularly and with impunity, dehumanized and/or brutalized Africans – slaves in America and Kenyan nationals in Kenya.
That mentality has persisted to this day – also in either society – albeit not as blatant – especially in the era of smartphone cameras. And the raison d’etre of said mentality – also in either society – is the desire by the likes of Donald Trump and Uhuru Kenyatta, their family, friends and associates to “take their country back” or maintain the status quo and their privileged status by any means necessary including using supposedly apolitical policing and law enforcement agencies.
Kenyans now cheering or rationalizing the suppression of the democratic rights of fellow citizens by an over-zealous law enforcement outfit – as commanded by those in power or close it – will be advised to remember that it was this arrogance that prompted Mwai Kibaki’s Minister for Internal Security John Michuki to announce that “if you rattle a snake, be prepared to be bitten”. This was in 2006 after he – Michuki – had ordered a raid on the offices of a newspaper and its sister TV station because they had been critical of President Mwai Kibaki’s handling of corruption scandals.
The same hubris was on display several years earlier – in 1991 – during the debate over Majimboism.
That’s when then-chairman of Narok County Council, MP and Minister for Local Government William Ole Ntimama announced to the out-of-power Kikuyu that they “should lie low like an antelope to avoid being spotted by a leopard.” (You Will See Fire: A Search for Justice in Kenya – Christopher Coffard)
In both instances, the message was loud and clear to their intended recipients, who like the demonstrating university students recently assaulted and brutalized on orders by persons drunk with power, were simply exercising their democratic rights as well – freedom of the press and freedom to live where one so chooses.
Inevitably and eventually, the shoe always ends up on the other foot or is it history has a funny way of repeating itself?