1,133 is not just a number

Cabinet Secretary for Interior, Fred Matiang’i

How Kenya’s government is enshrining a doctrine of impunity

27 February 2018 - 14:02

The devastating human cost of last year’s presidential polls has been laid bare in a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report. Kenyan security forces and ethnic armed gangs killed at least 37 people in Nairobi in violence occurring after Uhuru Kenyatta was declared elected in the August 8, 2017, presidential election.

The HRW report was compiled after interviews with 67 people, most of whom had first-hand knowledge of the brutal crackdown by Kenyan security forces between September and November 2017. Some 30 relatives of victims, 27 witnesses and two human rights activists were interviewed, alongside three aid workers who helped victims’ families, three community leaders and two police officers in the field.

Despite being fully aware of the carnage resulting from the second phase of the polls, HRW claims the Kenya government has said nary a word regarding accountability for the killings. Instead, Mr Kenyatta lavished praise on the police force for “remaining firm.” 

“Kenyatta has neither acknowledged the killings nor called for them to be investigated, while at the same time lavishing unqualified praise on the police. In a December 2 letter on behalf of the president, Mr Benson Kibui, the director of operations of the National Police Service, said that Kenyatta praised the police service for “remain[ing] firm in executing its mandate and in the service of the Kenyan people” during the election period.”

A feature, not a bug

The Kenyan government’s inaction regarding the poll-related killings is consistent with recent moves by the state that signal a growing appetite for lawlessness and a disregard of constitutional norms. For example, in the past few weeks, the executive has eroded the constitutional authority of the National Police Service Commission (NPSC) by bulldozing through appointments of senior officers without proper vetting, it has used fiat to try to bring leading independent broadcasters to heel and arbitrarily stripped political opponents of their citizenship and right to travel on a Kenyan passport.

A common theme amid these State excesses is a disregard for court orders obtained as a remedy by aggrieved parties. The Cabinet Secretary for Interior, Fred Matiang’i, is also apparently a man willing to play fast and loose with the law. Don’t take our word for it, take Matiang’i’s. During a recent interview with the Daily Nation, the Cabinet Secretary for Interior said court orders “will always be obeyed as long as they are served.”

“It is not fair to criticise the government for not obeying an order when it has not been served,” Matiang’i reiterated, clearly taking comfort in the scintilla of semantic difference that “served” makes. Matiang’i’s cheeky qualification explains the reasoning behind why public interest litigant Okiya Omtatah, court orders in-hand, was blocked by police officers from accessing Communication Authority of Kenya offices when he sought to end the so-called “media ban”. This episode should serve as proof that Matiang’I will only obey the court orders that he wants to and dodge the ones he disagrees with.

During the interview with the Daily Nation, Matiang’i made it clear that he feels that the judiciary is standing in the government’s way. Much as he did during his stint as the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Matiang’i wants to handle his new docket without the bother and expense of due process:

“Time has come for Kenyans to have a robust debate on the quality and kind of Judiciary we have. We are pretending that we have a credible Judiciary — we do not have one. I am one of the people who have been frustrated by their blatant bias. And we have clear cases of incompetence; we are so frustrated by the behaviour of this Judiciary,” he said.

Matiang’i’s comments were enough to make Patrick Gathara, a chronicler extraordinaire of Kenya's frenetic politics, question if the man in charge of Kenyans internal security has even bothered to read up on the law he is supposed to help implement.


All told, Matiang’i’s disregard for the law is a feature, not a bug. With his help, and that of fellow Cabinet Secretaries like Raphael Tuju (who has also maligned the judiciary), the Kenyan state has enshrined a doctrine of impunity. Only time will tell where all this leads but it’s not likely going to be towards the utopia Kenya’s envisioned when they promulgated the current constitution in 2010.


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