Police, Peace and the Price of Freedom

This story may sound familiar to many of you.

The other day, a promising rapper was on matatu doing what promising rappers on matatus do: commuting.

panda train

The matatu conductor, like 99% of workers in the not-necessarily-formal sector of transport, was not in uniform and the driver was probably being an idiot.

Speaking of idiots, there was also a cop somewhere in the mix. The cop spots the minibus and the makanga hops off and bolts off with all the passengers The cop stops the mat, and the driver steps out to negotiate. Negotiations must not have been going so well, so the passengers got off to go and ask for their change from the driver seeing as the conductor had made himself unavailable. The cop, eager to get his change as well, told the passengers to get back on the bus and stay seated.


And this is where things got weird. The cop returns and arrests everyone. Apparently asking the driver to refund their legally due change is “Obstruction of Justice.” In a country where “justice” is often confused with “cashflow”, I can see how that mistake can be made. Anyway, our good gentleman commuter and the other passengers get whisked away to Parklands police stations where 8 other cops proceeded to explain to them the severity of their crimes.

The only image I could find of pigs being stupid. Surprisingly, not cops.

The only image I could find of pigs being stupid. Surprisingly, not cops.

Anyhow, after being educated by the popo, they got locked in cells. Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to pause the story for a second here.

When I was reading this, I thought “What the Hell? At this point, shouldn’t the police have slowly started taking “testimonies” and ultimately released this gang of law abiding citizens justice obstructers? That’s how they do it in the Nairobi I remember.”


Well, no. Apparently these days they incarcerate you for fictitious crimes. And I couldn’t understand why. Until I heard they were taken to court and charged with not wearing seatbelts. As you can guess, they got fined for this actual crime and justice was once again flowing.

I was and still am one of the biggest advocates of paying people their just dues. Teachers, doctors and police are the 3 public servants I think need to be most watched out for. But when you read that story, it’s fairly easy to blame the cops. Because they were wrong. That said, so was the driver. And the conductor. And whoever was in the court.

The problem is not corrupt police, it’s a corrupt society. And there’s three ways to resolve that.

1. Walk Like Egyptions. We could rally as a people and take the power away from the government and the system in a coordinated way. All we need to do is have a clear aligned vision in mind and unite as one and the next time someone knocks one of us down. We all fall behind him/her.
But Kenyans aren’t good at revolutions yet. It mostly ends up with pigs blood everywhere and cops punching little people after teargassing them.

2. Walk Like A King. A Martin Luther King to be specific. Or a Mandela. Basically, to achieve the change by non-violence and getting involved in the change we believe in. Get educated, get politically active, get involved in our societies. Know your rights, know your strengths, and speak out about it. But if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you remember that time I saw a guy get killed and nobody did anything about it. Our society seems to discourage speaking out. Also, that whole reading and such…yeaaaaaah….
didn't read it

3. Walk Like A Warrior. That’s the title of a Dead Prez song, on an album where they do a drive-by on police for all the times police shot at them without justification. Basically, we can disrupt the system. Stop half-assing it. For example, with the teachers’ strike; my lady – who’s more revolutionary than I am – thinks maybe they should’ve waited until exam time to down tools if they really wanted the government to feel the pain. And she’s right. Maybe they would start taking us seriously if we took ourselves seriously. If they give us a “compromise” or middle ground, we throw it on the ground.


But knowing Kenyans, a movement of disruption won’t happen as soon as they realize the former. So it’ll be me and 3 guys in prison exchanging stories about how we got off a matatu and handcuffed a cop and told him “NOW THAT IS OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE, MOTHER FUNKER!”

Sigh. I empathize with our up and coming rapper friend who got locked up and extorted on some BS charge. But until cops take it a step further than arresting people and actually put a bullet in the back of someone’s head for jaywalking, and people in turn kill that cop, we’re unlikely to disrupt very much.

You see, Kenyans are peaceful people. That’s why in the face of injustice, we stay calm and get herded through as long as we make it to the other side. Until that peace is disrupted, we will never know freedom.

6 thoughts on “Police, Peace and the Price of Freedom

  1. I’ve heard that argument before – that things need to get critical before any real change happens, that before we have a new Kenya, someone needs to get killed or torch themselves or something. I hate to think we’re so far gone that we need to see actual blood-shed before we respond. Especially after 2007-8, which caused so much pain and achieved nothing at all.

    Besides, radical revolutions seem to just create larger problems, The holocaust DID create the Israeli State, but it also created the Middle East Crisis by extension. The Egyptian Revolution got rid of one dictator, then they put in someone else, who they have now ousted … it’s a pretty vicious cycle. I suppose something is better than nothing, but the domino effect doesn’t know when to stop, and that’s what really scares me.

    Still, in the end, I guess that’s the only way to do things. Gandhi and MLK both used non-violent means to get what they believed in, but even they got sacrificed in the end. So maybe violence IS the only way, which makes me unspeakably sad and very afraid.

    But I think it’s sadder that I’m actually thinking this way. As a mother, I’ve always looked at the Gandhis and Mandelas of the world with a wary eye. They put their cause above everything, even their own families – hence many of those legends had lousy relationships with their spouses and kids.

    I’ve always had a hard time putting the ‘common cause’ above my child’s immediate well-being. So if I’m even tolerating – no – considering such a radical line of thought, and worse, seeing it as a viable, reasonable option, then things must really, really bad right now.

    When I spoke to our young rapper yesterday, I drew five important conclusions. One, if a cop approaches your matatu, run. Two, always carry exact fare for the matatu, just in case. Three, always have a spare 500 bob – that’s the official fine for ‘seat-belts’. It may cost you a whole day, but it’s cheaper than ‘negotiating’.

    Four, when you find yourself in court over a traffic charge, plead guilty. It’s the safer option, and your innocence is irrelevant. Five, always tweet so people know where and why you’re in jail. That said, after today’s post, I’ve drawn a deeper, more haunting lesson. So the next time someone calls a protest, I’m no longer 100% sure which side of that picket I’ll be on.

  2. A friend was arrested on Monday morning for crossing the road carelessly opposite Nakumatt Mega, this happened while the traffic had been stopped on both sides! The fine was 10,000 not to mention a whole day wasted! You don’t know the effects of the new traffic rules until you are in those situations!

  3. Cops are a bunch of S.O.Bs. I was once arrested in Kisumu at 10pm while walking to my car. Being the noisy one I am I kept asking why the hell I was arrested. The stupid OCS decided to weka and I kid you not prostitution and drunken and disorderly oh I was 5 months pregnant

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