Two very disturbing occurrences happened in the last few days. Disturbing because they are a throwback to a very dark recent past. Worse, they symbolise a government, elected on promises of erasing those very dark days memories, decisively turning its back on key election campaign promises.
Let’s start with the shocking eviction of Kenyans from the East Africa Portland Cement land in Athi River over the weekend. The Athi River-based cement manufacturer has been embroiled in a legal tussle for a decade with squatters who had encroached on its land. A week ago, the courts confirmed the factory was indeed the rightful owner. President William Ruto then said all squatters must leave.
As if on cue, bulldozers, accompanied by a phalanx of security officers, descended on the hapless squatters. Homes, churches, mosques, schools built on the land were flattened. Residents had no time to respond. Many were thrown out in the cold with their household goods. The shattered, nay, betrayed faces, of women in tears beseeching the President to come to their aid were heart wrenching.
The absolute callousness of this eviction is shocking. Many of the squatters who had constructed houses here had bought that land from land cartels, who have been operating in this area selling this land in full knowledge of government agencies! True, people encroached on land. They thought they had bought genuine property. It happens all the time in Kenya.
This government was elected to bring in a regime that is sensitive, caring and listening, given the predecessors’ imperviousness and high-handedness. It has failed that simple test big time.
All that was required was to give people 48 hours to get their household goods out, and get places to seek refuge as they figure out what next, before bulldozers moved in. That simple gesture would have earned President William Ruto a lot of credit. As it were, the government’s image is now soiled.
The eviction only compares in crudity to that of thousands of families one dark and rainy night in May 2020, in the middle of a lockdown of Nairobi during the Corona pandemic. That eviction, under former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government, was roundly condemned. The outrage was palpable.
Uhuru’s government never recovered from that monstrosity. Kenyans were done with it! There are very critical lessons in the Athi River evictions for Ruto from the Kariobangi North debacle. On this, he will be lucky to get an ‘E.’
The second test, on which this regime is lowering its marks every day, is abductions. In the last two weeks alone, businesswoman Shankara Adan Hassan and Zachariyah Kamala have been abducted in full view of the public. Nothing has been heard from them since. Shankara was abducted as she went to work at JKIA in Nairobi while Kamala was accosted on the streets in Mombasa, abducted, and shoved into a waiting vehicle. The two incidents have all the hallmarks of previous police abductions, where victims’ bodies were later found dumped in rivers and forests.
Ruto was very emphatic in October last year that the era of extrajudicial killings, always preceded by abductions in broad daylight by ‘unknown gunmen’, was over, affirming ‘never again would Kenyans live under fear of killer police squads’.
Worryingly, the tempo is starting to rise, and ticker timer on abductions has started counting. By all means, security forces must fight terrorism. Nobody knows the pain of terrorism more than Kenyans who have suffered several terror attacks. But abductions and extrajudicial killings have become a big threat to security of Kenyans, and have been misused to settle all manner of scores under the guise of fighting terrorism.
These are very worrying signs, and one hopes that the government is not abandoning its promises to the people. The message from Kenyans to President Ruto is simple, do not return Kenya to the dark days from whence it is just emerging. By Gathu Kaara, People Daily