“It is only in the Ghetto where the youth are harassed.”
His calm aura would make it feel like its utopia; maybe for a poem he plans to rehearse at the Dandora Hiphop Center later on, but no! The swirl of emotions in his eyes, and the struggle for composure, story after story of how the youth are butchered in the streets, tells real tales of a man left to tell a story; one of oppression.
These were the opening remarks of Alex (identity hidden), a Human Rights Defender (HRD) from Dandora when I recently interviewed him.
As a young boy who grew in Dandora slums Alex saw young people, smart, creative and talented wasted away because of being involved in crime.
He wanted a different future however that was not the case. According to him young people engage in criminal activities so as to survive. Most of these people are unemployed school drop outs with no source of income so they look for alternative ways to fend themselves and their young families.
Alex recounts the unlawful death of his friend, a tout plying the Dandora route earlier this year. The friend had gone to buy bhang from his supplier only to be caught up in a police crackdown which targeted a notorious gang leader.
He was leaving the place, when he met the police. The police would demand him and four other young men to go back into the house where they had just gunned down five uncharged young men together with their target aforementioned gang leader.
As if that was not enough, they set ablaze the entire area on fire where the extra judicial killings took place.
This act of violence and impunity drove Alex to anger. He speaks of this instance, with raw emotion and could not fail to mention that while this went down, The mother of the peddler was forced to watch her son get shot before her eyes.
The occurrence, he says, shows that most slums witness a lot of human rights violations including police brutality, murder, rape and unlawful arrests. This would mark the beginning of his human rights Activism journey.
Alex approached other Human Rights Activists, into organizing a demonstration which led to their arrest.
They were later released with the help of Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission in the area.
Police brutality and unlawful arrests seem to be the most common occurrences in the society. However, crime practice doesn’t just happen. It is informed by a number of things among them hopelessness twinned in Drug of abuse. Alex echoes in one of his poetic pieces.
Alex has been a human rights activist in Dandora. “ Nilichoka kuona wakiumia bila mtu wa kuwatetea . (I got tired of witnessing people suffering with no one to defend them)”
He heard tales of police being killed by youth under the influence of hard drugs, he watched mothers lose their sons in front of their eyes, shot in broad daylight. His eyes tell that these moments are moments he wishes he could rewind or do something about.
Due to high levels of drug abuse in the streets, especially hard drugs, there are instances where the youth have ended up turning on the police when cornered. They see it as justice whenever there is an unlawful arrest or if an innocent person dies. If the action of a police is not justified then the youth react through mob justice, served to the “guilty police officer.” He suddenly laughs during the interview after the tale, am forced to sit straight because in such a tensed and somber mood, am not sure what he is coming at, from the tone. There is despair in it, a cry for help, a tug from whether to be sympathetic or sarcastic.
One sentence before he stares into space; “Mazishi ya policy mtaani” astounished, I pause and look at him to comprehend whether it is a joke or reality. he continues with his tale “Unajua pia hawa maboy, vitu wanatumia huwaharibu akili na saa zingine wanageukia karao.” In one instance, a notorious officer who used to bash and clobber youth before arresting them visited a popular den probably in an attempt to arrest them. The youth he came across however, were intoxicated and ended up insulting him before killing him, as well as his partner who rushed to help him. After this, they fled with their weapons. “Mtego wa panya…?” He lets the proverb hang in the air for me to respond to in my mind. Traps do not select their prey. What followed was a long police raid that saw many of the boys get arrested for “knowing where the criminals had run off to”, or for “resembling one of the criminals” in an attempt to recover the stolen weapons. It seems to be an unending tit for tat game between the community and the police.
The youth have also been known to “rid” the society of those they consider to dangerous, thus the witnessing of cases of mob justice. Such a case was witnessed after group of five boys raped a lady, an act called ‘Combi’. They were arrested and remanded at Industrial Area but were released after a few months. After their release, they came and stabbed a man to death, the cause yet to be established. Fellow youth however, said enough was enough and set three of them on fire. In such instances you expect the police to intervene due to the superiority of the law, surpassing other norms, however, the police watched saying “maliza mtupee mwili twende”
After a long reflection, I see a resolve. A resolve to tell a tale and hope that someday… Yes, some day… he too had a script he had lived from.
Dandora Hip Hop City (DHC), an artistic transformational group that equips youths in arts was a saving grace for Alex. The change he had always wanted was offered by this fundamental group which had him reformed. Together with other members of DHC, they started artistic programs that would empower the young people out of crime; they started fighting for the rights to lawful prosecution for those still involved in crime and against police brutality.
Alex together with other Human Rights Defenders from DHC have started a program “Askari ni Rafiki” to mean Police is a friend. Their mandate is to bring harmony between the people and the police. The police have this mind-set that the Human Rights defenders are protecting the gangs thus encouraging them. Alex with the team are working to eliminate that notion.
To mark the 70th Anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10th of December 2018, Alex hopes that police brutality in the ghettos will come to an end and the Provisions of National Police Service Act 2014 Section 61(2) which states that police can only use force when nonviolent means are ineffective can be effectuated.
He however notes that as cases of profiling and victimization continue to thrive by the police, the youth either innocent or not, will continue fleeing each time they see a police person because whether guilty or not, they will have to produce 500 shillings upon arrest given that the reason they flee is lacking the 500 shillings. This is impunity. It is corruption. It catches him in pain on why 500 shillings will cost lives. Because in his words, “when I flee, it is assumed I am guilty”
“This is our young men’s life. It is painful and as a human rights lieutenant, it is a struggle. You are named sympathizer and life put on the line. So I will preach. I will preach and fight in my art. I am here because DHC is standing tall.”
As he steps out of the room, his words still ring in my head; Human Rights defenders have it rough, they are that midpoint that everyone turns to, they will be the first to be locked in by the police when demonstrations occur. On the other hand, they will also be the first to be blamed by the youth in case they are forced to report a case.
It is a two-sided story of a coin of a similar story, where the victim becomes the tormentor, whilst the tormentor has a taste of what it is to be a victim.
However, despite the environment of war, nothing can kill DHC’s and his resolve to have a better tomorrow.
The story of Alex is one on power of the creatives in standing up for Human Rights. Dandora Hip hop City, a creative space for youths to use their creativity to fight against all forms of oppression that infringes human rights