By Ruth Kadide Keah.
“My Press card and my job saved me from the agony of cleaning up Kibarani dumpsite along Mombasa- Nairobi highway” Seif Mkalla said, a reporter in one of the media houses in Mombasa.
Looking stressed up by the experience, Mkalla narrates to me what befell him Monday morning on his way to work.
“It was on a Monday morning and as usual, when I arrived at Kongowea market, I decided to cross the road and use the other way, but it’s was then that county askaris arrested me and threw me inside their standby vehicle,” he said.
Kongowea Market is a busy area especially in the morning since most of the traders tend to get their stock very early in the morning. This is the reason why the national government decided to put a flyover to reduce the number of accidents which were being experienced in the area every now and then.
But with the flyover in place, it has never been easy for the common mwananchi who passes that area every day to use it. Most say they find it very tiresome to use it, hence tend to use short cut by crossing the road.
But the county askaris won’t tolerate such behaviour, hence they conduct a mass raid everyday to nab those who don’t use the flyover.
That is where Mkalla found himself, and he says it was not a good experience at all.
“They interrogated me after arresting me. I tried explaining myself but they didn’t buy my excuses, so they dragged me into their standby vehicle and waited for almost thirty minutes and brought us to the Mombasa Law Courts,” Mkalla explains.
Mkalla says, they waited for at least six hours, this made him start exploring ways to get rescued, but all was in vain. He narrates there were more than twenty people who were arrested with the offence of not using two flyovers: one at Kongowea and the other at Buxton.
At the court, their names were called and everyone was given an overall. They were ordered to go and clean the Kibarani dumpsite area. It felt a bit awkward to Mkalla, and that propelled him to face the prosecutor and explain to him his side of the story.
He was asked to produce his press-card, and this granted his freedom, leaving the rest of the offenders who failed to raise a fine to go and clean the Kibarani and VOK dumpsites.
Unfortunately, the same day Mkalla was arrested, her colleague,Lucy Mweu (not her real name) escaped with a whisker after being put behind bars for the very offence: failure to use a footbridge to cross the road.
Lucy says it was in the afternoon as she was heading home from work, she decided to pass by the market to buy some foodstuff.
She says she was planning to cross the road not knowing that county askaris lay in the wait to arrest her once she made it safely to the other side. Some of the passersby warned her of what lay ahead but she ignored them.
“Some of the passersby were calling me ‘sister, sister some askaris will arrest you if you don’t use the flyover’,” she asserts.
Lucy explained to me that immediately she started crossing the road, two askaris followed her, prompting her to run for her safety.
“I was lucky they didn’t catch me and I went back from where I had come from, and then used an alternative route,” she said.
Lucy admits that using the flyover is safer for every road user but continues to explain that she can not use it regularly because of her health complications especially her swollen legs and instead decides to use alternative route to and from work.
However, county askaris are not the only ones to be blamed for harassing petty offenders. Akinyi Mkoba who lives in Bamburi narrates to me how she was forced to part way with five hundred Kenyan shillings to be safe from being put into a police lorry patrolling the area at night.
Akinyi says it was around ten o’clock in the evening when she was heading to see her friend when she was ambushed by police officers who accused her of idling and roaming around at night.
“I was commuting from Bamburi heading to Kiembeni when some police officers on patrol stopped me and interrogated me for about thirty minutes. I had to lie to them that I was going to see my sick aunty, so I pleaded with them to let me free,” she narrates.
But the police would not leave Akinyi ‘just like that’, she says, and she was forced to part with the Ksh 500.
“They asked for something small so that they could let me free,” Akinyi confessed.
Akinyi says she was lucky that she had some cash on her and to her since it was a Friday spending the whole weekend in a police cell was something she could not think about.
While Akinyi was celebrating her freedom, she tells me that the police lorry was almost packed to capacity of people arrested with different cases whom she guessed were taken to spend their night and probably the whole weekend at the police station, waiting to be taken to court by Monday.
Statistics show that incidents of people arrested for petty offences is on the rise everyday in Mombasa county, with more than 50 such cases taken to court everyday at the Mombasa law courts.
For those who are lucky, and can afford the five hundred shilling fine, they pay up and are set free, but those who cannot afford end up being jailed.
A good example is the day Mkalla was taken to court. The Magistrate, Erick Mutunga, commutted Paul Ng’ang’a, Abubakar Musa, Mutinda John, Jacob Wanyonyi, Paul Odongo and Kevin Wafula, to a twenty-five day prison term after they were found guilty of being drunk and disorderly in Shimanzi area.
According to a research done by Kenyan chapter of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), people apprehended for petty offences increase the number of corruption cases in the police department and also at the county level. This is because most of the petty offenders tend to part way with money rather than being taken to court and follow the whole process of being convicted.
ICJ also points out that those who can not afford the cash end up being taken to prison hence making the prisons more congested as is with the scenario being experienced now in most Kenya prisons.
During the annual criminal justice conference held in Nairobi by ICJ Kenya, the office of the Director of Public Prosecution(DPP) agreed that most of the congestion in the prisons are caused by petty offenders.
In her opening speech on behalf of the director of DPP, Dorcas Odour, who is the secretary in the office of the DPP, noted that in Nairobi alone, 30% of the cases brought before the court are for touting.
She said the office of the DPP is in the process of forming a tribunal to look into the law and see if there is any possibility for petty offences being sorted outside the court, a move she says will ease the burden of congestion caused by petty offenders being jailed in the Kenya prisons.