Why is Nairobi County Government allowing ‘Kanjo’ askaris to get away with human rights abuses?


Kenya’s leading investigative journalists, Muhammed Ali and John Alan Namu recently unveiled a disturbing series of the inhumane treatment in which hawkers in Nairobi suffer at the hands of the Nairobi County Council officers. In the three-part video footage, the investigative report shows just how the officers, commonly known here as “kanjo” harass these business people who operate in the central business district in Nairobi and its environs. In the videos, Kanjos are seen brazenly breaking the laws that they are supposed to be protecting and committing such crimes as collecting bribes and extorting money from the business people, physically beating up hawkers who are not fortunate enough to have the money to bribe them with and in worst case scenarios, some hawkers end up dead. Yes, dead.

The videos also take us to hospitals where there are documented reports about the hawkers who fall victim to manhandling by the city askaris and end up in hospital beds with eye-popping stab-wounds and doctors testify to getting a patient with serious wounds ‘courtesy’ of kanjo at least twice a week.

Then, like any balanced report, the investigation seeks the perspective of the county council office beginning with the Nairobi County Governor, Evans Kidero and other senior officials at the City Hall – the official desk of the county affairs. Well, I don’t want to delve into the politics of this whole scenario but I have to mention how ridiculous it looked when the government officials claimed that there had been no reports made about these officials when in truth, many reports had been made to various police stations (and there is available evidence) but no action has ever been taken. This explained why these business people increasingly started to feel there was no need to make reports whenever they are abused.

The county government needs to sit up and take notice because these are grave allegations and any self-respecting entity should be worried if their work and image is dented so deeply in the eyes of the people who should respect it as it serves them!

Well, respect may not be top priority for the county government of Nairobi so I will move on to dire reasons why this report needs to be thoroughly looked into and certain unprecedented measures taken against these perpetrators of impunity. And this is indeed, my first point:

a) The culture of impunity has to be rooted out of the country

The images in that video are gruesome. They are disturbing and wrong on so many levels. I have to confess that I would not have been able to watch it to the end if I was not writing this piece. The manner in which those officers handle the hawkers says so much. The officers carry out their illegal and inhumane acts with an air that says, “We own and run the city on our own terms. The law is not made for us.” They look like small gods as they walk around harassing the hawkers, beating them up and causing them life-long problems like that girl who got her kidney destroyed. If the county government does not take very strong deterrent measures following this revelation, they will facilitate the continuation of impunity and the worse bit will be that the hawkers will have nowhere to turn for redress. Which may mean taking unconventional means to get a fraction of justice… this brings me to my second point.

b) Continue a culture of lawlessness in the country

In one of the investigative report pieces, we see angry citizens who we are told are hawkers fighting back with stones and chanting words like, “Ua! Ua!” See the lawlessness in which the country is already starting to sink in? These hawkers are a product of the hopelessness the system has plunged them into because despite having these cases of harassment reported, nothing is changing so now, to use that famous Kenya phrase, “they are taking the laws into their own hands” as they hate to miserably continue to watch their colleagues being killed and maimed. And what moral authority will the government have to arrest them for riotous acts when their human rights are being trampled upon without a care? Is it another case of, “In the jungle, some animals are more equal than others?” The county government needs to do something a lot more urgently in order to reverse this trend otherwise; there is just no telling how far these acts of self-defense can go.

c) As a government you have the duty to protect your citizens

What the investigative report reveals is gross abuse of human rights. I mean, the hawkers could be right or wrong but surely there is a procedure through which to deal with law-breakers without using one’s authority to trample on other people’s human rights. As a matter of fact, we have the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) which was formulated as a sovereign national human rights institution which among other functions, monitors government bodies and carries out investigations on alleged human rights violations and helps in providing redress for the victims. Can we see this body in action? If for nothing at all, for the name and dignity of government institutions in this country to be restored.

d) To send a clear message to law-breakers

The way the county government deals with the findings of this expose will greatly show its citizens where it stands in matters of corruption and human rights abuses.

These askaris need to be investigated and taken to court to answer for their crimes. They are basically criminals in uniform – a mafia that is allowed to operate in the city under the guise of providing security to the citizens. The Nairobi County needs to stop turning a blind eye to what their employees are doing. If they are not doing anything to stop what is happening then that means they are willingly providing the environment for crime to take place.  Kenya Human Rights Commission should also be at the forefront of this issue and they should make sure that Nairobi County cleans up their house. It is time to put a stop to Kanjo brutality.


First Published by Potentash.

22 April, 2016

The Campaign to Decriminalise Poverty and Status is a coalition of organisations from across the world that advocate for the repeal of laws that target people based on poverty, status or for their activism.


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