Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Matheri's Demise & Crime's Further Rise.....

Onyango Oloo Offers a Commentary on Crime and Punishment in Kenya

There has been a catharsis of near epileptic proportions throughout Nairobi and its environs since the news broke on Tuesday, February 20th 2007, that the notorious Simon Matheri Ikere, alleged to be linked to several murders and violent robberies across the country, had been shot dead by over one hundred police officers.

In macabre scenes of public revelry, the cadaver of the infamous brigand has been

photographed, gawked at and spat upon.

Many Kenyans see the demise of Matheri as a form of release, a redemption of sorts, a respite from the endless orgy of crime reports rekindling widespread trepidation about insecurity.

Sadly, the latest grisly slaying of the latest grisly slayer will not prevent the emergence of the next grisly slayer.

This country has had its Rastas, Nugus, Wacucus, Cheruyoits, Musevos and Matheris who have come and gone with predictable succession.

It seems that every six months there is a brand new most wanted criminal.

Largely because of my strong anti-fascist principles, I have stayed away from the clamour for harsher law and order measures to curb and curtail rampant crime and run away insecurity in Kenya.

I have been mute struck to hear both Mwai Kibaki and William Ruto, not to mention the blood-thirsty John Michuki, reading from the very same script in urging tougher measures against alleged criminals in Kenya.

The Kenyan president was quoted by the local media advocating shoot to kill strictures.

William Ruto penned an op-ed piece calling for the military to be involved in crime fighting. He later repeated those remarks at a Rotary Club meeting in Westlands.

Ironically, it was a retired senior military officer who cautioned against this draconian suggestion- pointing out correctly that members of the armed forces are NOT trained in police methods, but rather are more adept at the business of exerting military force.

What is overlooked in all this warlike posturing is that it is actually illegal for the police to execute criminal suspects with impunity.

For instance,

Matheri’s widow is insisting that she had convinced her spouse to voluntarily and peacefully give himself up to avoid a bloodbath that would have threatened the lives of their innocent children. She says that he was interrogated for about a half hour before gun shots rang out. (See the accounts in The Standard, February 21, 2007 p.2 columns 5 and 6; also, Daily Nation of the same date, pp 2-3. She also repeated the same story on the 9 pm news on KTN, Wednesday, January 21st dramatizing how Matheri had come out with his arms clasped over his head in an obvious gesture of surrender to the waiting cops).

If these accounts are credible, then there are obvious questions and concerns as to the manner in which the suspected violent felon met his end.

Already, according to a VOA story filed from Nairobi, human rights groups in Kenya are castigating the police for the gangland style execution of Simon Matheri Ikere and casting serious doubts on the official version that the most wanted gangster was even armed.

Surely with 100 cops surrounding the humble Athi River dwelling, it was more than possible to apprehend Matheri alive.

It seems incredible that the police would choose to snuff out the life of a suspect who may have provided valuable leads in cracking other unsolved crimes-had he been preserved alive that is.

The Rambo style cutting down of Matheri Ikere plays well to the public galleries- the same galleries that salivate at rowdy lynchings and burnings of mobile phone suspected thieves.

These machismo forays hardly attack the crime problem at its roots.

For instance, is there any truth in the frequent allegation that many of the crooks shot dead by cops are either NOT crooks to begin with, or if they are, that they know far too much about the complicity of elements of the police force in rampant crime?

It would appear that when the Kenyan police want to, there have little trouble tracking down and grabbing their suspects. The use of GPRS technology, criminal informers and other crime busting tools are certainly NOT novel things, Nairobi press reports notwithstanding.

This leads me to conjecture that perhaps members of the Utumishi Kwa Wote force may be going through some internal turmoil leaving them demoralized and unmotivated in crime fighting.

There have been persistent reports of an acrimonious feud pitting the current police commissioner on the one hand versus elements in the criminal investigation department on the other hand- a face off traced to the salad days of ousted CID chief and Atur Brothers ally Kamau.

The endemic corruption in the judiciary that sees some of the most notorious criminals off the hook after a bribe or two can not be seen as a great incentive for police officers who want to remove dangerous hoodlums from the streets.

For five years back in the 1980s I was a political prisoner at the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison.

My last year in that prison saw me further locked up in a prison within a prison as a Special Watch inmate in Block E which was the designated “punishment block” housing the escapees, the mentally deranged, the hard core convicts and those like us who were deemed to be too politically volatile to be allowed to mingle with the general prison population.

My room mates-when I was briefly moved from solitary confinement-were young Kenyan men and other young people from other countries, in their early to mid twenties.

If you did not know what had led to their incarceration you would have been forgiven if you mistook them for secondary school leavers or young workers whiling away the weekend.

But wait until you heard their tales.

I vividly remember this short young man who was barely out of his teens gleefully recount how they had raided some homes in the Huruma neighbourhood and how he had personally and casually cut open the womb of a pregnant woman in his quest to steal a radio of all things!

His colleagues boasted of the number of people they had killed.

All of them were convinced of one thing:

In future, they would make sure there were NO witnesses left alive to identify them in court.

Some complained that they decided to become more hard core criminals after they had been framed and railroaded to jail. They were quite bitter with the rich because the rich seemed to get away with the most serious offences because of their deep pockets.

Others were contemptuous of underworld colleagues who engaged in petty crimes. They urged their counterparts to step up to the big league and engage in audacious armed robberies.

Let me spare you other gory details.

I kept wondering what had made all these young people to derail.

Several were of above average intelligence.

What condemned them to a life in crime?

Was it because of poor upbringing and bad influences as society’s moralists insisted?

Was it a simple question of poverty?

Why then were the majority of the poor law abiding citizens?

Here is an interesting factoid:

Many of the young criminals also believed in a shoot to kill credo. They believed that to survive they had to be ruthless with everybody- including children and other innocent bystanders.

I keep wondering after all these years how many of those fellow inmates morphed into future Nugus, Rastas and Matheris.

Did our Kenyan society, in barricading them in those festering and overcrowded penitentiary cages rehabilitate them or harden their criminal resolve?

From the twenty first century vantage point of my late 20th century prison reveries from a quarter century ago I see that our culture as a society from all sides of the law and order debate is suffused through and through with a blood-thirsty violent mindset.

Village dwellers and urban residents believe in stoning suspects to death because they believe nothing will happen to thugs once they are arrested.

Cops shoot to kill either because they believe also that the corrupt judiciary will let the suspects off the hook or because the people they kill are too well known to them.

Politicians from both sides of the political divide appeal to the basest demagogic instincts simply to stay relevant and win re-election.

I would want to believe that Kenyans can transcend these throwbacks to the primitive eye for an eye tooth for a tooth laws of the jungle of bygone eons.

Politicians rooting for a shoot to kill policy should extend that to their political colleagues who plan and execute the Goldenberg and Anglo-Leasing scams, criminal offences that impact on a lot more people than all the crimes of the Matheris quadrupled. Gun down the Pattnis, the Saitotis and the Mwirarias if you really believe that dangerous criminals do not deserve to live for one more second.

Of course the above paragraph was written tongue firmly in cheek but what I am appealing for is a more nuanced and sober approach to the nagging question of crime and punishment in this violent nation called Kenya.

The cliché goes that an eye for an eye leaves all of us blind.

Let us go back to what chain of events transformed the Matheris into the headline hogging ogres we meet in the media every day.

Let us create an environment where our law enforcement officers feel empowered.

Let us step back from the Neanderthal shoot to kill blathering.

Let us find out how societies like Cuba have all but eliminated serious and violent crimes- let us find out how they treat their criminals once they are convicted and jailed.

And please let us forget this nonsense reasoning that blames amnesties and prison reforms for the upsurge of crime.

That demented notion is ignorant and twisted!!

Onyango Oloo

Nairobi, Kenya


Anonymous said...

OO, thanks for the extra details re Matheri giving himself up - if it is true that he voluntarily did that and that he was actually questioned for half-hr or whatever, then the subsequent execution is police brutality at its worst. Its criminally stupid for the police to react in the same gangland-style as these thugs... Whats a policeman's no 1 tool? PS - pretty shocking, your account of what those prisoners you were with were saying....

Unknown said...

I think it is prudent to collect more information regarding the demise of the said felon Matheri. If I can remember well the dailies reported that the man was sorruonded by approximately 300 policemen at his residence, when asked to come out he appeared trying to load a magazine on an AK 47 gun. Which clearly is indicative of radiness to fight back the police. The fact that he had been interrrogated in his residence for that long before being shot dead needs to be re-examined.The moral questions for me here are (1). Is it reasonable to execute someone who in reality holds alot of information that would be very instrumental in fighting crime? (2). Was it not feasible for 300 policemen to close in and arrest the felon? James Maende

Unknown said...

RespectRESPECT is the best gift you could give to your Kenyan brother or sister that you can not do without.