In my informed view Kamukunji Police Station cells are a much more friendlier place than the usually badly stinking brutal Central Police station cells.
The Police cells and Kenyan prisons contrary to what many naïve Kenyans think, is not filled with rapists and murders and carjackers. NO. They are full of innocent Kenyans whose only crime is that they did not have the money to "buy their freedom." Many others are people merely "assisting the police with investigations" for a very long time.
In 1986 something happened to me in the hands of the police that changed my life forever and in fact almost killed me.
I was newly married and still in the "honeymoon mode" trying to work very hard to provide for my newly established family. I was a journalist but I carefully avoided controversial stories that could get me into trouble. I would not write a political story even if you paid me a million bob (and believe me a million bob was a lot of money in those heady days when a loaf bread cost less than Kshs 4/-).
I worked for a mzungu publication based in Westlands (that was the first of its' kind in Kenya) and had recently received a tip off about a story that involved a traffic policeman who had been deliberately ran over by a matatu driver. I was doing this reluctantly because even such a story was too controversial for me.
One afternoon I walked back into the office in Waumini House Annexe, Westlands to be told that there were some plain clothes policemen looking for me. I assumed that it was about the story I was chasing. I really wasn't frightened of policemen as I had grown up seeing them and interacting with them because my father was very senior police officer and still was at that time.
To cut a long story short I was arrested and driven all over Nairobi by police officers from the then dreaded Special branch. And at first, without knowing exactly what the whole issue was about, except that they asked me about another freelance journalist whom I was acquainted with, I was released and asked to report back the following day. This was at the dreaded Nyayo House building, twenty something floor.
I dutifully came back the next morning, which was a Friday and was locked up the whole weekend. They kept on shifting me from police station to police station. That is how I can authoritatively compare all police cells in the city, including little known ones like the one at the Railway station and the one at KICC (Kenyatta International Conference Centre). Central police has a long history of police brutuallity dating back to colonial times. It is just a few metres fro the place where in 1922 police opened fire on a whole group of detained Kikuyu natives—but that is a story for another day.
By this time I had discovered that I was supposed to be a Mwakenya suspect. Mwakenya for our younger readers was a group of brave Kenyans trying to resist the government of Moi in an underground clandestine way because opposition politics was then an outlawed thing punishable by detention without trial or by death.
I was very lucky because I was finally released on Monday evening and it had a lot to do with who my father was. The special branch did not have a shred of evidence linking me to Mwakenya and to this day I am not sure what it was all about whether it was a case of mistaken identity or just plain bad luck (I was too young to have made any enemies then) because many innocent Kenyans suffered terribly as so-called Mwakenya suspects.
That small incident had a major effect on my life and almost destroyed me. While in police custody I had received a message from my Dad that I was basically on my own. He was sure that I was innocent but there was nothing he could do about it because I was considered a "possible threat to the security of the state."
I was not tortured too badly except at one point during interrogation, I was asked to strip naked (which I did) and informed that the room where I was, many other suspects before me had been shot dead and their bodies taken to the mortuary because they did not co-operate. I broke easily (I was only a 22 year old then, recently out of school.) and begged the cold policemen for my life telling them that I would admit anything they wanted me to admit but that I was innocent and that my dead mother who had passed on when I was in primary school knew it and so did my current step mother.). My pleas must have touched them because they immediately stopped the interrogation and locked me up in a room at CID headquarters where all this was going on. This were the old wooden structures that burnt a few years later under some very mysterious circumstances.
An explanation here is in order so that nobody gets confused. I was initially arrested by special branch officers who asked me to return the next day. They then handed me over to the CID who were supposed to conduct further investigations. Hence my presence in that place where Health Minister Ngilu has spent most of the day today.
After my release, my character changed dramatically and I became fairly reckless. I started drinking very heavily and became a serious womanizer. The whole ordeal had shown me that staying on the right side of the law does not really help when you have a justice system like the one in Kenya. In the police cells I met many innocent people. You see when you are inside, people tell the truth and have no reason to lie. Criminals openly admitted what they had done and told stories of how they had outwitted the law for so long and how they were going to get out of the cells soon, when certain "negotiations" were complete.
I was treated with a lot of respect in the police cells because everybody knew that I was a "Mwakenya suspect." The police kept on bringing their friends to see me. "Mwanume wa wanaume" Men of men as they called me. A young man brave enough to defy the government of Kenya. I didn't waste my breath trying to explain that I was innocent.
The reason why I have given you this story is simply this. Our justice system which we are supposed to obey without question has created the vast majority of criminals that we see out there today and continues to do so. Many others who passed through the same ordeal and probably suffered more than me, must have automatically ended up in crime.
This I can assure you, there is no feeling that brings more bitterness in a human being than suffering for a crime that you did not commit.
That is the Kenyan justice system for you. As far as the police are concerned, you are guilty until proven innocent, or until you pay a bribe.
And these days it is worse. Last weekend a young Kenyan lady informed me of a case where this Kenyan who committed a grave crime against her and her family was jailed for 18 years. He did not even complete a year in prison. He was recently released under mysterious circumstances, or shall I say pretty normal circumstances as far as Kenya is concerned.
That is why I want to inform naïve Kenyans that the people still in prison are mostly the innocent, the ones that don't have the cash, and the "stupid". In Kenya the word "stupid" is often used on principled people who refuse to bribe. Admittedly a breed that is almost extinct in Kenya. When you understand the meaning of this word in Kenyaspeak, you can then say that Ngilu was "stupid" because she needn't have used so much energy and effort. All she would have done would have been to reach into her handbag and her purse… and presto, behold. Ann Njogu would have been free. No maneno no fuss.
By the way the young Kenyan lady who told the story of the man released from police custody says that she has now given her life to praying for justice in Kenya. Some pipedream, many of you would say, but I too dream of justice in Kenya… one day soon.
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