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Police Brutality in Kenya: Maryanne Kasina’s Experience

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Posted: August 05, 2020

Concluding our 3-part series on Police Brutality is  Maryanne Kasina’s story. She is a feminist and social justice activist from Kayole. 

“I was born and raised in Kayole, a poor area in Nairobi. I have grown-up in a society full of injustices, and I know poverty is violence. During my primary school years, I could not understand why the violence was rampant in Kayole. 

When I was in high school, my parents separated, and it became hard to raise us. My mother had ten children, so things had to change. We were transferred from a public school to the cheapest private school she could afford. Private schools in the ghetto are cheap due to the lack of qualified teachers and the lack of school equipment such as laboratories and libraries.

After I completed my secondary schooling, things were worse at home. I knew we couldn’t afford school fees to continue with my studies: we slept many days on an empty stomach, and since I am the second born in a family of ten, I had to look for something to do which could put food on the table.

A friend of mine told me about an agency that would take me abroad to work. I knew the risks: I used to hear and could see in the media how workers were mistreated, tortured, and sometimes killed. It gave me a lot of fear, but I had to go. The agency told me they had gotten me a waitressing job in Dubai starting on December 13, 2013; a contract of two years, a visa and a plane ticket. 

The funny thing is that everything I was told to sign was in Arabic; I asked the agency if I was going to work in a hotel because what I feared most was to work as a domestic worker because of the violations they face. 

They told me I was going to work in a hotel. On December 15, 2013 I left for Dubai, and when I got there, the agency briefed me that what was expected of me was to work in a private house. I froze and wished I had wings to fly and go back to my country. 

I wished the world could break apart and swallow the whole me, but all was in vain. I ended up staying for two years. The working conditions were excruciating.

When I came back in 2015, I did not know where to begin since every young person I knew felt I was a savior and wanted me to help them go abroad not knowing how hellish it was. Because of no alternatives and the frustrations of survival, we decided to seek the alternative for ourselves through youth groups.

Gaza group was a dancing crew when we were in high school. We used to compete with other neighborhoods in friendly dance competitions. It helped us come together. After completing high school, we broke up and some of us joined existing youth groups. These groups started to do community development and ecological justice work. Their organizing threatened the system and so the system infiltrated them.

How did they do this? By giving them weapons,”bunduki,” to fight over a tycoon’s land. This time they felt life would be different as they would have housing and a plot of land to do farming. 

Because this was their hope, they fought for the land and won the war but because it was a war instigated by the system, the system started to shoot them one by one. The land which they fought for was sold to millionaires.

I have lost my friends through police executions. Most of the friends I grew up with are 6 feet under. It reached a point we feared sitting together because the police would storm anywhere youths were gathered and either shoot all of you or arrest you and accuse you of criminal activity.

In 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta gave a “shoot to kill” order. I wondered who was to be killed? Was it us the youth who had been criminalized by police and society, then armed by politicians for selfish interests? 

Was it us, the youth, who had been turned into walking ATM machines for the police, squeezing from us the little that we toil to earn? Was it us, the youth, who are serving prison sentences for possession of bhang because they failed to give the police a bribe?

There are more police stations than public hospitals in the informal settlement. It is to brutalize us and kill us because it has failed to provide basic needs to all humans. Since the capitalist system is a system to benefit a few, what the system does is when youths organize themselves, they infiltrate their organizations.

Some of those from the Gaza crew who reformed have to pay police to stay alive. Most of us are victims or survivors of system impunity, and those who cannot afford to give the bribe have no peace: the police vigilantes profile them on social media and kill them.

When we give birth that’s labor but the system is eating our children. It’s time we all arise, it is time women stop giving birth until the environment becomes conducive for all of us. The world is not safe until we make it safe.

I met Minoo in 2018. I was helping her and other comrades set up Mukuru Community Justice Centre. During our groundings with other female comrades, we were able to consolidate our struggle and form the Women in Social Justice Centres movement, a feminist workers movement whose struggle is through political action. 

In this space, we want to create a safe space for all oppressed human beings. The fight against patriarchy and capitalism continues. We all need to embrace feminism as an ideology towards socialism, getting back to our roots and our humanity.

In our reflections on our lives and the unfolding world events, we realized we do not need police reforms but total change of the system. We are still colonized. It is not yet uhuru”.

*Maryanne’s story originally appeared on Africa is a Country 

*Image: Courtesy 

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