SHUJAAZ SAVES THE DAY: when police harassment gets real [ARCHIVE]

  • Blog
  • 28 Aug 2017

As part of our ongoing campaign to reshape the youth discourse on governance, participation and transparency, we often ask our audience about which issues matter most to them. Almost without exception, one of the top three answers will be around insecurity and police harassment. Indeed, it was a story about ‘knowing your rights when arrested’ that triggered one of the highest responses from the audience to any of our governance campaigns. Nothing better explains why this is such an important issue for youth in Kenya than one of the Shujaaz team’s recent personal experiences. Okoth Opondo shares his story here:

On the evening of the 3rd July 2017 I set off to meet a group of Shujaaz fans who had come to Nairobi from all over Kenya to attend the Jiactivate Youth Manifesto Launch event the following day. This was an event, which we had widely publicized in the Shujaaz media and it was to be the culmination of 3 months of activities, encouraging youth to think about their role in shaping a Kenya they want to see.

Once everyone had arrived, we headed off to get our evening meal at a small restaurant near by and to discuss our excitement about the event the next day. At about 9pm we headed back to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep, but roughly twenty metres to the hotel a Police truck made an abrupt stop and arrested eleven of the group. They were bundled into the police truck and immediately driven off. We were given no explanation for the arrest. Those arrested were in open sandals, evening clothes and were carrying their hotel rooms’ keys. It was a most confusing time for us who’d been left behind. We panicked and didn’t know what to do. “Let’s get money and go bribe the officers”, “I hate the police to death”, “I now see why people gang up against the police”, “A police force or police service?” we lamented.

Eventually one of our friends called us to let us know that they were being held at Police Station five kilometres away. So we decided to head there and go and save them. Though feeling intimidated, we agreed on “detain us all or free us all” as our kind plea to the police. On our way to the station we narrowly missed being arrested by another police truck as we explained that we were on our way to help our friends who “your colleagues arrested earlier”!

On arriving at the police station we were given the rough treatment as the police demanded that we leave in thirty seconds or there would be trouble. When we politely refused, a female officer identified me as the team leader and called me in to where her two colleagues demanded I remove my belt and shoes then join the others in the cells. I insisted on talking to the OCPD (Officer Commanding Police Division). My fellow Shujaaz supporters joined me in gentle protest until the OCPD (who we had been told was away) eventually & begrudgingly emerged from his office. He requested an audience with me in private. I was incredibly nervous but when he learnt that I work with Shujaaz, he immediately ordered the officers to set us all free!

We rejoiced together that Shujaaz had saved the day but lamented that as Kenyan youth, we are not free to move around our city as we should be. It made us realize how important it is that all youth know their rights. While not everyone can work for Shujaaz, everyone can learn how to make their voice heard around their rights as citizens.  By standing together with ONE VOICE we were able to attend the JiActivate event and speak up with confidence about our rights and the changes that we need to make together for a better future for Kenya.

Opondo is not the first person who has used Shujaaz to help deal with police harassment. Several Shujaaz fans have told us that they carry the ‘know your rights’ Shujaaz comic with them to show police that they know the law around being arrested (to read about rights if arrested in Kenya click here).

We will continue to explore the issue of police harassment and other issues that youth have identified as important to them, in the Shujaaz media and at the upcoming Policy Handshake events where young people will engage with their newly elected leaders to work together on designing policies that will help improve the country.