Covid-19 Lockdowns Escalate Police brutality in East Africa


At least 30 Kenyans have died due to injuries sustained from police beatings between March 2020 and June this year. Ugandan law enforcement agencies are also using excessive force to police its citizens after a heavily disputed election. While the police brutality targeting Blacks in the United States spark worldwide protests, decades of brutal police killings in East Africa are yet to receive justice.

Kenya police heavy handed

A recent report by the Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA) highlights a worrying trend. More than 50 percent of the deaths are directly linked to the enforcement of Covid-19 lockdown measures. The first nine weeks of Kenya’s dusk to dawn curfew in 2020 for instance saw the death of fifteen people in the hands of police.

Kenya Police are accused of shooting and beating people in low-income areas. In Nairobi’s Eastlands area, police shot 13-year-old Yassin Hussein Moyo as he stood on a balcony, killing him instantly. Amnesty International Kenya said that the Covid-19 pandemic provided “the perfect storm for indiscriminate mass violence” by the police.

To this regard, a petition filed by the Law Society of Kenya prompted the High Court to declare the excessive use of force in implementing the State Curfew Order as unconstitutional. So far, the Police Oversight Authority (IPOA), has received 87 complaints since the end of March documenting 21 cases where people have been killed. Five police officers are to be charged over deaths, shootings, and assault while enforcing the curfew. The officer implicated in the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Yassin Moyo was indicted in July.

Violation of Freedoms in Uganda

Viral videos of Uganda Police torturing dozens of people in Elegu while enforcing the Covid-19 curfew surfaced online instigating the ire of human rights activists. Subsequently, numerous Ugandan activists and artists have since been detained. Moreover, the Ugandan government require bloggers to acquire state permission to post content online further undermining their freedom of expression.

In the follow up to President Yoweri Museveni’s skeptical re-election, more than 13 radio and television stations were directed to suspend their staff. The government accused them of airing unbalanced and sensational content that gave the opposition undue prominence. Museveni’s use of police brutality against the opposition against the opposition is nothing new. Political opponents like Bobi Wine have borne the brunt of Museveni’s misuse of police forces sometimes to disastrous ends like that of the late Besigye.

A 2020 survey by IPOA blamed the rise of misconduct by police officers on poor remuneration, negative public perception and lack of professionalism. The survey also cited poor quality recruits (mostly rejects in other careers) and poor working conditions as probable causes. High stress levels with no psychosocial support services also plague the Kenyan police force. In addition, Administration Police Officers in Kenya are thinly spread across the country and suffer from a heavy work load.

“We have consistently, recommended counselling for police officers,” IPOA chairperson Anne Makori suggests. “Some of the issues they handle are sensitive and emotionally draining.” She adds. Moreover, IPOA recommends the police to have sensitization about the 6th Schedule of the National Police Service (NPS) Act on the use of force .

In addition, police brutality in East Africa has its origins in the foundations of policing during British colonial rule. Arbitrary arrests, torture and murder were key agents of state control before independence. Therefore, Police brutality is still hardwired into our security forces today.

Police Brutality: A Global problem

Violence is a hallmark of many police forces all over the world. From the Favelas of Rio to the streets of Manila, police brutality is hardly a novel issue. In 2019 alone, 1,810 people were killed by police in Rio de Janeiro. President Duterte’s brutal crackdown on Philippine’s drug problem also saw more than 7,000 Filipinos gunned down by police in the first six months of his presidency. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in an otherwise developed country like the United States is a curios case. In essence, police brutality is widespread and a clear indication of an endemic socio-political issue in policing.


About Dickson Soire

Dickson Soire is a journalist from Kenya. He endeavors to use his skills in journalism, teaching and animation to educate, inspire and entertain young audiences. He aims to create relevant, timely and informative videos and articles that make technical information accessible to the public.