NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 25, 2009

Nobody knows how many such lynchings happen in Kenya every year. But what is certain is that they are commonplace. Some military police (MPs) worry that violence is on the rise as more people lack jobs and young men are frustrated, and the lack of statistics is itself telling, says the Economist.

According to Kenya's police chief, Mohammed Ali, his force strongly discourages vigilantes from taking the law into their own hands and often arrests them. Yet, the police are invariably unable or unwilling to intervene against a large mob, says the Economist:

  • Human-rights groups lack the resources to investigate or even record more than a handful of lynchings.
  • The families of those killed often fail to lodge a complaint out of shame or because they do not have enough money to recover the bodies from the mortuary to bury them.

Petty criminals are often lynched in the countryside too:

  • In central Kenya's Kikuyu heartland, some 23 youths were recently killed by vigilantes on suspicion of being members of an outlawed and feared sect known as the Mungiki, who mix Kikuyu tribalism with organized crime.
  • The police say the Mungiki killed 29 villagers in retaliation, but a former justice minister says the figure is higher.

Fear of the mob makes fringe groups, including homosexuals and the disabled, wary of pressing their rights, particularly in villages.  The trick, they say wryly, is to argue their case without annoying too many people and drawing a crowd.

Still, attacks continue, says the Economist.  Take witch hunts for instance.  In an attack earlier this year in western Kenya\'s Kisii district, five old people were dragged out of their homes and burned alive.  Human-rights groups say several people are killed on suspicion of witchcraft every month in Kisii alone.

Source: Editorial, "A routine crime," The Economist, June 18, 2009.

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