#Black Lives Matter


I have been watching with a mix of shock and dismay as racism in America bubbles to the surface after the Ferguson, Missouri incident with highly publicized extra judicial killings of black people by police and vigilantes that culminated in huge protests nationwide. Many people in Africa can relate deeply to the issues raised and join in solidarity challenging stereotypes about the African heritage. Misplaced context is something Africans encounter every time they read about the happenings on their continent in Western press. The western media established a tradition of bias, reducing complex issues to lazy stereotypes and a single African story. Imagine a turn on the stereotype….


Mr. Obama, the first president from the Bratha minority tribe to elected, had been accused of allowing the police to orchestrate and institutionalize a wave of ethnic driven violence against civilians after hotly contested elections in 2008.  Mr. Obama, one of the richest Bratha in America, has always tried to distance himself from the killings instituted by his police force. Many of the killings committed by his police force, also involve extreme brutality reminiscent of the infamous Rodney King incident in 1992.

The roots of the ethnic animosity go back to 2008, when Obama challenged the status quo as the first candidate for high office from the Bratha tribe. In America’s 200 year history, members of the Bratha tribe have often been treated as underclass citizens by the state. His opponent, John McCain, was a rich, populist opposition leader from the rival Odiero ethnic group who have dominated the country’s politics since independence from the British in 1776. Most analysts said that Mr. Obama had won fairly but that McCain allies vowed to place roadblocks and frustrate his efforts to run the country. The law enforcement agencies in the country are dominated by members of the Odiero tribe.

Ondiegi Otoyo, a prominent African human rights lawyer for the victims, said that “Bratha tribesmen are disproportionately represented among those targeted as criminal suspects and fired upon or struck by police gunfire”. Mr. Otoyo lamented that “tens of thousands of young men from the Bratha tribe are targeted daily for no reason other than that they belonged to the wrong tribe.”

“Men are choked in the streets, people are shot even with their hands in the air. Pregnant women harassed in traffic. Children are losing their fathers to the prison industrial system. The surviving victims of these crimes have received no justice from the US criminal justice system”, Mr. Otoyo asserted.

This comes as no surprise. The United States’ legal system is historically and at present a perpetrator of massive violence and imprisonment against Bratha ethnic group. Human rights activists from Africa are concerned with the injustice and ethnic bias in courtrooms and mechanisms of a tribal power structure. The presence of the first Bratha president and the first Bratha attorney general is not enough to command obedient silence of their grassroots supporters who are saying the killings must stop. This sense of anger spread immediately throughout the country with mass demonstrations organized from coast to coast.

Yet the Obama administration has initiated no concrete programs to improve the plight of Bratha people despite pressure from the African Union for systemic changes particularly for young Bratha men, who remain trapped in low-wage employment, joblessness, poverty and deadly ethnic profiling policies carried out by police and the courts leading to the use of lethal force and mass incarceration.

President Obama’s has been accused by African leaders of not doing enough to stop the killings. The escalating waves of bloodshed has ruined America’s image abroad and several African countries have issued travel advisories warning their citizens against non-essential travel to the US.

America has a long history of ethnic conflict. Much of America’s news media is itself divided along ethnic lines and outside of a handful of responsible news outlets, most are addicted to sensational celebrity affairs and ethnic power struggles that dominate the news cycle. Some are dedicated to portraying Obama as a tribalist out to undermine established Odiero privilege and heritage in the country.

African leaders issued a thinly veiled threat stating that tribalism, selective justice and institutional oppression must be eradicated in America and those who wish to continue receiving aid from Africa must adhere to proper human rights.



Take A Beating Like A Man.

Rodney King, an African American, a famous victim of police brutality in the US was found drowned in his pool. Mr. King was thrust into the limelight for all the wrong reasons. It was the year 1991 in Los Angeles, when a passing motorist captured explosive footage of LAPD officers, beating the hell out of a man on the ground. It became a sore point for race relations in the US and stirred an emotive national debate. Eventually the police officers involved were acquitted by an all-white jury, which triggered off the vicious L.A riots. 52 lives were lost and an estimated billion dollars worth of property destroyed.

Rodney King who became famous for all the wrong reasons

As I watched the old clip of police officers viciously assaulting King, I was struck by how common a sight that was in Kenya of the 80s through to 90s. At the height of the clamor for multi democracy, opposition rallies were always broken up with tear gas and riot police clubbing protestors senseless. It was such a regular occurrence that people went to those opposition rallies prepared. One wore running shoes, carried some water because when the cops descended it would be mayhem for everyone including the press. A beating was a standard occupational hazard of pro democracy activism.

Today we call it police brutality. In the old days it is just what you expected the police to do and all one had to do was to be in the right place at the wrong time. The police operated like zombies and when they struck, they beat people up indiscriminately. No one was above a good clobbering. The official policy was christened FFU, Fanya Fujo Uone (make trouble and you will see) and the public had a very clear understanding of whose patience one never tested. Among the dreaded corps were the Presidential Escort, the G.S.U ( General Service Unit) and overzealous Kanu youth wingers. It was this policy of equal opportunity beating that partly pushed up Rev. Timothy Njoya’s credentials as a reformist. The famous footage of his whipping outside the Parliament building and his ability to forgive his tormentors painted the picture of a man who walked the talk. He entered the reform books as a man of God who had put his limb on line for the good of many. Prof. Wangari Maathai also suffered the same fate when police crossed the line and clobbered a group of elderly women at Uhuru Park. Both incidents were widely circulated by international press and as the more prominent victims of police excesses, Rev. Njoya and Proff. Maathai unconsciously played a big part in securing the freedom to protest that commercial sex workers now enjoy.

These days our society is developing a low tolerance for sanctioned violence. Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Barasa found that the landscape has vastly changed and the seemingly minor incident where she was caught in a scuffle with a subordinate has become like an albatross around her neck. With an enlightened public, a justice system with teeth and diligent human rights activists on the prowl, times have really changed for the police force.

The underlining lesson here is that we must not forget that many of the privileges and freedoms that we enjoy came at a great price to a few. Rodney King may not have been in the league of Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King but his beating would save thousands in the future from police brutality and brought about some measure of reform. Like Rodney King, our past is filled with silent heroes and heroines, accidental victims of history for whose sacrifices we have much to be thankful for.





Image source: diasporadical.com