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Andrew Harding in Nairobi
"The vigilante business is booming"
 real 56k

Friday, 6 October, 2000, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Kenya's vigilante problem

Vigilantes say the police and courts are ineffectual
By Andrew Harding in Nairobi

Last month 15 year old James Nzioka was running for his life.

He was the sole survivor of a frenzied vigilante attack in a small town on the outskirts of Nairobi.

James and five school friends were out hunting for rabbits. It was broad daylight, but someone in a nearby village mistook them for a group of burglars who'd been active in the area.

"The man shouted thief. I told my friends to leave. they stayed."

A big mistake. James escaped but the other five were hacked to death on the spot by a crowd of villagers.


"I heard many people screaming - they were my friends," a still shaken James said.

James is lucky to be alive
Back at home, James's mother is relieved, but she says she understands why a mob might take the law into its own hands, saying the police are not trusted.

The police have since arrested several suspects - but a conspiracy of silence has now enveloped the village.

No-one would talk to us.

And it's not just one village.

Many stories

Kenyan television recently showed pictures of a suspected thief that was caught and nearly lynched in the capital, Nairobi.

This suspected thief narrowly escaped a lynching
The newspapers are full of similar stories.

Journalists like Catherine Gisheru of the Nation Newspaper, follow each new example of vigilante justice.

"People are trying to fight back with what they can," she says.

Kenyans are no more violent than any other nation. But deepening poverty, and a relentless wave of crime have pushed people over the edge.

The Kenya police admit they are struggling to contain this new crimewave.

They are undermanned and increasingly outgunned. But they insist they still have the public's trust.

"There is a complaint that jails are full because of the efforts of police in arresting suspects. It is not true that Kenyans have no trust in police. They have," said a police spokesman.

Vigilante patrols

But at night, in Nairobi's poorest districts, it is the vigilantes, not the police who patrol the streets.

Police say the jails are full
Ali Baraka and his friends swear they do not punish criminals themselves. But they clearly do not have much faith in the authorities. "There's much corruption in the court. They buy their way out," he says. No wonder the vigilante business is booming - and the innocent sometimes suffer with the guilty.

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06 Oct 00 | Africa
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