By Sarah Nyakio
The recent announcement by the Nairobi County Government to train close to 2000 kanjo askaris popularly known as 'kanjo' to instil discipline and professionalism with an aim of transforming them from feared enforcement officers to friendly enforcement service is on the right track. This is a viable path to the reduction of the staggering numbers of torture and ill-treatment by the askaris.
The conduct of the askaris has come into question severally with cases of torture and violence during work. Mr Antony Maina was a victim of the askaris sometime in August 2021 when he was accosted and later brutalized for declining to procure a bribe of KES.100, for hawking in Nairobi CBD.
Mr Anthony’s example is simply one of the many hawkers that continue to be tortured by rogue enforcement officers making them extremely vulnerable. At least two cases of hawker violation are reported every month. Consequently, they have adopted various ways of coping with officers which include bribes paid. To the enforcement officers who are usually the perpetrator of these acts, The bribes are predominantly paid to during arrest to ensure immediate freedom or access to merchandise upon them being seized during “kanjo raides” This, in essence, denies them the right to be enjoyed by arrested persons and access to justice as enshrined in Article 49 and 48 of the Constitution of Kenya, respectively. The County Council askaris have proved to be manipulative and have blatantly broken the law when handling the hawkers.
Whereas the lack of policy to protect the rights of these groups is a lacuna that needs to be filled urgently, the level of impunity enjoyed by the City askaris in the execution of their duties goes counter to any known requirements of due process. The level of violence meted on the traders and sometimes even passers-by points to an ingrained culture of impunity.
There is a need to ensure that the training of the officers on the conduct of their duties embody a human rights-based approach. The enforcement officers are expected to carry out their work in a way that does not rely on fear and raw power, but instead on regard for the law, honour and professionalism. When law enforcement officers are seen to respect, uphold and defend human rights, public confidence is built. The officers are then seen as part of the community, performing a valuable social function.
This will ensure that the enforcement officers will promote and respect human rights as outlined in Articles 27(2), 28, 29, 40(3), 48-51 of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010. Subsequently, the need to train law enforcement officers to the highest possible standards of competence is necessary. Policing work should always be taken as an approach on promotion and protection of human rights of the police officers as well as all Kenyans
To cater for the hawkers, we also need to formulate national laws to protect the specific human and economic rights and interests of hawkers. National law will be useful in clarifying the rights of all parties involved in informal trade.
National and county-specific census of hawkers and small-scale traders will enable proper planning for traders within the City environment.
The County Governments should also allocate appropriate spaces for traders. Recognizing the rights of vendors should lead to the formulation of bylaws that are not only human rights friendly but are also in tandem with the country’s Constitution.