Lamu, KENYA: Lamu residents are outraged by the latest strategy being used by the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) soldiers to punish and harass those found strolling around operation areas at night.
The most recent was early this week when locals who were on their way home after 11pm were forced to roll and swim in ditches full of mud and sewage in Mpeketoni.
There isn’t a curfew in any part of Lamu but residents especially in areas where the soldiers are conducting the Linda Boni operation meant to flush out Al shabaab have complained of being harassed frequently whenever they come in contact with soldiers who have been described by many as merciless and ruthless.
Kathleen Wanjiru who was heading home from work after closing her pub in Mpeketoni says efforts to explain that she was late because of the kind of business she runs fell on deaf ears as the KDF soldiers insisted that she swim in the mud.
She says it was the most humiliating thing she has ever gone through.
“They asked for my ID and I showed them but they told me they would teach me a lesson so that I would not ever walk at night again. I was in my skirt suit and they asked me not remove anything and lie in the ditch then begin rolling. All this while they were standing over the ditch laughing loudly. There were others there who were going through the same. I saw an elderly man who is respected in Mpeketoni also undergoing the same. It was so embarrassing,” said Wanjiru.
Kimani Hassan, a boda boda operator says, motorcyclists have to be off the road as early as 6pm failure to which they are also subjected to dehumanizing ‘punishments’ by the men in uniform.
Hassan says those operating beyond that time are normally forced to carry their motorcycles on their heads.
“It doesn’t matter if the motorcycle is loaded with luggage. They tell you to lift it up on your head and begin jumping like a frog as they count. If they tell you to jump ten times and you jump two times,they make you repeat it over and over. Its so painful I almost broke my back, I wasn’t able to lift the bike at all and they kicked the hell out of me,” said Hassan.
FORCED TO FROG JUMP
Other residents reported being asked to frog-jump countless times until the soldiers felt it was enough.
Wainaina Kimaru who operates a probox business plying Lamu and Mpeketoni and suffers from High Blood Pressure says he was made to do 100 frog-jumps that left him gasping for air and went into a heart attack shortly after.
“By the time they were telling me to go, I could barely stand and I collapsed there in front of them. They just laughed and left me there. Thankfully, I was with my conductor who knows how to drive and he took to Mpeketoni hospital where the doctors said I suffered a heart attack due to the immense strenuous activity. These guys are merciless,” said Kimaru.
Operation Linda Boni was launched in 2015 with main objective of flushing out Al shabaab militants from inside the Boni forest.
The operation was initially meant for Basuba, Milimani, Mararani, Mangai, Kiangwe, Bodhei, Sangailu, Masalani,Galmaghala and all other areas around the Boni forest.
However the operation was eventually extended to include Mpeketoni, Ijara, Witu, Pandanguo, Poromoko and parts of Kilifi county.
However, the recent mistreatment of innocent unarmed civilians who were heading home after a day’s work by making them roll in mud has sparked outrage from locals and human rights groups in the region who want the matter probed and action taken against the concerned officers.
Haki Africa representative in Lamu, Yunus Issakia, urged Interior CS Fred Matiang’i to intervene and probe the incident.
“If the curfew is back, let the government inform us properly instead of the kind of treatment people are going through at the hands of the KDF. Its unfair and unacceptable. We want the CS to do something about this. These are people who are being treated like animals, yet they didn’t commit any crime,” said Issakia.
KDF AWARE OF MISTREATMENT REPORTS
A senior KDF officer who sought anonymity because he isn’t authorized to issue statements to the media said they had received reports of harassment and had deployed officers to probe the matter.
“If any of our officers will be found culpable, then be sure the right measures will be instituted against them. The soldiers have no right to harass people, its not part of their mandate,” said the officer.
Efforts to reach Linda Boni Operation Director Joseph Kanyiri were futile as his phone was switched off.