CRIMINALIZATION OF POVERTY – The Space


Gunshots were heard just outside of his house.

Infact, the noise was too much for him to get some sleep after working all night.

He had two jobs…

But not the kind we imagine…

During the day, he sold sweets and other small commmodities at the bus stage.

But for two weeks, he had also been working night shift at a local construction site.

At least he could afford to put something on the table.

It wasn’t enough but better than nothing.

He usually woke up at 5am but the guns were blazing at 4 in the morning.

So he sat pensively listening to the shots.

With time they became more pronounced…louder and louder

With time, he knew that he needed to leave to find a hiding place.

‘A hiding place?’…you ask…

Well living in a shanty made of corrugated iron sheets doesn’t guarantee safety where bullets are involved.

He slowly turned his door knob as if wary of an intruder.

His door stood slightly ajar as he peeped through the tiny space to check on the situation.

It was past curfew time so people were up and about.

But this helter skelter had nothing to do with the post-curfew activity.

Some people were running away from the militant noise as others were ganging up to confront the danger.

Women and children were wailing as they rushed as far as possible from the approaching gunfire.

So he chose to run…not towards but away from the mayhem.

Two hours earlier, (during curfew hours) a young man rushing home after work was accosted by police.

He was beaten and left for the dead.

They didn’t listen to his plea even though he had papers to ‘clear’ him from being harrased for being out during curfew.

Later on, his friends discovered his body lying in a pool of blood next to an open sewer.

(Sorry for my graphic language but this is just the way things are in the ghettos.)

This wasn’t the first time such a thing had happened.

It was the order of the day in this neighborhood.

A police ‘operation’ in informal settlements would not be complete without a blood trail.

And today was no exception.

So once the gang came across a police van in the area, they overturned it and set it on fire.

To them the police are the quintessential symbol of injustice.

So the only way to guarantee justice for their slain friend was to apply the ‘law of the jungle’…pilage, destroy and go on rampage.

They had nothing in store other than raw anger.

They knew they had to do maximum damage before a paramilitary contingent is ‘dispatched’ to quell the violence.

Indeed that contingent had arrived in style with their guns disturbing the peace.

Their bullets had rudely woken up our sleepy friend and he was on the run with others.

He had committed no crime, he had wronged no one, he was totally innocent but still condemned of a crime with the others also on the run.

Poverty was their crime!

The trigger-happy uniformed comrades were in the house and would shoot any one in sight who would appear to question their actions.

In no way am I laying a blanket blame on all police officers.

Many are champions in their own right.

Many have helped marginalized communities.

Many have played their role in fighting crime and boosting community cohesion.

But still a number look at poor people in informal settlements as vermin which must be dealt with at the slightest opportunity.

Young and old have lost lives through gunfire.

Their only crime is being found at the wrong place at the wrong time.

They’re not questioned because they don’t deserve to be…

They are not given a chance because after all, life has thrown them under the bus….

They are not listened to because they belong to the bottom of the pyramid.

The story of Carilton Maina, a university student who’s only crime was watching a football match speaks volumes to us.

This young Kibra resident found himself in the middle of a melee he knew nothing about…

He found himself in the middle of a police-criminal chase.

Within no time, bullets were flying left right and centre.

Within no time, his youthful life had been cut short.

There are many stories like Carilton’s.

Stories of young people in their early twenties and in their teens who are labeled as criminals by virtue of living in informal settlements.

Small wonder that this young man returning home from work (during curfew hours) was given no chance to explain himself.

At the end, his young wife and two toddlers will never see him again.

Criminalization of poverty.



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