Incident report: Mob Justice

10:10 AM- 11:30 AM

Earlier today in what seemed like a mob justice, male residents of Langas estate escorted a suspected thief towards pioneer estate. Having briefly met the gang on my way around the fence separating Langas estate and the National Youth Service training grounds, I watched the mob march the suspected thief, even increasing the pace to a jog often enough. Some of the members of the mob were inquiring for lost property, one mentioning a stereo, reporting that it had cost him several thousands KSH.

A traveller cynically commented to his companion, “ hao wenye wanamchapa pengine hata wako nayeye, wanaoperate kirende (those beating him might be in league with him, they operate in gangs). Agreeing consequently that the fate of the man was unknown at the hands of the NYS.

For a moment they ganged around the suspect kicking and hitting him with all manner of foliage and rocks in the vicinity. Everybody wanted a piece of the man while others cheered them on, “tuambie penye vitu ziko(tell us where the things are)”. Begging to be spared, everybody seemed to be voicing over an opinion of what should be done to him.

It was later revealed that the suspect was called “Benja”, having been recognised by a neighbor. She revealed he was a humble resident, however it was not the first incident in which he was suspected of stealing. She stated that the had stolen an iron sheet from a neighbors roof, adding, “ni ngumu sana kujua chenye inaendelea kwa kichwa ya mtu(it’s hard knowing what goes on in a person’s head).”

Moving on, I found “Benja” having been beaten just meters from the NYS grounds and hour after meeting them earlier, he was bleeding profusely from a wound on his nose, blood from his ears, as he tried to negotiate with the gang beating him. He was even threatened; a man got on his motorbike and rode towards him as he yelled to be spared wriggling out of hold from those holding him.

An entire gathering of residents watched the incident that was fast unfolding avidly commenting on how he had been stoned, kicked, punched, the children adding how they were being chased away from the scene. I could hear some women saying that it was possible that they would just beat him up and let him go. The man was on his knees begging the mob, “mimi ni mmoja wenyu, na hustle na nyinyi”, immediately getting cut off by a kick that sends him squirming towards another, one of his assailants adding, “ni wewe unajua hadi manguo zangu, na vitu zangu, hatari sana(It’s you that know how my clothes look, that’s dangerous)…”

One of the observers; trying to distance himself, called on a guard watching within the fence, he seemed to be on the phone and moved slowly towards him.

The mob then turned towards the gathering audience at the scene. The children started running while the voice of the suspected thief rose to a wail. He wasn’t able to say much other than make noise. Having moved away, the mob marshalled the “thief” with a blood soaked vest, wiping his bleeding brow with a piece of a torn shirt.

They paused at the periphery of the fence to scatter the watching mass that had become audience to this mob justice. The emerging opinion was that the thief would be beaten brutally then let loose, others adding that they may take him to the police station.

Dissent in the mob

During the halt, members of the mob started asking where they were going. “mnanipeleka wapi (where are you taking me)?” benja dared to ask. With what appeared to be a slap, a man in a maroon trouser and a sweatshirt gave him a reply, “ unauliza nani? tutakupeleka kwenye babako atakuja kukutafuta(who are you asking? We will take you where your father will come look for you!).”

The mob circled benja out of view as others moved to scatter the increasing numbers of spectators. They started moving deeper into langas away from the fence. The few remaining watched as the man was rushed with kicks as the mob rushed him down the route having agreed to go to the police station. The motorcycles had preceded the mob as they moved away.

The spectators, now dispersing back to their various duties, avidly debating on the fate that would befall the suspected thief: split on whether the thief would die before getting to the police station or that he would be let go after getting thoroughly beaten.

The afternoon rains washed away any sign of the incident. The next morning as I went to scan the scene. Walking around, everyone seemed to be busy; it took a while before I found a familiar face. I asked him what had befallen “Benja”. He informed me that he was dead, it was another case reported by the police as mob justice. I inquired if he had made it to the police station, he did but the mob was informed they had to check him into a hospital: they took matters into their own hands and finished him off at an unknown location.

Photo: Angry mob by Gerezon