Is there such a thing as “Freedom of Movement”?

Dr. Ali Mahamud

I did it again this year to see if anything has changed. Last year it was by Bus. In October of this year (2010), I traveled from Madera to Wajir, purposefully by Kabber (Land Cruiser used to carry Chat). Three days before, I flew from Nairobi to Mandera and asked my driver to meet me in Wajir. The Kabberr unloaded a day before and was on its way to Maua. In the cabin were the driver, my niece who just completed standard eight and me. We departed at 10 am.

After traveling for an estimated half-kilometer, the driver came to a screeching stop in front of a shop. He shouted for his turnboy to come down. He handed him about 10,000 Kenya Shillings. It was all in 1000 shilling bill. The day was so hot…so hot and dry that no amount of water can cool you down. It was made worse by sitting and waiting in idling car. Five minutes later, the young man returned with hands to chest full of 100 shilling notes. Instantly, the driver accelerated with a thrust leaving behind a gigantic trail of dust. That made us very nervous. But, the thought of the huge stuck of notes clouded my discomfort with a seemingly irresponsible driving. I could not hold my curiosity back. I asked the driver why he needed so much cash in small bills. He retorted “for the road”. That was an idiomatic response but I suspect he meant for the police (road) as I had seen it happen in the Bus.

We came to Arabia, the immediate settlement after Mandera. The policeman waved at us to stop. There was a roadblock, so there was no reason for waving. Perhaps, he was too excited to see us. He came to the driver’s side, leaned on the door and as he exchanged greetings, the driver pulled a couple notes (Ksh. 200) from the stuck of money on the side of his seat. He folded the notes and extended his hand for unsuspicious handshake. I could see the policeman’s arm drop to his pocket and almost instantly conclude the conversation. The Policeman cleared our way and we headed on.

Next, we came to Fino. The policeman waved again. We stopped. And soon, he was on the driver’s door and the Metal Bar was up in minutes. The whole thing appeared to have some procedural pattern to it; a roadblock, a wave, leaning on the driver’s door, a handshake and moving the roadblock. At Lafey, Elwak (twice), Borehole-11, Wargadud, Kutulo-Mandera, Kutulo-Wajir, Tarbaj the drama replayed over and over and over. I asked the driver what will happen if he didn’t pay these guys. He said they will detain the vehicle and its passengers for hours if not days with no law to turn to. Seriously, that is an abuse of people’s rights

I was not shocked as much as surprised that this was not only in the Buses plying through these routes but applies to all travelers – even Lorries. It is like a toll station, only this time it is in every small village. By the way, these roads are murram and no evidence of gravelling or paving ever occurred here.

Most leaders will tell you the police checks are for security purpose. But does this really entail any form of security check? If it is for security reasons, why do it in every single village? Can’t this be done in Arabia then at Wajir then Garissa? Even that is too much.

I had a similar experience in a Bus from Mandera to Wajir last year. I heard these stories many times but wanted to experience it for myself. Just outside Mandera, we were stopped. Everyone was asked to come down. We complied. They asked for Identity shouting “kipande, kipande!!”. They checked everyone and we boarded again with no incident. My eyes were keen on the interaction between the police and the conductor. They stood on the side, engaged in some kind of negotiation and he handed them something. I am guessing something more than couple hundred.

Then at Rhamu, we were stopped and checked. On the seat just behind me, the policeman shouted “shuka haraka wewe! shuka!!!”. I turned and it was a young lady with a sick child on her lap. He held her ID card firmly on his hand. She stepped down with the child strapped on her back. Again, I was watching this incident very closely. I asked the passenger sitting next to her if she knew what was going on. They accused her of using a fake Identity card. Not satisfied with this information, I talked to the conductor who was hanging on the entrance bar. He told me that everything is ok. It is not fake ID card; they just need “something”.

I started self-debate. If they just need “something” why don’t they ask for it? Why did they pick on the most vulnerable of the passengers- a young lady, with a sick child? How can she defend herself if they insist the ID is fake even though it is genuine? What can I do to stop the evil advances of these guys?

I gathered courage, stepped down and confronted the policemen. I introduced myself. “Habari wazee? I am Dr. Ali and this is my relative. Is there a problem with her identity?” One of them lit his flash-light on my face. I politely asked him not to do that again. He yelled that I go back to the Bus. I asked him if I can go back with the lady and her child. He literally started charging at me before he was restrained by his colleague. I warned him that his behavior could cause serious damage to his job and his person. It turned into a scene. The conductor, the driver and more passengers gathered around us. Then the more emotionally sober policeman started apologizing and asked everyone including the lady and her child board the Bus again. We left.

At Elwak, we were checked again. Even after ensuring everyone had an ID, they still wanted their “something”. At least, this time, they did not accuse anyone of anything. The conductor took care of them. At Wargadud, Kutulos, Tarbaj the story was the same. Then you wonder; is there such a thing as ‘freedom of movement?” Not in the Northern part of Kenya.

I wonder too, if these buses are making ends meet considering the excessive police brutality and massive breakdowns from poor roads. I salute the staff and the owners for their endurance. The extreme breach of justice, abuse of peoples’ rights and unyielding demand for bribery is beyond comprehension.

When you want to know the conduct of the rank, you look to the conduct of the file. There is a total failure of leadership in that part of the country. The misconduct of public officers in Northern Kenya is deeply entrenched culture never seen anywhere else in the country. It is brutal, barbaric and bigotry of a kind.

While the other Kenya is fighting corruption, Northern Kenya is fraught with institutional extortion, more so the security arm.

Local and national leaders wake up and stand up against this vice. Wake up government!. Your citizen is painfully consumed a live by your own institution. Where are you human rights watchdogs and advocates? Gather courage to speak up and speak out. Wake up citizens; Kenya has changed and the culture of corruption and police brutality can be confronted boldly with no adverse consequence to you for doing so. Where are the youth and college students? Volunteer for your communities and educate them of their freedom of movement everywhere and anywhere in their country. Where is the media? It is not about national coverage alone, it is also about local coverage; shame and shape the police force and public officers. Let us do it in unison for the suppressed voices, subjugated rights, miscarriage identities and frightened minds.

Dr. Ali blogs at




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NepJournal is Northern Kenya's online newspaper. It is also a space where the leading thinkers and writers from the region bring you unsolicited and uncensored views, analysis and opinion from the region and beyond.

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