Statement by the African Studies Association on Police Violence in African Countries

June 30, 2020

The African Studies Association (ASA), founded in 1957 in the United States is the largest membership-organization of scholars about Africa. The association condemns the harsh policing strategies employed by some governments on the African continent, especially those that have been used during the COVID-19 lockdowns and that have resulted in the deaths of its citizens, including children. Violence and brutality by police and other security forces, including defence forces, are endemic in a number of African countries.

The African Studies Association offers our deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of those murdered and recognizes the trauma they have experienced while simultaneously coping with a pandemic.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has urged countries to refrain from violating fundamental rights “under the guise of exceptional or emergency measures.” And the head of the Nigerian Human Rights Commission summarized police behavior there as “… excessive or disproportionate use of force, abuse of power, corruption and non-adherence to national and international laws, best practices and rules of engagement.”

Some of the abuses that have been documented include:

● In Nigeria, the National Human Rights Commission reported that more have people died of police violence than died of COVID-19 since the first deaths from the pandemic was recorded there. In April, the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission released a report on police violence and noted it had received and documented “105 complaints of incidents of human rights violations perpetrated by security forces” in at least 24 of Nigeria’s 36 states. Nigerian police have also been criticized for its treatment of victims of sexual abuse, particularly rape, and for not pursuing perpetrators.

● In South Africa at least 12 people have died directly because of crackdowns by security forces on curfew violators. The most notorious case is that of Collin Khosa, a 40 year old man who was murdered by soldiers inside his property north of Johannesburg. As Voice of America reports, witnesses say “soldiers and police officers strangled Khosa, slammed his head against a cement wall and a steel gate, and hit him with the butt of a rifle. Afterward, Khosa couldn’t walk or talk. He began vomiting. A few hours later, he was dead.” The South African National Defence Force recommended the soldiers be not charged.

● Ugandan security forces – including Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces, the Uganda Police Forces and Local Defence Units – have together killed 6 people since the country announced a COVID-19 curfew. Some of those killed were on their way to work.

● Kenya’s Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) reports that Kenyan police have killed 15 people and injured 31 others since a COVID-19 lockdown was instituted on March 27, 2020. The dead include 13-year old Yassin Hussein Moyo. The IPOA adds that “… 87 complaints which include deaths, shootings, harassment, assaults resulting to serious injuries, robbery, inhuman treatment and sexual assault are currently being investigated by the Authority.” Meanwhile, the project Missing Voices keeps a tally of Kenyans murdered by police. By June 6, already 95 people had been killed by police this year. The total for last year was 144. According to Missing Voices’s data, 707 people have been killed by Kenyan police or reported missing since 2007.

● Egypt’s parliament has passed amendments to emergency laws ostensibly to cover public health emergencies. But Human Rights Watch points out that COVID-19 serves as cover for the government to extend and entrench a state of emergency in place since 2017. “Only 5 of the 18 proposed amendments are clearly tied to public health developments. Making them part of the Emergency Law means that the authorities can enforce the measures whenever a state of emergency is declared, regardless of whether there is a public health emergency.”

These violent policing strategies have been resisted by activists and campaigners in these countries. On June 9, 2020 hundreds of Kenyans marched against police brutality.

We appeal to governments to refrain from using excessive force and to institute policing reforms in the context of public health and social services that address approaches to community policing and public service delivery comprehensively.

Contact: Abdul Tejan-Cole