Why #ENDSARS matters beyond African solidarity

END SARS sign - a protest against police corruption in Nigeria

As we stand in solidarity with Nigerians agitating for better ways to govern their security and safety, we must link the conversations to defund the police in the US and #EndSARS in Nigeria to broader debates around increasing militarisation across African countries as part of a claim of dealing with insurgent groups. As I have argued elsewhere, increased security expenditure, surveillance, and domestic policing occurs in contexts where the socio-economic conditions that impoverish the majority remain ignored by the political class. A look at Kenya offers a window into the expansion of carcerality using the veil of fighting terrorism and improving domestic security.

Carcerality refers to the collision of ideological, economic, and legislative initiatives that develop punitive frameworks to inform how governments understand, use, respond to, and create “crime”. Massive financial investments in law enforcement, surveillance technology, and a commitment to aggressive punishment regimes form part of this framework. Carceral regimes are always racialised, gendered, and classed, driven by the logic that large sections of the population need to be violently managed through the regularisation of securitisation regimes ostensibly to protect the privileged.

Legislative amendments and the accompanying rise in security expenditure in Kenya below shows how governments develop and sustain paramilitary and/or policing units that operate extra-judicially. Parliaments as primary sites within which these laws are enacted and the politicisation of security generates the power for security forces to act extra-judicially and strengthen carcerality.

Security Expenditure in Kenya

Kenya’s military expenditure rose to Sh121.82 billion in 2019. This is a rise from the 2018/19 spending of Kshs 109 billion. In 2016, the Kenyan government received Kshs 1 billion worth of drone equipment for anti-terrorism surveillance. This increased expenditure occurs against the backdrop of legal amendments in 2015 that increased the role of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) in domestic security, removed parliamentary oversight on the budget and functions of KDF and the requirement for the defence cabinet secretary to report to parliament.  

This increased in military expenditure and legislative cushioning is extended to the militarisation of the police through the modernisation programme. In 2017, the government unveiled 500 police vehicles including 25 mine resistant personnel carriers, and 30 armoured personnel carriers to be deployed to various “hotspot areas”. During the 2017 general elections paramilitary units such as the General Service Unit (GSU), administration police and the Kenya Wildlife Service used excessive lethal force to disperse protests mainly in opposition areas.

In 2014 the omnibus Security Laws (Amendment) Act, which included the Prevention of Terrorism act, was passed with limited public participation. The Act imposes exorbitant fines and prison sentences that impact the freedom of the press and independence by making it harder to expose and criticise human rights violations by security forces and prohibit the public broadcasting without police permission information “that is likely to undermine security operations”.  The power of the National Intelligence Service was also expanded to allow the arrest and detention of suspects, carry out covert operations, search and seize private property and monitor communications in an any act that poses a threat to national security without a court warrant. These are provisions that closely mirror UK and American counter-terrorism laws.  

Attempts to water down the mandate of the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) which was established in 2011 to provide independent oversight of the police were made with the amendments to section 14 of the IPOA Act by limiting access to information and evidence against rogue officers. This effectively reduces IPOA’s power to check police excess and places its investigative capabilities in the hands of the police command. The range of legal amendments describe above roll back accountability measures embedded in the 2010 constitution, which were aimed at redressing a history of police brutality and a broader climate of repression sustained by an all powerful executive. 

Transnational mobilisation 

The contradiction between increasing financial investments and laws that allow governments to criminalise and incarcerate people impoverished by government policies is stark. The ongoing #EndSARS protests in Nigeria foreground the similarities in the architecture that shaped the death of George Floyd and those in the #SayHerName campaign, the hostile migration regimes that police Black bodies across Europe and the Americas and the remnants of colonial and neo-colonial security infrastructure across Africa. The similarities here lie carceral regimes that shape how Black people are policed globally. 

As calls to hold the Nigerian government accountable increase, we should equally pay attention to the commonalities in the policing architecture across Africa and the logics that underpin them. We should also track the international financial and training resources that go towards security sector reform and modernisation projects across Africa. It is in a broader conversation about transnational security regimes, which criminalise, securitise and police through “othering” that effective transnational solidarity and collective action emerges. 

Dr. Awino Okech teaches at SOAS University of London. Her research focuses on gender and security regimes in conflict and post conflict societies. 

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