The Kenya Forum | Kenya’s “Strange Fruit” And The Impunity Of The Mob - The Kenya Forum

August 18, 2011


“I have not heard of a single case of wananchi being charged with beating, necklacing or hacking to death a suspect.”

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Kenya’s “Strange Fruit” And The Impunity Of The Mob

Kenya’s “Strange Fruit” And The Impunity Of The Mob

Abel Meeropol (aka Lewis Allan) wrote the poem “Strange Fruit”* in 1937, and Billie Holiday turned the poem into a song which first charted in 1939. The inspiration for the poem came from a photograph (top) taken by Lawrence Beitler of the lynching of two black African Americans, hanging dead from the branch of a tree, in Marion, Indiana in Aug.1930.

This was to be the last confirmed lynching in the northern US states, although lynching continued in the southern states until 1968 (with a notable ‘one-off’ incident in 1981)

An estimated 3500 Black African Americans were murdered at the hands of lynch mobs between 1882 and 1968.

So enough of the USA’s bleak social history, and on to current day Kenya.

We first mentioned Kenya’s lynchings back in January (Justice and the price paid) as did Paul Muite in the Nation, and our favorite Fr. Gabriel Dolan passed his opinion just over a month ago.

Just the most casual look through the weekend papers or the local TV networks shows that the extent of lynching is far worse today in Kenya than it ever was was in the USA. The real numbers of lynchings in Kenya are not known but for sure they are far, far higher than the historic rate of 40/yr in the USA, …and they are still going on.

This Forum suspects that the vast majority of lynchings go unreported. Those which are reported are usually confined to a few column inches or less, the occasional one which does get more coverage is usually focused on the background story as opposed to the ‘strange fruit’ victim(s).

It seems to us that the apparent media disinterest almost implies a tacit acceptance of the practice. The same may be true of the the Kenyan Police, as Fr. Dolan says “I have not heard of a single case of wananchi being charged with beating, necklacing or hacking to death a suspect.”

An even more worrying case recently reported in the Nation tells the story of the lynching and burning of two suspects by Nairobi University students, Kenya’s so-called ‘elite intellects’. The students who had formed a vigilante group vowed they would  “lynch more suspects”

When a country’s intelligentsia, the future leaders of society and captains of industry, take the law into their own hands you know that something has gone seriously wrong.

The sheer impunity of the mobs who mete out these violent deaths on a daily basis would beggar belief in the vast majority of the world’s civilized societies, but in Kenya it continues.

Why? – because it can.

Whilst the net result of these barbarous actions is reciprocated by total inaction on behalf of the police, people will continue to mob, lynch and murder whoever they please.

As Paul Muite put it  “One of the defining characteristics of a functioning democratic State is the capacity of that State to …guarantee her citizens security within the framework of functioning institutions, police, investigative and prosecutorial agencies and, of course, the Judiciary.”

The inescapable conclusion to this is that Kenya is not a “…functioning democratic State”….since it clearly does not meet these subsequent conditions.

The KenyaForum asks ” How do we remove the impunity from the mob?” and “What can be done to guarantee Kenyan citizens’ security?”

*”Strange Fruit” The Poem:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root, Black body swinging in the Southern breeze, Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees. Pastoral scene of the gallant South, The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth, Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh, And the sudden smell of burning flesh! Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck, For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck, For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop, Here is a strange and bitter crop.”

and Strange Fruit the song (Billie Holiday):



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