Kenyans traumatised, need psycho-social support to end violence, rights abuses
Over the last three weeks, HAKI Africa and partner grassroots organisations have been documenting, assessing and understanding the status of human rights in the country.
As a country, we have recently confirmed increased human rights abuses by state and non-state actors, including the police and the general citizenry. To understand the root causes of the acute increase of human rights abuses in Kenya, the organisations went further to interrogate the contributing factors by reaching out and talking to different actors, including victims, their families, perpetrators of abuses, human rights defenders as well as police and state officers.
From the assessment, it was deduced that the dire human rights situation in the country is contributed to by various factors, key among them being the deteriorating mental health status of Kenyans. It is a fact that due to the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, many Kenyans are suffering from stress, fatigue, anxiety and low self-esteem, leading to serious levels of depression.
It is noteworthy that even prior to the pandemic, statistics indicated that one in every four Kenyans suffers from a mental health disorder. As a result of the aforementioned, the country is increasingly witnessing abnormal social behaviour from the government and citizens alike.
For example, Beatrice Mwende Kimothoi from Naivasha, Nakuru county, killed her four children and cited the devil and her ex-boyfriend as the causes of her committing the murders. In Kwale, police killed a foetus, a four-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy in Kibundani [ostensibly in pursuit of a terror suspect].
In another recent case, decomposing bodies of two children were found in a vehicle at Athi River police station. In Lessos, Nandi county, cops shot dead a cobbler-cum-shoeshiner, leading to protests that saw two other people being killed and property worth millions of shillings destroyed.
While the country has at one time or another reported similar acts, never have we had a situation where all such cases were reported within such a short span of time.
This week, human rights activists and psychologists called for urgent strategies, mechanisms and actions to address Kenya’s state of human rights and mental health. While this is no excuse for the human rights violations experienced by many, these cases speak volumes about the existing disparities in addressing mental health in the country.
The present situation calls for urgent steps to be taken. To begin with, we must see the immediate arrest and firing of officers who are engaging in killings and human rights abuses. The Kenya Police are responsible for high numbers of human rights abuses reported in the last few months. It is irresponsible for the same individuals who are supposed to be protectors of the people to end up being violators.
Secondly, all Covid-19 treatment should be accompanied by mandatory mental and emotional support, not only for the sick but also their families. The government must also immediately prioritise addressing the stigma associated with Covid-19 and put mechanisms in place to ensure those who are sick and their families are not ostracised by their communities.
The Ministry of Health should further integrate mental health in the primary healthcare services supported by NHIF cover. This will enable Kenyans to get the necessary support required to address their mental and emotional health needs.
Related to this, to cushion Kenyans from economic stress and trauma, the government must do better to support them economically. It is not enough to ask Kenyans to stay at home as this does not answer their economic needs. If need be, the state should cut salaries of senior civil servants and parliamentarians to make more resources available to the poor in communities.
And now that the government has began reopening the economy, it must also prioritise psycho-social support. The mental and emotional stress endured by Kenyans in the recent past is far too much to bear and is costing more lives than Covid-19 itself.
Strict measures should be put in place to control the spread of the disease but the mental and emotional health of the people should be prioritised to allow them to return to their normal lives and end this spate of human rights abuses.