On March 26, 2022, police dispersed students from Maseno University with tear gas as they protested the murder of a fellow student by blocking the road.
Earlier that day, the body of James Omollo, a third-year Information Technology student, was found in a thicket near campus with multiple stab wounds. He and an unidentified friend who managed to escape had been attacked by four men with machetes while walking back to their hostel the night prior.
After hearing the news, Maseno University students began a strike and disrupted traffic by blocking the Busia-Kisumu road near campus. Police from two nearby stations came to disperse the protesters and several outlets say that students engaged them in “running battles.” Sources do not provide detailed accounts of the students’ actions, though some indicate that they used large rocks to block traffic. Police eventually dispersed the students that evening with tear gas.
Maseno University students have been demanding that the university do more to ensure security in the area for months due to a high rate of violence and robberies. However, they say that the university has done little to mitigate the situation.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the disproportionate use of force against students exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly – conduct which is protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Kenya is a party. While security forces have a responsibility to maintain security and safety, they must also refrain from the disproportionate use of force and ensure that their actions are not intended to retaliate against student expression and do not endanger civilians. Likewise, while students have the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they are obligated to exercise those rights peacefully and responsibly. In addition to harm to the immediate victims, the disproportionate use of violent force to chill or restrict students’ expressive activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally. SAR is also concerned by the murder of a student near campus amid ongoing student complaints about insecurity and urges state and university authorities to take appropriate action to ensure campus safety and to hold the perpetrators accountable.
*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).