KENYA: Riot after murder of former student leaders

Kenyan students rioted last week, demanding the resignation of the country's police commissioner following the murder of two former student leaders in a suspected assassination by security agents. Outgoing chairman of Kenyatta University Students' Association Martin KO Luther told University World News that the former students, who were shot dead in their car, had been involved in human rights work.

The students were Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulo.

In the capital Nairobi, nearly 2,000 students demanded the resignation of Police Commissioner Hussein Ali amid suspicions the men had been murdered by police. The demonstrations degenerated into violence, leading to the stoning of police and ransacking of shops.

"The students were protesting against the murders of two former student leaders from the University of Nairobi. Students handed petitions to the police commissioner and the prime minister," Luther said, adding that the demonstrators came from different institutions across the country.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga formally asked the US government to send FBI officers to help local police investigate the shootings. Raila's call has been slammed in some quarters of Kenyan society, with critics citing some of the FBI's shortcomings.

The violence comes a year after the death of 1,300 people and displacement of more than 300,000 in ethnic and political violence following Kenya's disputed presidential elections. Calm only returned after the formation of a government of national unity between President Mwau Kibaki and Odinga.

One of the murdered students, Oscar Kingara, ran a non-government organisation, the Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic. It recently published a report claiming that 8,040 young Kenyans had been executed or tortured to death since 2002 in a police crackdown on the Mungiki gang.

Last week, newspapers quoted UN investigator Philip Alston as saying suspicion was bound to fall on Kenya's police in the circumstances.

"It is extremely troubling when those working to defend human rights in Kenya can be assassinated in broad daylight in the middle of Nairobi," Alston said. Last month, he released a report accusing Kenya's police of running death squads.

Since 2000, protests have not been as widespread in Kenya as they were in the 1980s and '90s, mainly because of reforms initiated by the Mwai administration. But last year there were student arrests and unrest over the indefinite closure of institutions amid fears of protests at the political stand-off between Mwai and Odinga.

The University of Nairobi, the country's oldest institution of higher learning, has traditionally been the most politically active of the seven public universities. The university has produced a string of radical student leaders such as James Orengo, now a politician, and Hassan Omar, a human rights campaigner. Many came to national prominence voicing their anger at the excesses of Kenya's dictatorial former ruler, Daniel Arap Moi.