Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

‘Thieves Should not Live Amongst People’: Under-Protection and Popular Support for Police Violence in Nairobi

Wairuri, Kamau


Kamau Wairuri


This paper examines how communities at the urban margins, who are under-protected by the state police, understand police reforms through an examination of the unusual case of street protests in support of a police officer who had killed two young men in Githurai in Nairobi.

I explore how the under-protection of communities at the urban margins by the police leads to a reliance on various forms of vigilantism to generate security and justice outcomes. Noting the limitations of community vigilantism, I explore how these communities come to rely on police vigilantism, a form of vigilantism that has received limited attention in African studies.

Based on insights generated from data collected in Githurai in March and April 2015, I argue that residents of Githurai protested against the arrest of a local police vigilante, whom they had come to rely on for security, because they considered his deployment of violence against suspected criminals to be justified and also feared that his arrest would expose them to further insecurity.

I conclude that police reform efforts should pay attention to the innovations that communities have developed at the grassroots to generate security and justice outcome in absence of reliable protection by the state police.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 2, 2022
Online Publication Date Feb 9, 2022
Publication Date 2022-01
Deposit Date Dec 13, 2022
Journal African Affairs
Print ISSN 0001-9909
Electronic ISSN 1468-2621
Publisher Oxford University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 121
Issue 482
Pages 61-79
Public URL