A Black Lives Matter protest in front of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, June 2020
Baz Ratner / Reuters

On June 12, activists and allies of the Black Lives Matter movement gathered in cities around the world to take a knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds in solidarity with George Floyd and other victims of American police violence. In the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, at least seven such protests took place across the city, drawing hundreds of demonstrators. The spark was a murder in Minneapolis, but the fuel was mounting anger over police brutality right here in Kenya.

The Kenyan police and security services have a long history of abusing and killing members of the public they are supposed to protect. This tradition dates back to the British colonial period, but it survives today thanks partly to colonial-era laws that remain on the books, including the Public Order Act, which empowers law enforcement to arrest people for loitering, vagrancy, and other vague offenses that amount to criminalizing poverty. In March, as governments around the world imposed public health restrictions to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, Kenya invoked the Public Order Act to enforce a lockdown in major cities as well as a dawn-to-dusk curfew—leaning on the police, rather than health officials, as the first line of defense against

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