Four people were killed and five others injured when Kenyan police opened fire on a crowd protesting against an increase in attacks by wildlife, a senior official said Friday.
Police shot at the demonstrators in the Rift Valley town of Masimba, 170 kilometres (105 miles) south of Nairobi, said Joseph Ole Lenku, governor of Kajiado county.
“Two of the victims of the gunshots are in critical condition,” Lenku, a former interior minister, said in a statement.
The incident occurred on Thursday when locals clashed with police during a protest the recent killing of a teacher by an elephant.
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The protesters burnt tyres and blocked a busy road linking the capital Nairobi with the busy port city of Mombasa.
Reports of wildlife straying into human habitats in Kenya have increased in recent years as the animals come under growing pressure with cities expanding into ancient migration and hunting grounds.
But the police force — under-equipped, badly paid and trained — also has a poor reputation in the East African country, often coming under scrutiny over the alleged use of excessive force and unlawful killings, especially in poor neighbourhoods.
Lenku described Thursday’s deaths as “unfortunate” and vowed a full investigation.
“These deaths could have been avoided with a little more understanding that the local communities are getting frustrated by the loss of human lives to wildlife,” he said in an earlier statement.
Kenya’s police watchdog, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), announced a probe into the deaths, saying it had dispatched a rapid response team to interview the survivors and seek ballistic examination reports.
“On completion of the investigations, where fault is found, the authority shall make recommendations, including but not limited to prosecution,” it said in a statement.
The IPOA was established by parliament in 2011 to provide civilian oversight of a powerful institution whose reputation also ranks among Kenya’s most corrupt.
But only a handful of officers have been convicted as a result of IPOA investigations, even though the body has examined more than 6,000 cases of police misconduct according to data covering the period from its inception to June 2020.
Activists largely defend IPOA’s track record, saying police frustrate the body’s inquiries by refusing to cooperate.