On Wednesday this week, the Tanzania police killed four civilians during skirmishes caused by a demonstration staged by Songea residents to protest growing insecurity and murders in the town.
According to reports from Songea, the demonstration came about following a series of unexplained killings of innocent civilians which marred peace and harmony in the area.
Their peaceful demonstration was aimed at conveying the message that ‘they were not fully satisfied’ by police performance in the area, but it swirled into violence after police responded with warning shots and teargas.
It was indeed a bloody day in the southern town of Songea, and a shame to the police force, which has now become notorious in extra judicial killings.
This is not the first time our Police tasked with the responsibility to protect civilians and their property, kill innocent people. It happened in Arusha last year during the peaceful demonstration staged by Chadema followers. In responding to the situation, police killed scores of civilians and shamelessly defended their actions, claiming that this was unavoidable as part of restoring peace.
Since those who died were believed to be supporters of the opposition party, Chadema, Police walked out freely with no one being held responsible despite facts that those killed were innocent Tanzanians who deserve protection from assault or unlawful harm.
During the very same year of 2011, Police gunned down innocent civilians in Tarime’s North Mara gold mine under claims that ‘the victims were intruders’ who invaded the mine to steal gold-bearing sand.
To defend these extra judicial killings, Police fabricated a story that there were about 1000 youths from the area who invaded the mine on the tragic day, before their mission was foiled by law enforcers. In return Police claimed that 900 invaders escaped unhurt or without being arrested while the rest were wounded to various extents.
There were no closed circuit television footages released by the police to prove their fabricated claims despite the fact that the North Mara Gold Mine is under such surveillance for 24 hours, seven days a week.
Again as usual no one was held responsible because perhaps those killed were just thieves whose killings are justifiable anytime. But the truth is that these were innocent Tanzanians.
This year again Police gunned two people in Tarime’s North Mara under the same old claims of ‘invading the gold mine.’ Nothing happened thereafter; no questions asked by any responsible authorities.
There are so many examples of extra judicial killings done by the Tanzania Police during the past few years. What’s appalling is that though this administration doesn’t condone extra judicial killings, its Police has been licenced to ‘shoot to kill. ’
Killing unarmed civilians is unjustifiable by any standards, but it seems to the Tanzania Police that the best way to silence peaceful demonstration is by gunning them down. In Arusha we were told that an ‘intelligence report’ indicated that Chadema followers have fishy motives including taking over the police station and help themselves to what is in the armory. We are yet to be told what intelligence reports indicated in Songea that finally justified these brutal killings.
But for how long will Police continue with extra judicial killings? It’s time to say enough is enough by stopping these extra judicial killings. Those responsible should also be held accountable especially the ones who gave the orders.
These incidents seem to correspond to a pattern, which if left unchecked leads to a gradual breakdown of law and order, if people totally lose confidence in the police, the judiciary and executive authority generally. At that point instances of taking the law into one’s own hands by individuals or groups will rise – knowing that the police will not investigate, as it happened in Arusha over the past three weeks.
The government needs to realize that these demonstrations against police violence and contempt for murders of innocent people unless someone goes to the police station, accuses a particular individual and pay an amount of money for ‘petrol’ are a stay of execution.
When these protests of people have been ignored and people lose hope, other centres of power will spring up in different zones, based on the twin authorities of tribe and religion, and each potentate of an area shall easily procure idle guns in the black market or by invading a police station.
At that time the much vaunted slogan of ‘peace and harmony’ which the police continually abuse shall surely have come unstuck – and plenty of other implications as well. Those who are too lazy fill cracks in the wall of trust of institutions will have no ability to build a wall when the whole thing crumbles.