Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Gun culture in Kenya - Tues 7/29/2008

Gun culture takes root in Kenya
A new study says police are responsible for nearly a third of gunshot victims in the country. Photo/FILE
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Posted Tuesday, July 29 2008 at 00:00

In Summary

  • People seeking treatment for gunshot wounds at KNH usually aged between 18 and 24
  • University research study shows one third of victims were found to be targets of police shootings or “official stray bullets”.
  • Young males with gunshot wounds are more than females, outstripping then by a ratio of almost eight to one
  • Gunshots now third most common cause of spinal injury after road accidents and falls from heights

Guns, both illegal and legal, are now the major cause of death for young Kenyan men, the University of Nairobi says.

People seeking treatment for gunshot wounds at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) are usually aged between 18 and 24, indicating an increase in gang violence and a population that is engaging in criminal activities at a very young age, a new study by four researchers at the university says.

“Barely 10 years ago, victims of gunshots were two decades older and most were shot by criminals interested only in dispossessing them,” says lead author W.A. Odhiambo.

But in this study, done at KNH, almost one third of the victims were found to be targets of police shootings or “official stray bullets”.

This is the first time a structured scientific study indicts the police as being responsible for a significant number of gunshot victims.

Although the study does not dwell on circumstances leading to the police shootings, calling them “stray bullets”, this could be interpreted to mean a poorly trained force or what activists call trigger-happy policemen.

“The perpetrators of firearm violence were often identified by victims as a thug or robber (66.4 per cent), followed by police officers, who were responsible for 23 per cent of the injuries out of which nine per cent were ‘stray bullets’,” says the study.

Published in the March issue of the East African Medical Journal, the study looks at more than 700 firearm injuries at the hospital in 2004 to 2005 and within the same period, records a significant increase in the use of guns in committing a crime.

The study, however, does not include those who had died of gunshots before reaching the hospital.

Young males comprise the highest number of victims reporting to the hospital with gunshot wounds, outstripping females by a ratio of almost eight to one. However, when women are involved they are much younger than their male counterparts — by almost seven years.

The study says gunshots are now the third most common cause of spinal injury after road accidents and falls from heights. It warns Kenyans to be more vigilant between 9pm and 10pm because this is when assaults peak.

“Members of the public could be advised to avoid dangerous areas around these hours, while police patrols are increased.”

Another senior lecturer at the university’s School of Medicine, Dr H. Saidi, draws a chilling parallel between the unfolding situation in Kenya and South Africa, whose gun-related crime rate is very high. He says a South African study found that 86 per cent of victims of gun-related incidents were between 13 and 18 years, the majority of whom were intoxicated.

Young victims
“The local study also depicts very young victims. Under what circumstances would this post-school population become victims of firearm assault? Could the current and younger group, as in South Africa, possibly be involved in crime and gang violence?” the study queries.

It concludes that in the absence of any structured crime prevention programmes, increasing poverty and a growing drug culture, firearm-related crimes can only get worse.

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