Policed perceptions, masked realities: Human rights and law enforcement in Kenyan popular art
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Human rights record is often monitored through mass media content. However, in repressed societies, mass media is often policed, resulting in sanitised depictions of life. Such mass media appears inadequate as a source of primary information for human rights monitors. This paper poses the question whether there are alternative sources, informal sources, even in society’s periphery, that can indicate where human rights monitors can shine their torches. It is argued that popular art, as independently- generated culturally-specific entertainment, provides the sought-after fresh independent lens. This paper analyses the depictions of human rights abuses attributed to one powerful state organ in Kenya, the police. Since the police wield coercive power and are the face of a state’s monopoly of force, systemic abuses by police fit well into the category of information that is invisible in the sanitised depictions of controlled mass media. This analysis focuses on public perceptions of the police in Kenya, as portrayed in protest music, popular comedies, broadcast advertisements, and pa- rodied interviews.