What the police murders of lawyer Kimani and two others say about Kenya
According to the Independent Medico-Legal Unit, 53 Kenyans were extra-judicially killed by the police between January and April of 2016. The organisation further reports that 125 Kenyans were summarily executed in 2015, and that another 199 lives were wasted by Kenya Police in 2014.
The gruesome murder of lawyer Willie Kimani, his client Josphat Mwenda and their taxi driver Joseph Muiruri has evoked a countrywide uproar, and chillingly reminded us that impunity is still alive in Kenya. It has also reminded us that Kenya still has a long way to go with regards to police reforms.
On June 23, 2016, Willie represented Josphat Mwenda, a boda boda [motorbike taxi] rider who had previously been a victim of police shooting, and who now faced a traffic charge at the Mavoko law courts just outside Nairobi. The young lawyer and his client left the courts in a taxi cab driven by Joseph Muiruri. Shortly thereafter, the three were detained at the Syokimau Administration Police camp. That is the last time they were seen alive.
A few hours after their disappearance, a few grassroots activists who knew Willie Kimani attempted to amplify his absence on online platforms. Their attempts were, however, thwarted by sections of mainstream civil society who claimed that the police had already been notified of the fact that the trio was missing. It is possible they thought that the police would act on Willie disappearance since he had previously worked with the Independent Police Oversight Authority. That was naïve thinking - mainly because human rights defenders should consistently be alert and act on any potential threats that they and their colleagues can face in the course of their work.
Bodies of the three men were discovered a week later in Ol Donyo Sabuk River. They had been abducted, tortured and killed.
Willie was no ordinary lawyer. He neither worked for a law firm nor a corporation. He sought justice for the downtrodden, a course he pursued with dedication and commitment. My interactions with Willie were thought-provoking and full of hope for a more just Kenya.
This Monday (4thJuly), actors from local and international civil society organisations organised a mega-march across the city of Nairobi and other towns. At the tail end of the demonstrations, NGO honchos and lawyers who had been part of the procession crossed over to Nairobi’s coffee houses, before hopping into their vehicles and heading back to their comfortable lives in middle and upper class neighbourhoods.
However, a greater majority of those at Monday’s demonstration hail from Mathare, Majengo and Kangemi among other slums in Nairobi where extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances by the police are commonplace. They had come to show solidarity with Willie because of the commitment and energy he had shown in his quest to ensure that they too could access justice.
According to the Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU), 53 Kenyans were extra-judicially killed by the police between January and April of 2016. IMLU further reports that 125 Kenyans were summarily executed in 2015, and that another 199 lives were lost in 2014 as a resultant effect of extra-judicial killings by the Kenya Police Force. Yes, it is still a police force, not a police service. These statistics only represent killings that IMLU has been able todocument, and the actual figures are likely much higher.
While it’s true that extra-judicial killings are mostly carried out in low income settlements and in Muslim communities, we must be alive to the fact that all Kenyans standing up to the status quo like Willie Kimani did could also be potential victims of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances, depending on whose eyes they poke.
Grassroots communities that are mostly affected by this menace have in the past attempted to initiate conversations around extra-judicial killings, and also attempted to rope in mainstream civil society and the media fraternity into this conversation. But as is the norm in Kenya, focus quickly shifts from such issues as soon as our political class starts engaging in their usual theatrics.
It is commendable that the media has amplified Willie Kimani’s killing and the larger menace of extra-judicial killings. Its input, however, provides for an interesting observation. The deaths of Josephat Mwenda and Joseph Muiruri who were killed alongside Willie and who both have young families, haven’t received the same amount of amplification. A press conference convened by mainstream civil society on the 30th of June and the subsequent demonstration this Monday received prime-time news coverage. The media, however, snubbed a press conference they had been invited to on Sunday the 3rd of July by grassroots community organisers, notwithstanding the fact that these are actors who interact on a regular basis with wives who have lost husbands and mothers who have lost sons in their neighborhoods. Who will speak for these families?
Fare thee well Comrade Willie Kimani, your client Josphat Mwenda and cab driver Joseph Muiruri.
* Sungu Oyoo is an organiser at Kenyans for Tax Justice. Twitter: @Sungu_Oyoo