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Headed for the grave

L. Muthoni Wanyeki

2009-03-06, Issue 422

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I am shaken. I am shocked. And that is, apparently, the intent. For all of us to be shaken, for all of us to be shocked and for all of us to hear the threat and heed the warning implicit in last week’s assassinations of Oscar Kamau King’ara and John Paul Oulu of the Oscar Foundation.

Let me be clear about this. I had questions about the Oscar Foundation. Last year, it appeared to me to be one of human rights organisations partisan to the Party of National Unity (PNU). I did not understand when or why it had made the shift from children’s rights work to human rights work more generally. I had questions about the methodology through which it arrived at its figures of disappearances and extrajudicial executions of those supposedly associated with the Mungiki. I remember us all laughing when Professor Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, questioned them as to the sources of their funding, concerns apparently raised with him by the security services. For, unlike many of us within the human rights movement, the Oscar Foundation does not receive grants from the bilateral and multilateral donors or foundations.

But I found some of the ways they did their work innovative, such as running free mobile legal aid clinics in low-income areas; not just in urban areas, but also in rural areas. I knew too of the solid backgrounds of some of its staff and trusted that they – just as the rest of us – had information worth sharing with the UN special rapporteur as to the extent of disappearances and extrajudicial executions in Kenya. And I certainly never imagined – not in my wildest dreams – that their staff would pay the ultimate price for bringing that information forward: death.

I see now that I should have read the signs, the writing on the wall. We all must do so, for the build up was clear. Let me sketch the outline.

There are reports – many reports – from both national and international human rights organisations into the joint police–military operations against the Sabaot Land Defence Force in Mt Elgon. There are denials after denials after denials, and increasingly angrily ones. Finally, there are questions and pressure from governments with whom our government has security agreements and arrangements, and suddenly, a flurry of activity. There is a public propaganda campaign, with a state-sponsored documentary focused on the atrocities and crimes committed by the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF), being aired repeatedly on almost all television channels over several weeks. There is also a parliamentary probe and a joint police–military investigation. What is the verdict? That nothing is wrong, that all the human rights organisations pointing accusing fingers are wrong, that their motivations are baseless and that they don’t care about the atrocities and crimes committed by the SLDF. The verdict is that they don’t care about the people; they simply did it to raise money.

Somehow, the issue dies down.

But then comes the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Post Election-Violence (CIPEV). It is brutal in its treatment of the failures of the state security agencies. It notes that the Administration Police and the Kenya Police Force used such extraordinary force that no less than a third of all deaths are attributed to them. It notes that they also committed crimes ranging from looting to rape. It issues a set of recommendations for security sector reform, including the fast-tracking of investigations into and prosecutions of individual members of the security services who have committed rape.

The response? Pre-emptively, a supposed police oversight body that is not worthy of the name is instituted, along with the creation of a task force to investigate claims of sexual violence, from which all women’s organisations co-opted in quickly resign. There’s silence, then the announcement by the minister of Internal Security of Kenya’s supposed security architecture, a plethora of new laws and policies supposedly addressing the CIPEV report’s recommendations. But not a word about either individual legal or collective political accountability, which the CIPEV report had stressed.

Again, somehow, the issue dies down, helped in no small measure by the clamour for individual accountability of politicians for the violence through the Special Tribunal and the International Criminal Court.

But then comes the report of the UN special rapporteur, which finds the Kenya Police Force and the military in Mt Elgon guilty of torture, forced disappearances and systematic extrajudicial executions. The response is predictable: Denial, denial, denial.

And there’s more. The dis/misinformation and propaganda begins. The vice chair and a staff member of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) are accused of being on the Mungikis’ payroll. Then there’s the build up. Matatu operators accuse human rights organisations of not caring about citizens and businesses affected by the Mungikis’ extortion and protection rackets. We are informed that the Mungiki have decided to demonstrate in favour of the implementation of the special rapporteur’s recommendations. The media does not question this, despite the fact that the Mungiki’s spokesperson denies that they are involved and despite the fact that, strategically speaking, it would be ludicrous for the Mungiki to do so at this time. The demonstrations supposedly happen. The supposed government spokesperson parrots the claims, informing Kenya that the Oscar Foundation is raising money for Mungiki through the human rights organisations that support Mungiki. He blithely ignores the facts that: a) the Mungiki make so much money through their extortion and protection rackets that they hardly need external assistance and; b) the Oscar Foundation does not receive external funding. Hours after his statement, the two staff members of the Oscar Foundation are dead.

For the record, the human rights movement has consistently and repeatedly called for the disarming and demobilisation of all armed groups, criminal gangs and militia in this country as per Agenda Item One of the mediation process. It has also said, however, that disarmament and demobilisation will entail far more than a heavy-handed security response. And it has said that even that heavy-handed security response must be within the boundaries of the constitution and the law, not to mention the regional and international human rights instruments we are party to.

If armed groups, criminal gangs and militia still exist in this country, they do so because of their relationships, complex and ever-changing with the political powers that be and the security services that those political powers control. This is obvious. This is why disarmament and demobilisation is so difficult to achieve. And this is why it is simply ludicrous to claim that groups exist because of the ‘support’ they get from the human rights movement.

We are clearly in dangerous times. The Kenyatta and Moi regimes reserved assassinations for those among the political powers that be. Human rights defenders and other intellectuals contended instead with illegal detentions, torture and forced exile. In the Kibaki/Odinga regime, the goalposts have shifted, and shifted backwards. This does not portend well, for any of us.

To his credit, Odinga came out loud and clear following the assassinations, calling for independent, external investigations. We wait to see what Kibaki will do. And that will tell us whether we’re all headed to the grave.

* L. Muthoni Wanyeki is the executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC).
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

Readers' Comments

Let your voice be heard. Comment on this article.

The only way to eradicate organised crime is from the top, not the bottom as we are being led to believe. Get rid of the organisers (not one token one) and the protectors in whatever place govt. or otherwise and we will get rid of this menace. Other countries are always ready to forego the small fry in order to trap the big wigs, not so us. We kill even innocents in our fake quest to eradicate the menace.

Ruge Story - Independent

we shall overcome. some day. so long, but yes we shall overcome. Organize we must, Agonize not as much. But we are headed to a predictably dark segment of our nation's search for itself, perhaps we may get out of the tunnel a better people. the darkest hour is before dawn they say. Yes, now state assasinations are targeted to the powerful as much as they are targeted at the hapless, the powerless, and the very downtrodden. and this is why i say we are entering a new phase of our eventual liberation. because the state has ceased to think and is haphazard in the deployment of its instruments of violence. but the silencing of the lambs may not stop the bleating of the sheep. we shall overcome

orwa michael

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