The killings of a chief and a police boss on Tuesday and Wednesday has shocked the country, not just because of their gruesome nature, but also because of the reasons behind the brutal acts.
On Tuesday, Mr Josphat Mayau Mukengu, the chief of Kamaindi Location in Tharaka-Nithi County, was killed by a mob at his brother’s home.
The chief had been sent by Igambang’ombe Deputy County Commissioner Fred Masinjila to solve a dispute between his brother, Mr Gikware Mukengu, and a villager whose goats had encroached on the former’s land.
Meanwhile, Chuka OCS Joseph Kinyua was hacked to death with an axe in Ugweri, Runyenjes Constituency, by a suspect in the chief's murder, who he was pursuing in Embu County the following day. The suspect, Mr David Ikaba, was also shot dead killed by police.
A police informer accompanying the OCS, who was also attacked by a mob, is in the intensive care unit at the Embu Level Five Hospital. Mr Ikaba is from Kamaindi but operates a butchery in Ugweri.
The two incidents have left many people wondering what might have driven the villagers to act so brutally, and whether it might have been a planned execution.
Kamaindi Location is in Igambang’ombe Sub-County, about 30 kilometres from Chuka town and approximately five kilometres from the county’s Kathwana headquarters.
Kamaindi, which means “a place of many bones”, in the local language, is a semi-arid area bordering Embu East Sub-County in Embu County, and is inhabited by speakers of Tharaka and Mbeere languages.
Most of the locals earn their livelihood from small-scale farming and rearing livestock.
According to villagers, the brutal killings were sparked by a long-running land dispute between the chief, his brothers Gikware and Njoka Mukengu and their neighbours.
“The three are accused of grabbing land from more than six people in the village,” said a resident who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.
He said that in early December last year, Gikware and his sons warned villagers against fetching water or watering their animals at a certain point on the Thuci River and closed the road leading to the river.
The locals held demonstrations and Igambang’ombe Deputy County Commissioner visited the village and held a peace meeting but nothing changed.
The villagers added that on December 12 Gikware and his sons fenced off the entire part of the river, making it completely inaccessible to the locals.
He said it was the same day that a resident, Mr Gitonga Kibuibe, went missing after he left home to bathe in the river and the Gikwares stopped his family members and villagers from searching for him in the fenced area.
“The locals urged the chief to talk to his brother to allow the people to use water from the river but he declined,” the villager claimed.
Then on April 4, 2019, a body believed to be Mr Kibuibe’s was found in the river in the fenced-off area. Police collected the remains and took them to the Chuka County Referral mortuary.
According to the residents, the body was found between rocks in the water, and some pieces of sack cloth and clothes were found close to it.
Mr Kibuibe’s relatives raised the matter of his death with the police and later recorded a statement, saying they suspected he had been murdered.
On April 25, the day before Kibuibe’s burial, the villagers held demonstrations demanding justice for the deceased’s family.
The locals blamed the local state administrators for not taking action against the people suspected to have killed him.
A source from the family told the Nation that they were denied a chance to record a statement on the alleged murder until they threatened to seek help from the officers’ superiors.
“Police maintained that Kibuibe had drowned,” said the source.
He claimed that the chief’s sons and the brothers continued threatening the locals.
The source said that two of the suspects in the chief’s killing have land cases against the chief’s family in court.
Another resident posited that had the administration taken action against those suspected to have murdered Mr Kibuibe, the villagers would not have killed the chief.
“People were tired of bad treatment by the chief and the ‘deaf’ administration,” he said.
Meanwhile, five suspects were arrested on Wednesday and arraigned in a Chuka court Thusrday, where police were granted 15 days to hold them as they concluded investigations.
The prosecuting officer, Mr Japhet Kiptum, told the court that police were looking for more suspects, arguing that the suspects would interfere with investigations if released on bail.
“We are requesting for 15 days so that we can conclude the investigation and arrest other suspects,” said Mr Kiptum.
Chuka Senior Resident Magistrate Rachel Njoki Kahara granted the prosecution its request, noting the matter was weighty and needed conclusive investigation.
The suspects are Mr Gerald Njeru Kibau, Mr Julius Mburu Kinanga, Ms Leah Muthoni Ngige, Ms Cecilia Gatuura Rucianga and Mr Peter Karani. They will be brought back to court on May 17.
Hundreds of security officers, including those from the General Service Unit (GSU), were on Thursday deployed in Kamaindi and Ugweri to look for more suspects.
Fearing brutal reprisals by the government most residents of Kamaindi fled their homes with their children on Wednesday night.
Addressing the media in Embu, Eastern Region Police Commander Eunice Kihiko said the National Police Service would not allow criminals to spread lawlessness.
“Any attack on an officer of the State is a direct affront to the State and will be met with the full force of the law,” she said.