This has to be a turning point. This time, something surely must change. On June 23, Willie Kimani, a young human rights defender and lawyer walked into court with his client, Josphat Mwenda.
Mwenda was one of those rare brave Kenyans who had decided to take on the might of rogue policemen. A boda boda rider, he was shot in the arm in an unprovoked attack by an Administration Police officer and was determined to seek justice in the courts.
On June 23, the pair were driven to a courtroom by a taxi driver and were last seen alive walking out of the chambers.
All witness accounts indicate they were taken away by administration police officers. After a week in which everyone has spent time hoping for the best, the grim truth was revealed on Thursday.
The three were removed from the crude cells at the AP camp after a few hours, their hands bound in the back. They were viciously tortured, killed and their bodies dumped in a river. The taxi driver, an entirely innocent man who was trying to make a living and fend for his family, had one of his eyes gouged out.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Kenyan police are capable of unbelievable levels of brutality.
Right from childhood, we were taught to fear and avoid the police. When you saw a land rover with cops in the village, you just melted away despite being guilty of nothing.
In the small town of Maua, I avoided walking anywhere near the police station because in the early 1990s, the police never used to bother taking suspects to court and would typically just arrest them and subject them to a savage beating. The low sounds of wailing near the police station were the stuff of nightmares.
I remember one young man having the living daylights beaten out of him simply because his cow had strayed into the District Officer’s office to enjoy some lush grass in the compound.
It was little wonder that a few years ago, when General Service Unit officers with their red berets and a marching band went into the streets of Nakuru to celebrate an anniversary, everyone ran away, according to media reports.
One had hoped that Kenya had changed. There is a glittering new constitution. One-man rule was replaced by a multi-party system.
In fact, nothing has changed. Our court system and our prisons are still filled with innocents for the simple reason that the Kenyan state is a completely illegitimate creature.
It was birthed in exploitative colonial conquest and has never changed despite the lowering of the Union Jack in 1963.
This is how Gary Haugen, the founder of the International Justice Mission, which champions the rights of people that can’t afford legal representation in Kenyan jails, put it in an interview with the prominent American writer Samantha Power published in the New Yorker in 2009.
“The colonial powers who built justice systems in the Third World never intended to serve these people. Colonial justice was designed to control these people. Then, in the nineteen-sixties, the colonial powers left, and the justice systems stayed. Nobody, when we started international development, said, ‘Let’s revamp the public justice system. Let’s go into these places, where you either have colonial or pre-modern systems of justice, and bring to bear what we’ve learned about due process.’ No, that part was skipped.”
That article examined the case of a watchman who had been abducted by thugs and beaten up, only to be charged with theft when the police arrived in the morning.
IJM takes numerous such cases. I don’t imagine they pay too much but young lawyers like Willy Kimani forego larger pay-checks to defend the downtrodden.
The organisation, as Haugen puts it quoting the bible, hopes to “seek justice, protect the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”
Kimani’s two children will never see their father again while Muiruri and Mwenda have also been cut down in their best years.
The officers that did this must pay a steep price. So, too, must those that framed Mwenda in court.
But a broader conversation is necessary about overhauling the post-colonial state’s relationship with the people.
Also, what effect has the state’s policy of disappearing people for the last 10 years or so had on the approach the police take to doing their jobs? Where are innocents to hide when entire units like the AP begin acting like a criminal syndicate? The death of these three young men is an absolute outrage.
But it must at least serve as a wakeup call that something has to change.
[email protected] @mutigam