Today marks a week since Kenyan activist Caroline Mwatha was reported missing. No one knew of her whereabouts for a week, as family and comrades were searching for her across Nairobi – including in police stations and morgues. This Monday, the police reported that her phone was used to call her husband in Dubai three days after her disappearance.
On Tuesday morning, activists issued notification of a demonstration today (Wednesday). A few hours after the activists went public about their demonstration, the police announced that they had found Caroline’s body at city mortuary. A statement from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations(DCI) , Kenya’s crime investigative unit, said she lost her life while procuring an abortion.
According to activist John Garang’, it may be convenient to label her as promiscuous ‘because she is a woman, [and] an abortion story has been weaved to blunt the veracity of Caroline’s death. It’s a case of patriarchy and chauvinism rearing their heads in [her] death’.
Kenyans must remember not to forget – for Caroline’s killing marks the steady continuation of a pattern of intimidation and disappearances since the Jubilee regime came to power in 2013.
When activists are too loud, they try bribing them into silence. When citizens refuse their bribes, they intimidate them into submission. If anyone marches right past their waves of intimidation, they could disappear – and their bodies are sometimes found.
Less than two months ago, activists in Nairobi held a protest after twenty-three year old Carlton Maina was gunned down by police in Nairobi’s Laini Saba, – a village within the expansive and densely-populated Kibera settlement – while on his way home from watching a football match. The police dispersed activists demanding justice for the slain former engineering student at Leeds University.
We regret to confirm the news that #CarolineMwatha body has been found at City Mortuary.Her death is a big blow to the human rights movement in Kenya. We send our heartfelt condolences to the family of #CarolineMwatha and our brothers and sisters from @DandoraJustice. pic.twitter.com/doDxjSTqVi
— NCHRD-Kenya (@nchrdkenya) February 12, 2019
In June 2016, lawyer Willie Kimani was killed alongside his client Josephat Mwenda and taxi driver Joseph Muiruri. Willie, a lawyer with the International Justice Mission (IJM), disappeared on his way to Nairobi from the Mavoko law courts where he had represented Josephat, a boda-boda rider charged with a traffic offence by police officers who had shot him sometime before- and who were charging him in an attempt at intimidating him into silence.
Their bodies were discovered a week later in Ol Donyo Sabuk river. They had been kidnapped, tortured and killed.
More importantly, it is the continuation of an attempt to intimidate into submission those who stand for the truth, justice and freedom. And no one is safe in this matrix of events – technologists included. The body of Chris Msando, head of Information, Communication and Technology at Kenya’s electoral body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), was found in a thicket nine days to Kenya’s 2017 elections. He had been gruesomely tortured and strangled to death.
A vigil for Caroline was held at Dandora Social Justice Center this Monday. Activists present at the vigil gave the Inspector General of police a twenty-four hour ultimatum to produce Caroline. Yesterday, the activists resolved to hold a demonstration today (Wednesday) to demand justice for Caroline. Within hours of making their plan public, the police announced they had found Caroline’s body at Nairobi’s City Mortuary.
It remains to be seen how activists, and the Kenyan populace by extension, will raise their voices and ask some critical questions that are long overdue in the Kenyan conversation. When did Kenyan society allow the normalization of extra judicial executions and assassinations? Who are the puppeteers and perpetrators of these crimes? And why do the sheep continue to engage the hyena in a conversation about the hyena’s welfare?
Caroline Mwatha was a founding member of Dandora Social Justice Center(DSJC). She has been instrumental in the documentation of numerous cases of extra-judicial killings by the Kenya Police. Her colleagues at the justice Center say she was handling two cases of police harassment before she went missing.
Extra-judicial killings like the ones Caroline documented are commonplace in Kenya, and are mainly carried out by the police, sometimes by armed rangers in conservancies in Kenya’s Northern rangelands, or the public through mob justice. According to the Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU), a Kenyan human rights organisation, police killed at least 180 people in the first nine months of 2018.
Kenya’s history of extra-judicial executions reads like a thick novel, and Caroline’s killing brings to mind others who paid the ultimate price for justice, truth and freedom. A good number of them –Koiltalel arap Samoei, Dedan Kimathi, Pio Gama Pinto, JM Kariuki, Robert Ouko, Karimi Nduthu, and Odhiambo Mbai easily come to mind. They were executed for their belief(s).
If we were writing this yesterday, we would have said they must produce Caroline Mwatha – dead or alive. Today, many of us feel punctured and helpless. Others, like the comrades at Dandora Social Justice Center, remain defiant and continue speaking truth to power. All they want to know is the truth surrounding Caroline’s killing but remain unsure who they should ask – for it is the hyena that’s tasked with finding out what happened to the meat.
Fare the well comrade. Revolutionary salute!
Sungu Oyoo is a Kenyan writer and activist. Twitter: @Sungu_Oyoo