Meru political commentator Daniel Muthiani was brutally murdered over this festive season. While Meru residents have risen to demand justice, the investigation has national and international significance and must be treated as a matter of public interest.
According to reports by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and his family and friends, Daniel “Sniper” Muthiani was last seen heading for the residence of Governor Kawira Mwangaza after receiving a call from her associate Vincent Muriithi Kirimi. After days of frantically looking for him, his body was found dumped in a river. Daniel was strangled and beaten so hard, his murderers broke his ribs and severely bruised his head.
Initially arrested for abducting Daniel, Vincent Kirimi was released by the courts on a cash bail of Kes 20,000. With the finding of the young father’s body, the charge of abduction switches to murder. This week, hundreds of Meru residents and leaders drove his casket through several Meru streets singing protest songs. Kirimi either needs to be charged as a primary suspect or become state witness, many are now publicly arguing.
In a rare act of unity, government leaders, human rights and media associations have reaffirmed our constitutional right to free expression. In unison, they have targeted their attention on the Directorate of Criminal Investigation and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate and prosecute Daniel’s killers professionally and independently.
Daniel’s murder is one in a new trend of intimidating critics to silence public scrutiny. Over the last two years, Francis Obegi and Augustus Mwathe have been murdered, Tonny Chumba and Dennis Itumbi were attacked, and Pauline Njoroge arrested for their political views. Under public pressure, Isiolo Governor Abdi Hassan Guyo recently retracted his Jamhuri Day speech widely heard as having threatened those voicing concerns with his government.
A single letter separates two 500-year-old words "impunity" and "immunity". For criminals, the first word means going unpunished. For the rest of us, the second means protection from dangerous criminals. Once again, national public confidence and Kenya’s international reputation as a society with a free media rest on how this case is concluded.
According to Article 19’s Global Expression Report 2023, 80 per cent of the world’s population is experiencing the lowest levels of freedom of expression since 2000. Kenya ranks 61 in the world and 11 in Africa from the top. While Kenya may be the only country categorised as “Less Restricted” in the East African Community (Ethiopia and Rwanda are categorised as “Highly Restricted” or “Crisis” respectively), we are only two points away from being categorised alongside them.
Declining global standards are driven by wars, restrictive media policies and attacks on journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders, and minorities. Kenya may not be facing immediate war or conflict, but this report alerts us to the risks of national values being incrementally eroded by populist arguments framed in public safety, economic efficiency, and the unwieldiness of democracy.
As we lean into the new year, the environment is twisting against the brave few protecting and exercising constitutional freedoms and the rule of law. Unless reversed, we can say goodbye to Kenya’s current human rights, corruption, open for business and good governance rankings. Only decisive action by government agencies over 2024 will determine whether recent events are a slip or the start of a long-term slump.
While the nation demands #JusticeForSniper, let Kenya’s 47+1 governments lift all restrictions and protect all journalists and bloggers from all forms of unlawful interference, harassment, and harm. They can learn from The Gambia, Tanzania, Angola, Malawi, and Zambia where a new policies and political environment have seen these nations rise between 6 and 31 points last year.
As Daniel was suffocated, the air thinned for all of us also. Free speech drives all other rights and a just, prosperous, and safe society.
Join me by contributing to Daniel’s send off and children’s fund via PayBill 247247 Acc 0755560442.
An expressive new year to you all.
This opinion was also published in the Saturday Standard, 30 December 2023.