• Irungu Houghton

Where is the rage over these brazen killings?

First published Saturday Standard, September 8, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

The violence on the doorsteps of the Governors of Garissa and Migori this week sound alarm bells we ignore at our peril. Ignore them and we will descend into a quicksand of impunity and criminality. While investigations are under way and all are presumed innocent until proven guilty, the public revelations must cause us to reflect and rage.

From the testimonies alone, a wide range of human rights violations and public safety breaches have occurred. Corruption, abduction, torture, murder and attempted murder by contract killers, death in police custody and the intimidation of lawyers, journalists and detectives are among them. Student Sharon Otieno and David Mwai lie dead, brutally murdered. Both were young and had links to the Offices of Governors Ali Korane and Okoth Obado. Journalist Barack Oduor and former Garissa CEC Idriss Mukhter were luckier. Having survived very direct attacks on their lives and are both recovering in hospitals.

Sadly, observers of Kenyan history can cite numerous cases of human rights violations linked to the abuse of corruption cover ups, public office and contracted killers. Lying somewhere on dusty Parliamentary shelves are copies of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation report. Littered across hundreds of pages are painful and tragic episodes of unexplained assassinations, forced disappearances and violence against both citizens and leaders. The lack of closure on our past will tempt many to normalize this week’s incidents. There have always been violations, so what is different now?

The pattern of incidents suggests a collapse on many levels. They include impunity, assaults on the right to life, media freedom, rule of law, the right to legal representation and the criminal justice system. Victims Mukhtar and Oduor and the families of Otieno and Mwai deserve justice from our criminal justice system. Both Governors have emphatically denied any involvement. They too deserve their right to exonerate themselves in a court of law.

The announcement by the Director of Criminal Investigations that both cases will be swiftly investigated and that the Homicide Investigation Unit will report directly to him is comforting. Calls for uncompromised investigations and effective oversight need to expand beyond those issued by individual County and National legislators, the Law Society of Kenya and the Kisumu Journalists Network. The Council of Governors, human rights organisations, Media Council, Kenya Union of Journalists, University student’s associations and policing oversight bodies now need to add their voices.

Online “netizen” conversations need to shift as well. The term netizen comes from the words citizen and internet. Too many of us netizens have become too de-sensitised by Hollywood products like “Super Fly”, the popular “Narco” series and our very own popular culture. We fail to see the very real threat these incidents pose to us personally and nationally. In the wake of the brutal killing of Sharon and her unborn child, too many got lost speculating on her personality, morals, whether she resisted enough and even whether she deserved to be killed for having an intimate relationship with the Governor.

The real important questions didn’t get asked. Who ordered the killings of Sharon and Alex and why? When will they be arraigned in a court of law? How is it possible that a suspect in a crowded police cell can hang himself when he had already accepted to turn state witness? Should all the State Officers implicated in both cases immediately step down to prepare their defense? Who has let Chapter Six become the most disposable piece of tissue in our constitution?

We must face the hard truth that the society we say we want in the constitution will have to be painstakingly created and jealously guarded. Devolution is built on the foundation of a promise that the Kenyan people would be safer and better served by Government. If we cannot hold all State Officers and all citizens accountable to this vision, we had better abandon this promise, the bill of rights and any pretense of democracy.

Abandoning this vision, takes us back to the experiences of other societies. Societies like Mexico where 32,000 people have been missing since 2006, the criminal justice system is for hire and you are not safe unless you have your own personal militia. I wish the criminal investigators fair, speedy and conclusive investigations and prosecutions, this country’s future depends on it.


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