Wildlife defender Kofa did not deserve a brutal death
Ripples from Joannah Stutchbury’s murder continue to violently disturb the national conscience. Thirty bullets took the life of Kenya Wildlife Services Commander Bajila Kofa recently. His murder is the fifth known Kenyan environmental defender killed in the last three years. How can we protect those that protect us and our environment better?
The KWS Nyeri Company Commander had spent six of the last 43 years of life conserving wildlife in our parks and conservancies. Kofa was responsible for the security of Solio conservancy, home to over 200 black and white rhinos. Solio has the largest number of rhino crashes (a family of rhinos is called a crash). It is hard to imagine that a kilogram of rhino tusks fetches Kshs 6 million in Asian markets and rhinos were once on the verge of extinction. It is Kofa and other brave KWS officers that have transformed this destruction. KWS, Rhino Ark and Wildlife Direct have eulogised his efforts since his death on 31 August 2021
Husband and father to three young children, Kofa came from a family of ten siblings. His funeral service brought his family, community, and several colleagues back to his Kipini Matangeni village home in Tana River County where he was accorded a two-gun salute. Several have testified he knew he was being hunted before he was trailed by two Subaru Outback cars, gunned down near the Meru National Polytechnic and executed at close range. The assailants were well-trained and took time to collect spent cartridges.
Before investigations into his death or autopsy had begun, Imenti North Commander Alexander Makau branded Kofa as a serious criminal known to the police. Kenya Wildlife Service Director General (Rtd) Brigadier John Migui Waweru has disagreed publicly, noting that the officer was one of them. Some have publicly suggested police officers may have been involved. Without independent and thorough investigations, it will not be possible to legally establish whether it was poachers, informers law enforcement officers or a combination of them and others who are responsible for this Government officers’ death.
Seven years ago, KTN's Inside Story investigative documentary "Poachers and Butchers" exposed a cartel of civil servants, rangers and politicians that hunted rhinos together but then, each other. Fear of public exposure and arrest often ended in the elimination of those at the centre of the poaching rings.
Environmental defenders are still up against organised criminals with international connections. Officer Kofa did not deserve such a brutal death. The Government has failed to protect his right to life. In the absence of an independent investigation and enhanced protection, the recent incident will drive fear into KWS rangers and warders, non-state wildlife defenders and open the door for criminals to take control of our remaining national heritage. Kenyans must not be silent. Allowing these incidents and the recent cases of over 50 enforcement disappearances to happen in the national shadows will breed lawlessness and further criminal violence.
There has been no progress or even a public statement on the brutal murder of Joannah Stutchbury. It seems predictable that despite international and national outcry led by President Kenyatta, this case too will remain unsolved, justice suffocated, and impunity will win again.
My condolences to the family and comrades of Commander Bajila Kofa.
May he rest in peace, may justice be served.
This opinion was also published in the Sunday Standard 19 September 2021