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Talk is not cheap for Kenya activists

April 11, 2009

In Kenya, it may be dangerous to speak your mind.

In a country that once prided itself on its freedom of speech and lively public debate,
political activists now say their lives are being threatened, and a U.N. special investigator has said that Kenyan police systematically intimidate human rights defenders.

“Dozens of prominent and respected human rights defenders have been targeted in a blatant campaign designed to silence individual monitors and instill fear in civil society organizations at large”, said U.N. Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial killings Phillip Alston, in a report he released on April 7.

Alston was appointed in February to investigate allegations that at least 500 people have been victims of extra-judicial executions at the hands of Kenyan security forces since 2007.

Weeks after his appointment, two activists who had spoken out against police brutality were murdered in broad daylight when their car was blocked on a central Nairobi street and unknown gunmen opened fire on them.

The two men, Oscar Kingara and Paul Oulu, were outspoken critics of a police campaign against an outlawed religious movement known as the Mungiki, which has been accused of operating extortion gangs and committing gruesome murders.

To crack down on the sect, the police carried out raids on whole neighbourhoods suspected of harbouring Mungiki members, flushing out residents in door-do-door swoops, irrespective of whether they were actually members of the gang.

Oscar Kingara’s brother Michael has no doubt that his vocal opinions about the police raids were the reason he was killed.

“From the threats that have been issued in the past over the last one month … there were so many threats I will not mince my words, and say the government is responsible,” Michael Kingara told Reuters. “The government knows who executed my brother.”

Kenya’s coalition government has also been criticized by the international community for allowing a culture of impunity to grow. But this government, formed as a solution to last year’s post-election violence, is now falling apart; the extra-judicial murders are just one of many issues that divide it.

The government spokesman, Alfred Mutua, had linked Kingara and Oulu directly to the Mungiki just hours before they were killed; an accusation later rejected by Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who called on the international community to help solve the murders.

“I appeal to the United Nations, the U.S. government and the European Union to help unravel
this matter,” said Odinga. “I urge those with investigative agencies like the FBI or the Scotland Yard, to offer the services of those agencies to Kenya.”

Meanwhile, the threats continue, say Kenya’s political activists. Paul Muite is a lawyer and politician who held a seat in parliament until 2007 and says that he himself has been directly
threatened. He feels that those currently in power have little interest in protecting the people that they should be serving.

“We have never had a people-centred government who put the interests of the people first,” Muite told Reuters Africa Journal. “They’re right-wing conservatives whose only purpose is to line their pockets … and they really don’t care at all one away or the other.”

The murders of Oscar Kingara and Paul Oulu are still under investigation. The colleagues who survive and mourn them are determined not to stop fighting for what they believe in.

“We cannot afford to be scared,” says human rights activist Njeri Kabeberi. “Because if we are scared, then we give them afree hand to kill more of us. But … you of course think about who is next. And you hope that before you are next, you shall have done enough for this country.”


Whichever way you care to turn your gaze, from Iceland [where Ice cream and Toilet roll toppled the Government] to Madagascar [DJ revolution], from Thailand [where the Reds forced the Asean equivalent of G20 to abort and Asian Leaders had to to be helicoptered to safety] to Moldova where Twitter played a key role in allowing Folk to organise and scale with breath taking speed. You have to be wilfully blind not to notice that the age old equation between the Rulers and the Ruled is undergoing near enough revolutionary change. One might surmise that Martha Karua spotted that this inflexion point is nearly upon us.We are entering the c21st at a very accelerated speed. It will be a new Information World and it is most marked in a Country like ours. Think of the Phone. 10 short years ago it was nowhere now its simply everywhere. Its the old Fax story. One is useless. Two is better. Things become exponential when everyone has one. Things are going to be seriously compressed into a few short years. We are past the BEFORE stage but that remains our closest point.Our Politics has not really evolved from Independence. There is a photo of Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki taken then. This has been the political dispensation but there is an inflexion point and in some ways it just landed from the sea in Mombasa at Fort Jesus.These Activists are those Surfers who surfed the first wave. You can pick a few off but soon the whole Country will be a Nation of Surfers. That is the tide of History. I hope Martha sees that.Aly-Khan Satchu up.php


Ours is a nation that is quickly following in the footsteps of Russia – where summary execution of critics who hold divergent views against the establishment are quickly despatched to the afterworld. But one thing that must not escape mention is that ours is a restless society that will never be cowed by threats from the officialdom. The colonialists can attest to that, so too will the Kenyatta and Moi regimes. Kenyans have long learnt that in order to safeguard our hard fought free-will, relentless campaign against the forces of darkness should never be subsituted for transient comfort zones or cowardice if you like. The repressive police force and the corrupt judiciary must be reformed no matter how long it takes, for the innocent blood of the gallant brothers and sisters shed at the hands of the police will never dry in vain, ever!

Posted by Dennis Ouma | Report as abusive

When two conflicting governments are put together for purposes of national reconciliation, it takes time to them working for the sake the country. It took the death of Mrs Tsangirai for Zimbabwe of Mr. Mugabe to start thinking of just working together and it will probably take more deaths for meaningful change to be seen. Unfortunately, the International Community is not good at it; it can only preach but not act unless interests of the powerful nations are at steak.


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