African business, politics and lifestyle
Talk is not cheap for Kenya activists
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.”