Murder Over a Minibus Fare: Extrajudicial Executions in Kenya

The following article originally appeared in The Star.

Kenneth Irungu Waitwika, a 26-year-old teacher in Maralal, Kenya, lies dead barely 200 days after Kenyans welcomed a new constitution; Article 26 of which provides that “Every person has the right to life.” Irungu is a recent victim of what is strongly suspected to be another case of arbitrary, extra-judicial execution by the police. Clearly, the loud argument—by some proponents of International Criminal Court deferral for Kenya—that a new constitution automatically regenerates or re-creates accountability locally is an intellectual midget. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Irungu was kidnapped at Muthurwa market in Nairobi on the afternoon of Friday March 11, 2011, by three men who bundled him into a Toyota Premio car KBG 447R. When this matter was quickly reported to Kamukunji Police Station (Occurrence Book Ref: 42/11-03-11), the officers there said the vehicle belongs the Kayole Police Station. When asked, the Officer in Charge at Kayole denied that the vehicle belonged to the station and also denied that Irungu was being held there. Irungu’s body was later found in Loitokitok; he had been shot to death and his body dumped by the roadside.

The script of this tragedy actually begins on December 28, 2010.  Irungu and his two cousins boarded a matatu (minibus), KBK 334J, destined for Nairobi from Kiharu to return from their Christmas holidays. The usual fare is Ksh 250 but this had been hiked to Ksh 300. Along the way, the conductor announced a new fare, Ksh 350. His cousins—two brothers—protested and when their change from Ksh 1000 was not returned, a scuffle ensued; before other passengers intervened.

At the Ruiru bypass, however, the matatu stopped next to a saloon car and the conductor fetched several burly men who dragged the two brothers from the matatu and bundled them into the boot of the smaller car. Irungu’s attempts to track his two cousins using their cell phones were unsuccessful; their phones had been switched off. The next day, he searched at the Ruiru, Pangani, and Kamukunji Police Stations but there was no trace of them—they had not been booked in any of these police stations. He proceeded to trace the matatu and asked the driver who the men who had abducted his cousins were. The matatu crew, however, called the police from Kayole Police Station who arrested Irungu for reportedly attempting to extort money from them. Irungu was charged the next day in the Makadara law court for being a member of the Mungiki as well as extorting money and was released on a Ksh 50,000 bond (Case C/5125 of 2010).

Meanwhile, the lifeless bodies of his cousins had been found next to the Ruiru bypass and taken to the City Mortuary on the afternoon of December 28. Postmortem reports showed that one had been shot four times, twice in the head and twice in the chest while the other had been shot twice in the head.

Irungu traveled from his teaching post in Maralal to attend the mention of his case on March 11, 2011. The hearing date was set for May 6, 2011, and after leaving the court, Irungu went to Muthurwa to join a friend for lunch; from where he too was abducted and murdered.

Clearly, life in Kenya is very cheap: for protesting a Ksh 50 increase in matatu fares, two young men are dead and a third has now been murdered for inquiring after them. It would seem futile to insist that there is indeed a right to life: yet, we must continue to insist. For without it, we are a forest without trees; we will have nowhere to hide when the guns are trained on us.

First, we must insist on full accountability in all cases of extrajudicial executions. It could start with the real truth about what happened to Kenneth Irungu Waitwika and his two cousins John Kamuri Nganga and Peter Irungu Nganga. And we are not asking for the usual police investigation or explanation. The time for flippant, excuse-laden cover-ups is up. It has long been time for a credible, investigative agency outside the current police force to begin digging into all executions extrajudicial. Thereafter, a full accounting for all those who have reportedly fallen victim of extrajudicial executions is mandatory. There are numerous credible reports from human rights groups that would provide appropriate entry points in this regard.

Second, the public must be assured of what administrative or legal action has been taken—or will be taken—for all those police officers found guilty of extrajudicial executions. And this does not mean the usual cavalier statements that investigations will be instituted or that some police officers have been interdicted. The public must insist on verifiable proof that relates to specific individuals who have been found culpable of this malevolence.

Third, it is time for senior police officers to be held accountable for the shoot-to-kill order that currently obtains in Kenya. If a certain police station or unit within the police force is notorious for shooting to kill, why is it that those commanding are not being held responsible? The constitution decrees at Article 244 (c) that the National Police Service must comply with constitutional standards of human rights and fundamental freedoms. It also provides for the Inspector General to be removed by the President under Article 245 (7) (a) on the grounds of serious violation of the Constitution. Although Kenya does not yet have a National Police Service or an Inspector General, the Constitution is nevertheless the prevailing benchmark and there can be no reason why the current force and the current Commissioner of Police cannot be held responsible to these standards.

Fourth, there must be a more serious and substantial attempt to ensure proper oversight over the police. It is time to end the traditional incestuous process where the minister in charge of internal security appoints his political or business buddies to oversee the police force: as a safety-valve measure to deflate public pressure resulting from police malpractices. Credible and critical human rights and civil society groups and voices must be involved in this process for it to properly achieve its core purpose.

Fifth, it is time for citizens to speak out against extrajudicial executions. It is a fact that most of us, victimized by runaway crime and insecurity, are supportive of tough security measures and responses by the police. But, as numerous examples clearly show, shoot-to-kill is an equation that equals shooting the innocent plus killing justice minus providing the needed security.

Innocent lives are consistently lost to trigger-happy policing.  Stand up—should you know of any such case, please email [email protected].

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First this article is so articulate.... tip of the hat
I wag my finger to anyone who takes anyone's life lightly like our Kenyan authorities do, yet anyone wonders why most people living abroad dont wanna go back there..... this is more than enough proof

People might be living in fear, because the police system that is supposed to protect is doing the reverse. Where then does one run too in this situation? The ministry in charge of the policing must explain to the citizens. If exercising certain rights, like asking for your change is equal to three live, there is need to communities to be organised, to rise up. I support this idea

am happy to see this case went that far. the victims were known to me and i was involved in their search.

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