Murder of activists widens rift in Kenya
Kenya’s coalition government fractured further yesterday after the assassination of two human rights activists who gave evidence to a senior United Nations investigator over execution-style murders by police.
Kamau Kingara, director of the Oscar Foundation, which runs free legal aid clinics for the poor, and its programmes coordinator, John Paul Oulu, were shot in a busy Nairobi street near the presidential residence on Thursday evening. Only a few hours earlier a government spokesperson, Alfred Mutua, had publicly accused their organisation of being a fundraising front for the feared Mungiki criminal gang.
The killings caused shock and anger, with suspicion immediately falling on police death squads. “These were very decent men who had done more work than anybody in examining police killings,” said Cyprian Nyamwamu, the executive director of the National Convention Executive Council, which advocates social and economic reform. “I have no doubt that is why they were killed.”
The prime minister, Raila Odinga, whose power-sharing agreement with President Mwai Kibaki has soured because of corruption scandals and a lack of key reforms, called for an independent inquiry into the “murder most foul”.
He said Mutua, seen as a Kibaki loyalist, did not speak for the coalition, and called it “bizarre” that the activists died hours after being accused of links to Mungiki.
“It is worrying and I fear that we are flirting with lawlessness in the name of keeping law and order,” Odinga said. “In the process, we are hurtling towards failure as a state.”
Police attributed the killings to “rivalry or thuggery”. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and the UN demanded an independent investigation, with the United States offering help from the FBI.
The Oscar Foundation made its name investigating police abuses. Since 2007 it has reported 6 452 “enforced disappearances” by police and 1 721 extrajudicial killings. Many of those killed were alleged members of the Mungiki gang, which runs mafia-like networks but was also used by members of Kibaki’s party for retaliatory attacks during 2008 election violence.
Kingara, a 37-year-old lawyer, recently presented his dossiers on the police killings to two parliamentary committees. He and Oulu met and briefed Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, when he was conducting an investigation in security force abuses in Kenya last month.
Alston’s scathing report, which criticised Kibaki and called for the sacking of the police chief and the attorney general, deeply angered the authorities.
Mutua had also accused Kingara of helping organise a Mungiki protest against the extrajudicial killings on Thursday, which took place shortly before the murders. Kingara admitted assisting relatives of dead Mungiki members to seek justice but denied formal relations with the gang.
Kingara and Oulu had been driving to a meeting when their path was blocked by cars. Two men emerged from a minivan and shot through the driver and passenger windows. Police said that students from the University of Nairobi moved Oulu’s body into a hostel and a student was shot dead when officers tried to retrieve it.
Three officers who fired live rounds inside the university had been arrested, police said.
Alston expressed shock at the news and called for a foreign-led investigation into the murders. “It is extremely troubling when those working to defend human rights in Kenya can be assassinated in broad daylight in the middle of Nairobi,” he said.—