#IAmWillie: From keyboards into the abyss

Over the past few weeks, the internet, or the medium of it, has been awash with missing person stories, news of their finding, and, now, puzzling questions about what the future holds for a one Willie Kimani, a human rights lawyer, Josephat Mwendwa, a boda-boda rider and his – Willie’s – client; and Joseph Muiruri, their cab driver who were extra judicially killed between Thursday, June 23, 2016, when they were last seen leaving Mavako Law Courts, and Thursday, June 30, 2016, when their bodies were discovered after days of intensive searching.

Circumstances of Willie, Josephat, and Joseph’s death

According to the New York Times, Willie Kimani, a 32 year old lawyer, was found with his hands and legs tied at the bottom of Ol Donyo-Sabuk River, in Machakos County.

Lawyer Kimani was hit on the head with a blunt object and suffered a fractured skull. Mwendwa was hit on the head, at the back of the neck, and on the chest with a blunt object. He suffered a fractured skull and had blood in his chest. The taxi driver, Muiruri, was also hit on the head and suffered a fracture in the skull before he was strangled. His – the taxi driver’s eyes were gorged out.

Kimani was killed after lodging a complaint against police in a case in which Mwendwa had filed against a police officer who shot him in the arm in 2015.

In many ways, Willie was, and is many people, and many people are, or could have been Willie. There are many lawyers who could have ended up like him as they still take on the same cases just like he did.

The reaction

The reaction to the loss of Willie and his colleagues has, as expected and deserved, taken various forms. The killings of the three have sparked off demonstrations by lawyers, human rights activists and concerned, worried citizens.

In Syokimau, angry residents burnt down the Police post linked to the extra judicial killings.  In Mavako, there was no Court activity on Tuesday, July 5, 2016.

In Mombasa, the civil society and political leaders had their day of protest on Monday, July 4, 2016, whereas advocates demonstrated on Wednesday, July 6, 2016. Two coffins were dropped at Urban Police Station on Monday, July 6, 2016 and no Court entertained any matters as Magistrates there took to the streets too.

In Kampala, a vigil in honour of the three was held in Ntinda, a suburb of Kampala, on Monday, July 4, 2016 courtesy of the International Justice Mission.

The highlight was, as a matter of course, Nairobi. In solidarity with the bitter, several headlines relayed news of lawyers holding protests outside the Inspector General office over their slain colleagues, and calling for his, his deputy’s, and the Minister of Internal Affairs resignation and the closure of Syokimau.

Tired of being keyboard activists

Calls for action came from various sources too. Jubilee politicians – who, in defence of their ruling government’s employees, could have chosen to ignore Willie as nothing but another number – called for the arrest of all those involved in the killings of the three. Already, four have been arrested as investigations continue.

Passionate appeals were shared by some of those who asked us whether we never felt ashamed of ourselves for not taking time off whatever we are doing to don a purple ribbon for a friend and a colleague and to join a simple protest about a worthy cause. Others were fast in signing an online petition prepared and shared by the International Justice Mission. The same would to be presented to the President, H.E Uhuru Kenyatta.

With the exemplary leadership of Isaac E. N. Okero, the President of the Law Society of Kenya, whose involvement and encourage came handy in collecting the concerned together, the extra judicial killings of the three became, to use the phrase, the stroke that broke the camel’s back, in the rich, shameful history of extra judicial killings in Kenya.

A movement of people, people who believed in a shared cause, and were not impressed that a lot had happened in the past and that no one had cared, took to the streets of Nairobi to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the status quo.

They marched, because a lawyer was killed for being an aide of justice. They marched, because a person accused a Police officer of brutal force and got killed for it. They marched, because a cab driver picked up a passenger, and his only mistake was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The demonstrators felt compelled, and appalled that they decided to do anything they could about the killings. When they did, they did so respectively. The above efforts have paid off quite well as they have successfully achieved, at the very least, the highlighting of extra judicial killings in Kenya. Thiers, we hope, is a first, major step in achieving justice for extra judicial killings in the history of Kenya, or, anywhere.

The opposition

However, there was, as expected too, opposition to the demonstrations. Indeed, genuine goodness – in all its forms – is threatening to those at the opposite end of the moral spectrum.

Kirimi Guantai, an advocate of the High Court of Kenya, wrote that he tried to pin the purple ribbon on advocates in Embu, but they just clicked, sneered, and went right past him.

Others commented that Willie was a nobody as compared to more notable personalities that have died – and not been demonstrated for – before. Some argued that Kenyan history has had many a fair share of assassinations of more prominent persons like Tom Mboya, and Robert Ouko, and that “this guy”, Willie, is a nobody, one who cannot “let us leave our work”.

It is imperative that we tolerate and grant those in opposition to the demonstrations that opportunity, but why not take part in the protests?  No matter who and/or what you are marching for, lives that we cannot simply ignore by sitting back, keeping clam and quiet about, and failing to account for were lost.

Willie Kimani is the new Hector Peterson

In the South Africa of 1976 lived a generation that could not fold their arms and do nothing any longer, the generation that insisted and died for the wish that young black South Africans should be getting the education as well as the equal opportunities they are entitled. Forty years later, the black youth of South Africa are part of tertiary institutions that have abundance in diversity.

Their causes could have been different, but they were both about change. Willie Kimani was killed for, in representing Josephat Mwendwa, being an aide of justice. His efforts were directed towards delivering positive change to the world he lived in.

Just like Hector Peterson and his youth of 1976, who included Seth Mazibuko, Teboho Mashinini, Hastings Ndlovu, Nkgopotse Tiro, and Mbuyisa Makhubo, and so many more, Willie Kimani did not die alone. He was with his client and their cab driver, who are remembered and honoured.

Like Hector, Willie is now a representative of a much larger community of victims of extra judicial killings in Kenya.  The Kenyan police has gone rogue. Just like corruption, Kenya is endemic to assassinations and extra judicial killings. A breakdown of the killings it – the Police – has effected details that 143 died in 2013, 199 in 2014, 126 in 2015 and 53 have died between January and April 2016. During the weekend after the abduction of Willie and his colleagues, three bodies thought to be them were recovered in Mahi Mahiu. They were similarly tortured and murdered.

What does the future hold?

Apparently, there have been more than enough killings to even start caring. These killings are the kind that would move the cowards to adapt to the fact that they will keep happening, without any answer.

The loss of Willie, we hope, will help keep everyone who cares on their toes while trying to be more aides of justice for those victims who may never be marched because they are truly nobodies, the kind that will never make a footnote on the pages of history.

Demonstrations, in all forms, are worthy and fair enough, but can we believe in them well enough to contribute to changing the country’s fortunes, in protecting other victims, in cautioning the perpetrators? There are these and many more unanswered questions. It is an abyss of its own kind.


This article appears in our newsletter, The Deuteronomy Volume 4, Issue 2 of July 8th, 2016 under the title, #IAmWillie: Marching from keyboards into the abyss


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