Monday, February 23, 2009

The Kenya I cannot Stand

If you were following the news last week, no doubt you saw a woman on TV being harassed for protesting against the maize scandal outside parliament. She narrates her experiences below. Her courage is inspirational, and reminds us not to bury our head in the sand but to wake up and see the rot that is all around us. If we remain silent, it will bury us, and we shall be no better than our leaders who have turned out to be a millstone around our necks; leaders who have turned against their people...

By Philo Ikonya

I am up at 0330 because after the news of our arrest at 1230 was flashed last night, for some reason, I was released on a bond signed by Jaoko of the Kenya National Human Rights Commission after activist Ann Njogu, Wangui Mbatia and others told her to take action because I needed medical attention.

Thanks so much for all your actions. Shailja and Dipesh and Bunge and CKW and all... and all.... even to the most powerful in the land. It is dark in Kenya... very dark... our freedoms are not ours anymore and all Kenyans are suffering. I do not want a seat in a bunge like that, never. But in the darkness the voice of a man in the cells.. "Madam, they are trying to break your voice.. but it is powerful and unbreakable.. is your spirit. I saw it here in the cells... you have made me.. we were wondering who will speak since we lost voices to politics.... I will never be the same again ... just watching how you deal with things here..." Sorry it was about me.. but I have to be honest.

For some other reason, even when they told them about Fwamba and Kamotho; their case was not heard. I refused to leave them in the cells but once a bond is signed one cannot stay in as it is illegal.

Needless to say, I feel much compassion for Fwamba and Kamotho who were also beaten up especially Fwamba. Tears flood my eyes... when I remember how a merciless cop would hit him in the ribs every time he spoke up after I was boxed under the chin. He spoke gently but the cop yelled at us... he ( the cop) had said he knew me and that I should have kept quiet not to be arrested... I had told him I did not know him and could not abandon Fwamba,,.. he was alone... ( thank God Dipesh had mobilized Press) but now here we were in the car being told there was no camera there.... And so we would see... Here at home, I could not sleep and certainly not with the lights off as they had insisted on confining me in a dark cell alone...once we were hurriedly and as usual dangerously again transferred shoeless to Gigiri as they sneaked us out through the back since Central Police was too close for other activists to sustain pressure...

But in those hours at Central Police- we were transported at about 650pm and I managed to alert Mwalimu Mati whom I saw through the grills of the back of a van but police hit the car on all sides so that he could not hear- every few minutes they called us (over 50 men (5 women) out of their cells for a roll call. The Officer In-charge asks them what is their problem and they come forward fearfully and mutter something.

"I need to see a doctor, my chest hurts."
"Rudi ndani..... utamwona."
Another: "I need to go home, I am now here in the cells for three days, my eight-month old baby is in hospital admitted and I have nobody to help me take care of him."

I need... I need and I need.....But really all the officer is doing is intimidating fear. Here comes a young man with a big swollen cheek and he later asks me.

"Madam, I am sorry that they boxed see this huge swelling on my cheek, I was not like this before.... They hit me."

For Mukono, who pleads a case of mistaken identity and for many others, including the woman with the sick baby, the 24 hours in which they are supposed to be held in police custody before they are produced in court, (only those held for murderer can take 14 days) long, long expired. But they are still here. And there is crawling lice, the toilet for women is a little hole as the so called ‘proper toilet' is inside the gate of the men's cells. Yes, there are gates inside here and they have lock and key. Now since they learnt that the two of us who are human rights activists are in here, they tell me it had not been so strict for the women until I came. We are now thrown into an innermost cell and locked up more securely, it seems. The place stinks.

But every time we meet in the little antechamber of the halls, I remind the police officer that I have no clothes on my back, since his boss, the Deputy OCPD tore them up on the street. I complain bitterly about having a bare back and being in the same room for the roll call with men arrested for different purposes... one of them told me he was definitely going to be hanged for robbery with violence and he said this after suddenly taking charge and yelling at Fwamba whom he told he was worse than the policemen whom we seemed according to him to cow. But the office in charge...every time he says, You will get them Madam," and each time he finishes his roll call and throws us back in there as if we had not said anything. I can see from a little grill Kingwa Kamenchu showing them a paper bag with clothes in there for me.. I can see a disturbed Khainga... I can see Keli, Abel, I can see Kingwa being pushed out of the way with my clothes, I see many faces I know, I see Cyprian and Jane and Mwalimu Mati.. and the Tshirts they try to pass us.. the ones... are roughly confiscated... Fwamba being made to undress and I still left with my uncovered back.. ( the others are on their laurels but the cop has realized not even their blows keep me quiet... they were laughing as the cop who guarded us in the car was telling them "vile tumewekwa... how it was given to us... and by the way on arrival in Central I was made to sit on the floor and the brute of a policeman took Fwamba upstairs and confining him in a room tried to even pull his private parts.. beat him even more and told him not tell anyone...)

But now we are with the juniour officer in charge of us...He is very rough if one continues talking but I have taken this opportunity of the men sitting on their laurels to keep standing up and telling them that we must change our country. That the law does not allow for police brutality. That the police are not judge and jury. They are shocked that I address the policeman by the number he wears on his lapel. The policeman who beat us up this afternoon, in town and in the car almost turning us into pulp and hitting us where no obvious bruise can come up like under the chin, I remember asking him if he was going to break my jaw had no number on him. But we know him. He is the Deputy OCPD at Nairobi Central Police and when Fwamba and I get to the police station and activists flock in, they tell me that is the same man who last year molested Ann Njogu on the streets as he arrested her.

I am horrified for indeed each time he hit me I told him to look into my eyes and see God and his eyes looked opaque and distant... he hit me again saying he would take us where we could never talk again- I suppose he meant the grave. But I continued to tell him, ‘ My father had never hit me, nor any man on the streets nor any male in my life... no one... and that therefore, since he was oppressing me in the car - At the Inter Continental Roundabout I had yelled to motorists saying, " they are killing us..." and he had only hit us more turning the front seat of his vehicle low and leaning back and shouting at the cop on our back seat for letting us talk...and hitting Fwamba in the ribs and menacingly staring at us and swearing...but no one heard us in this torture chamber. The journey between Parliament and Nairobi Police Station down City Hall Way, past Kimathi's statue and through Moi Avenue was just blows.. and our voices since we are convinced that being threatened with being silenced is the last thing that will cow us. what I tell them happened to us in the police mobile torture chamber; a huge cop sitting in front, the one who had told me not to talk all the time, leans back and boxes me in the neck all the time. Well, what to do, with each blow we tell him to stop it. He beats us again and with each blow I tell him I was never beaten except by the state and sincerely ask God to bless him and since he has taken the law into his hands and is all ‘powerful' as we are confined in the car, and is pretending to be a god, I tell him he is not one but God would bless him.

At the station, Fwamba is thrown out roughly and I escape the brutes side and walk with the cop guarding us... I think I noticed that he could not stand this at some stage but his boss was showing him the way, we first sit, as I said before Fwamba is taken up to be beaten and to be asked who I am. They have perfected every stroke of intimidation... he thinks Fwamba will start spinning yarns but he only lets him beat him more... at this stage once in their hands Kenya Police - Dhuluma Kwa Wote - can kill you as they smile and move their shoulders to show that the job is satisfactory and that the orders from above have been fulfilled... I ask myself many things... " Just why is my country so dark...."

I told you they can kill you and you perhaps thought this is a story... listen to Bilha and her mother who shortly join us women in the cells. Bilha is preganant... her mother arrested in tow with her looks horrified when they come back to the cells. Bilha is 30... and Bilha's story kills me.

No wonder she looked stupefied when she came down till I massaged her head in the smelly cells... her story is something about having been duped to hold a child in town as someone went into a cyber... and immediately being blacked out and having all her property stolen and being left with a child she did not know... ( Feel sorry for the child, and for the child in her womb but another friend in here - is saying that babies can just be dumped in bags because women have to move on... she wants her puff badly.. yes, she is the woman who has a baby in hospital.. but she says... she had tried to abandon hers because she has no food for herself...) But Bilha... ten women cops upstairs in the station beat her up even with a wooden stick. They beat her and told her they would insert hot pepper in her vagina for an hour.. they beat her mother too on her back.. and then brought them in the cell. You can imagine my fear of a miscarriage and when they whisk me out for fingerprinting and I find Ann Njogu I shout out the story.. since the cops will not allow me a minute of sanity.. here they are asking me my tribe again...And in comes another clean woman later in the cells where all agree this is where the clean ones are.

She was arrested at 10 am for not having a coverall at her little eatery. She and four others. They were driven from Kasarani to Kiambu and all over town the same day while they tried to raise 4000 Ksh which the police wanted in order to release them... a bribe.

And I remember why we are here. Corruption = Death two of us chanted outside Parliament. My hands were in paper bag gloves; empty packets of maize flour. People are dying of famine, 10 million Kenyans and MPS sit in there not paying their taxes... a lot happened outside Parliament as women supporting the Minister who has mismanaged the maize harassed and tried to beat me first before the police...hurling all sorts of abuses.. and they were not arrested... I tell the women in the cells never to give bribes.. the mother of the 8 month old tells us she was accused of stealing a phone by a man who would not pay her after a night ( does anyone remember that poem...I once wrote.. and it won a prize..? the man came over to the police and apparently bribed all of them... he is rich, he is from the DRC. The girl... has been in for four days today.

And suddenly we women have a chorus - I had sang a few on my own to keep from reflecting too directly- and it goes like this:

"Did you say you have an eight month old alone at home, I was worried for my six year old!"And I for my 8 year old son... And I for my 13 year old who is a candidate this year... "

And Bilha does not talk. She carries a baby she might lose in her womb....

So, when am with the cops alone and on the journey to Gigiri- part of the reason we must be transferred before our 24 hours are over is the influence we are bearing inside... and also the many questions we ask...- I tell them, especially the woman not to touch me with hands that have hit Bilha... but the men look on and later they tell me after some verbal sexual harassment that I should not care so much for Bilha for the seed is by a man... she is pregnant from a man.

At that point there is a huge jam and not even the cops can manouevre- I start singing my Ave Marias in different languages if only to derail them from talk I cannot stand. They were warming up after threatening us with how they are going to deal with us on Forest Road where there is a cemetery. Later I tell them, the four with us- that the system they work in has eaten their souls and that they need to reflect. They tell us strange things.... They confess they need help, they soften and toughen and begin to call me other names that are not mine. We are at Gigiri and am raving at the dark cell. Then, when I think they are going to transport me again... and separate me from Fwamba because they put me in a place with light but the bulb has expired, I am called outside... the cops had told me they watched the news...I hear Pius Gachoka speak and he says they have come for me. I see Wangui, Florence Jaoko (KNHRC Chair) and Ann Njogu. I am shoeless but I am in a car going home at midnight to go to court at 8am......I must now get ready...

1 comment:

Gerry said...

Our Client’s attention has been drawn to the allegation that he
has been barred from traveling to the United States of America
together with his family, allegedly because of corruption and
being involved in the Post Election Violence and impunity.
These representations were made inter alia in an interview
Christened “Capital Talk” in K24 television station, and the
Nairobi Star Newspaper Issue No. 538 of Wednesday, 25th
March 2009.
In response, our Client wishes to state as hereunder:-
1. Neither he nor his family has most recently applied to
travel and or invest in the United States of America. There
was therefore no reason for the Ambassador to purport
that our client had been denied opportunity to travel to
United States of America.
2. Our client has no immediate business interest; and has no
immediate intention to visit and or stay in the United States
of America himself or his family members and the
Ambassador’s announcement is in vain. The Ambassador
stated when waxing about corruption, post-election
violence and impunity, that USA is taking the steps it has
taken to punish guilty parties. Our client pities the
Ambassador because neither he nor his family feel
punished in any way by not travelling to USA. Our client is
happy and content as a resident and national of The
Republic of Kenya.
3. Our Client wishes to state emphatically that:-
a) He has not been involved in any corrupt events or
b) He was not involved in the Post Election Violence either
by supporting or inciting or perpetrating violence or
otherwise. As a matter of fact he was a victim of post
election violence, and lost property to theft and arson
which include livestock, maize, houses and machinery
as well as staff members. These facts were already
communicated to the Ambassador in response to a
letter he wrote on the 4th February 2008.
c) Further our client was out of the country for over 10
days and came back to find the clashes taking place.
d) There is no cause of him being liable for impunity as he
is in no position to procure the environment that would
afford him impunity.
e) No competent court has adjudged him guilty of any
criminal culpability for corruption, violence, impunity or
4. Our client was a Personal Assistant to the former President,
His Excellency D. T. Arap Moi, and is exceedingly
saddened to be subjected to harassment and
unwelcome, dishonest, negative publicity for having
discharged his duties as a President’s Personal Assistant.
Our client is now retired from Government for over 7 years
and he has neither in the past nor in the present wielded
any influence to enjoy impunity for whatsoever reason. He
is neither in the public service nor is he a public official.
Our client has no connections or close links to any key
leader or leaders in the Grand coalition Government to
warrant an accusation of corruption, impunity and or
violence by association in the least.
5. The Ambassador’s announcements are neither consistent,
nor made in good faith. They are made for the sake of
cheap publicity and the ego of an idle Diplomat at the
end of his career arrogating and assigning himself the role
of a prefect and a supervisor of Kenyan citizens and
Kenyan institutions (which in this case include the Police,
Anti Corruption Commission and the Judiciary). Our client
maintains this as:-
a) The Ambassador had initially said the person banned was
a sitting Cabinet Minister. He subsequently changed and
alleged it is our Client without any lawful cause or
justification. Clearly the Ambassador is confused, does not
have a clear mind as to the issues he is going public
about in terms of the person in issue, the grounds for the
decisions he is purporting in his public statements, and the
occasion prompting his public announcement. For
instance, our client has not applied to visit USA in the
recent past. And our client’s case is not an isolated
manifestation of the Ambassador’s public utterances,
made and retracted depending on his capricious whims.
b) Further the Ambassador’s mention that the person in issue
was a Politician has no reference to our client. If the
Ambassador had made effort to ascertain his facts there
would be no senile allegation of that erroneous and
misleading statement. It is a norm that previous US envoys
have always verified their facts before going public.
c) The ambassador has no respect for Kenyan institutions. It is
the Kenyan legal System that would determine if anybody
is guilty of any corruption and or any case of Post Election
Violence and/or impunity before a categorical statement
can be made in the manner as alleged by the
Ambassador that our client has culpability for crime.
Further our client is unaware of any police investigation or
any of the alleged culpabilities stated by the
Ambassador. The Ambassador alleges that there is a
preponderance of evidence that our client is culpable for
impunity, corruption and post election violence. He does
not state how the evidence was gathered, tested and
verified to achieve the status of preponderance.
However, and in any event any process of gathering
evidence to this effect would be acts amounting to USA
running parallel and unwelcome police investigative
system, outside the formal Kenyan system to collect data
on Kenyan citizens. This is exceedingly strange coming
from the Ambassador of a country that prides itself on the
rule of law, natural justice, fair hearing and all the civilized
attributes of fair democracy. It is even stranger coming
from the current USA government which has averred to
maintain an international policy to respect other people
and other governments, regardless of inter alia race. USA
is clearly the most powerful country in the world but in
good conscience should not be a bully through its
d) Our client has never been afforded an opportunity to be
told what specific allegations there are against him to
enable him respond or rebut. The Ambassador has either
come up on his own with the allegation of corruption,
culpability for post election violence and impunity or
otherwise has relied on baseless rumors, or has elected to
publicize the version of publicity he prefers for his ego.
Attention is drawn to the fact that the Ambassador wrote
to our client on 4th February 2008 and our client
responded on 6th February 2008 inviting the Ambassador
to avail material he has for him to give a response. To
date the Ambassador has not responded, this must be
because he has no material. The announcement he has
now made are callous and wild coming from him, and
after our client having offered him an opportunity to verify
the allegations.
e) The conduct and utterances of Michael Ranneberger on
our client, and generally, are outside his call of duty and is
an appalling misuse of diplomatic immunity to orchestrate
and propagate falsehoods in circumstances that the
victims of the falsehoods have no avenue to defend
themselves and/or cause him to take personal
responsibility by inter alia facing a cause for defamation.
Mr. Ranneberger’s conduct is in bad taste, theatrical, less
than honest, is perverse and cowardly.He is invited to
waive his diplomatic immunity if his allegations have merit
in the least and face our client in a court of law.
f) Clearly Mr. Ranneberger has become a hired mercenary
in what is evidently an obvious political alignment to help
his friends towards the 2012 political prospects. Mr.
Ranneberger has abandoned the cause of USA and has
redirected his energies to take sides in Kenyan current
and future politics, and misused his diplomatic security
and privileges. Our client shall hope that the
Ambassador’s overdue stay in Kenya will be noticed in his
deploying country and invited to the much needed
(albeit undeserved) retirement.
g) The Ambassador would seem to have a personal grudge
against our client, probably in regard to his extraction as
demonstrated in the manner in which the Ambassador
would strut his diplomatic status and the office conferred
to him by his country to pursue personal vendetta in
circumstances that would amount to abuse of his office in
h) Our client maintains that Mr. Ranneberger’s ( in the extent
of his inconsistencies, goofs, contradictions, misuse of his
diplomatic privileges, lending himself to be used for
political ends, spite for Kenya’s institutions and citizens,
pursuit of stale allegations and disregard for real cases of
corruption, inability to ascertain his facts , exceeding
readiness for cheap publicity ) displays everything that a
diplomat should not do in a host country and represents
arrogant impunity and septic corruption and very possibly
intolerance of person clothed in other shades of colour.