Like most well educated, middle class Kenyans – and a trained lawyer at that – 38 year old Oscar Kamau Kingara had not planned to campaign for the poor, downtrodden citizens.
After graduating with a law degree, Oscar joined the family business that was involved manufacturing, meat and fish processing, real estate, import/export and sale of building materials within Kenya.
He planned to marry, have children, then live happily and quietly ever after. However, fate had other plans in store for him.
In 1996, Oscar experienced the injustices perpetuated by the state through a policy of destroying local industries for the benefit of multinationals. The government issued a statement meant to ensure that fish exports from Kenya were stopped. Oscar wrote in his website that the decision was, “aimed at punishing people from Nyanza province who were perceived by the KANU government to be anti-establishment. The policy was (Siasa mbaya maisha mbaya) meaning, “bad politics equals bad life.”
The government suspended fish exports to the European market, forcing Oscar to close down a multi million dollar factory in Kisumu that was processing and exporting fish. This first hand experience of high handed impunity by the state was an eye opener and Oscar realized how justice is hard to get especially for the vulnerable poor.
In 1998, Oscar founded the Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic Kenya (OFFLACK). Oscar Foundation offers free legal services to poor Kenyans who cannot afford a lawyer. The foundation trains paralegals across the country in peaceful resolution of grievances.
In its website, Oscar Foundation says: “We educate youths to respect the rule of law, more so the Foundation encourages the poor and the youth to seek justice through the law and due process and not through violence or any other unlawful means.”
It was through the fulfillment of this mandate that Oscar Foundation was drawn into the Mungiki issue. Mungiki is an underground movement drawing its membership from ethnic Kikuyu youths in urban slums and rural squatter settlements.
In mid 2007, after a series of brutal murders blamed on the Mungiki sect, the Kenya Police launched the War on Mungiki. By September 2007, the government admitted complicity in the deaths of at least 300 suspected Kikuyu youth accused of Mungiki membership. Human rights organizations believed the figure to be closer to 500. It is estimated that between mid 2007 and today, at least 1,000 people were abducted and killed by police death squads. A United Nations report says that death squads operate with the full knowledge of the top police command.
The families of the dead and missing had no legal recourse. As expected, most of them were too poor to afford lawyers. Kenya’s mainstream media were too afraid to get involved in the Mungiki issue, for good reasons obviously. This is why the families of the disappeared turned to Oscar Foundation to help them trace their loved ones, or at least use legal processes to bring identify those behind the killings.
The late Oscar Kamau and his Foundation were exposing the secretive killings perpetrated by the Kenyan government against its own citizens. It was not something they had initially set out to do but they simply could not ignore the horrific tales they encountered with each passing day.
On February 25th 2008, the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Prof Philip Alston, issued a report condemning the Kenya Police for illegal killings. Alston recommended the dismissal of Attorney General Amos Wako and Police Commissioner Mohammed Hussein Ali. The government contemptuously rejected the report and vowed to continue its War on Mungiki.
Yesterday, March 5th, the Oscar Foundation called demonstrations in support of the United Nations recommendations. Transport was disrupted in Nairobi, Central Province and the Rift Valley which are the Mungiki strongholds. The government vowed to crack down hard against the organizers of the demonstration.
Yesterday, as Mungiki members and sympathisers engaged in street battles with police, government spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua issued a chilling warning: “the Government assures the people that all security measures have been put in place to ensure they are not harassed or their daily lives disrupted any longer.” Mutua attacked Oscar as a supporter and financier of Mungiki activities.
By nightfall, Oscar’s lifeless body was the subject of tug-of-war between University of Nairobi students and the Kenyan Police. Oscar and his associate at the Oscar Foundation, Paul Oulu, were shot on a public road adjacent to university hostels. The location where Oscar and Paul Oulu were killed is less than a kilometre from State House – the official home of the Kenyan president.
Witnesses say that armed men in one, perhaps two or more vehicles struck as Oscar and Oulu sat in their car. The gunmen sprayed Oscar and Oulu with bullets. They two activists had no chance of surviving the onslaught. It is clear that the mission of the gunmen was to kill and silence forever those frustrating the War on Mungiki.
With usual short-sightedness, Kenyans are celebrating the War on Mungiki, rationalizing the killing of innocents as a, “necessary price to pay.” Experience from other parts of the world shows that when human rights are violated, nobody is safe.
Today, the target of state brutality is Mungiki. Next year it will be another group.
Find out more about the Oscar Foundation on this website: http://www.oscarfound.org/
Filed under: News | Tagged: extra judicial killings, human rights, kenya, kenya police, kikuyu, mohammed hussein ali, mungiki, mwai kibaki, nairobi, oscar foundation, Oscar Kamau Kingara, Paul Oulu, Philip Alston, torture | 4 Comments »