Our attitude the reason impunity refuses to die

The fact that the killers had the guts to kill his lawyer and an innocent taxi driver drives the point about the attitude of people in positions of power… That Kenyans on the other hand will make noise for a while then forget and move on fuels this attitude of impunity

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By Kenyatta Otieno

There is always the nagging feeling that an unravelling saga will be tragic but our conditioning to hope even against hope itself pushes the thought out of our minds. When human rights lawyer Willie Kimani, his client Josephat Mwenda and taxi driver Joseph Muiruri disappeared after attending court in Mavoko on June 23, I hoped for the best; but knowing Kenya, I also expected the worst.

Two days later, their bodies were found stuffed in gunny bags and dumped in Athi River in Oldonyo Sabuk on the border of Machakos and Kiambu Counties near Thika. Kenyans, especially on social media, erupted with anger at the police force as it was suspected that Administration Police officers in Mavoko were responsible for the murders. This is because the case connecting the lawyer and his client was against an AP officer.

The killing of a young lawyer barely out of his twenties with a passion for the not-so-lucrative human rights division, just for doing his job, is tragic. To compound it, a taxi driver who was out to earn his bread legally is caught in the cross hairs of a matter he knew nothing about. The case revolved around motorcycle taxi rider Josephat Mwenda who was allegedly shot by an administration police officer last year. He then sought legal representation from International Justice Mission (IJM), which assigned Kimani to handle the case.

The motive behind the murders is suspected to be a move to wipe out evidence so as to undermine the case. If this is true, then killing the complainant, Mwenda, was enough to throw the case into the doldrums. The fact that the killers had the guts to kill his lawyer and an innocent taxi driver drives the point about the attitude of people in positions of power in this country. They believe that nothing will happen to them because they have the power to beat or manipulate the system. This includes members of the police force who represent state power at the lower levels. That Kenyans on the other hand will make noise for a while then forget and move on fuels this attitude of impunity.

The manner in which the three were killed and their bodies dumped shows perpetrators who left a lot to chance, as if they were assured of insulation from arrest and the law. The first suspect would definitely be the officer accused by Mwenda for shooting him then trumping up charges against him. I believe that the killers had the time, the power and resources to do a “better job”. An air of invincibility in their minds pushed them to accomplish their scheme hurriedly without thinking through it. I can imagine them flashing the middle finger at Kenyans and asking, mta do?

The Law Society of Kenya rallied its members to boycott courts for a week in protest. Their angst is understandable because it means professionals (including taxi drivers) can be killed for doing their job. Within a few days of the boycott, Kenyans began to question why lawyers never came out to protest other controversial killings that have taken place in the past. Controversial businessman Jacob Juma died under unclear circumstances in May; ICC witnesses disappeared and some died mysteriously; and recently, police shot and killed Cord supporters during anti-IEBC demonstrations, but majority of people looked the other (Kenyan) way and moved on.

We have collective selective amnesia, though I believe at individual level, those affected by such misfortunes rarely move on. We have never connected the dots of impunity that lead to the doorstep of every individual in this country. Impunity is not only about police brutality in their individual capacity or on behalf of the state; it is also when as a society, we believe that the law will not be applied equally and if it is so applied, we can steer the wheels of justice in our favour.

Corporate impunity

In April this year, Chase Bank experienced a run that led to its closure. Reports in the media led to social media troll that the bank was in the red after auditors flagged an accounting error. Apparently the bank breeched governance policies by going above the Central Bank limit stipulated for internal lending. The bank re-opened towards the end of April under the management of KCB after it was put on receivership by Central Bank. The Chairman of the board and CEO were requested to go and record statements with the DCI. Nothing has been heard about the matter since.

Uchumi-Jonathan-Ciano
Former Uchumi CEO, Mr Jonathan Ciano

The master of turnaround, Dr Julius Kipng’etich, left Equity Bank for troubled Uchumi Supermarkets. Things were not looking good with the retailer and the rainmaker was tasked with bringing the chain of supermarkets back to life. Ironically, it had been reported months earlier that former CEO Mr Jonathan Ciano had managed to put the company back on track and the future looked bright. It did not take long before he was sacked for mismanagement.

As Kipng’etich settled in, he revealed that Ciano was the biggest supplier of fresh produce to Uchumi Supermarkets. While at the helm of the company, he made sure he paid himself first, while other suppliers were owed billions of shillings. I believe if all the dealings that brought the company to its knees can be revealed, many people will be culpable with offences that could land them time in jail. Again, we have not heard that Ciano and his team have been called to account and show cause why legal action should not be taken against them. Meanwhile, in the grapevine, word is that the only way out is for the government to come in and bail out Uchumi.

Kenya Airways has also been in the news for the wrong reasons.  As soon as former CEO Titus Naikuni left and Mbuvi Nguze took over, it has been crisis after crisis. The national carrier is in turbulent winds, and only time will tell whether it will land safely or if it will crash. The government has also been called to pump in money to keep the airline afloat. No one has been put to task to shed light on how the airline was reported to be making profits then within a few months a loss of over twenty billion shillings was reported. These are stories of some of our major corporates; I will not go into Mumias Sugar Company for now.

If one could go down into the details of many others, we would see that the rot runs deep. It is understandable to be angry at the killers of three people mentioned earlier. If you look at the saga well, it reveals just how deeply our society is sinking into the pit of impunity. It is not just about the state bureaucracy; it is rife even in corporate Kenya and our social spaces. A select group of people strangle organisations, which are lifelines to many people, with the reckless abandon of a murderer sure to circumvent justice. No wonder retired Chief Justice Dr Willy Mutunga said Kenya is a bandit economy where the rule of the jungle reigns.

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