Thursday, 5 December 2013


In March 1998 as he prepared to retire as the first democratically elected president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela addressed Parliament in a moving farewell speech. Prior to his address, South African MPs from all parties paid glowing tributes to the outgoing president. I was then living in Johannesburg and used to write occasionally for Kenyan newspapers on topical issues. As the world now says farewell to the greatest moral leader of our generation, I reproduce an article I wrote for The People newspaper on the occasion of his last address to parliament as president in 1998. Fare thee well, Nelson Mandela. The flame you lit for freedom and justice will burn and continue to inspire the world for generations to come.
By Njonjo Mue in Johannesburg
26 March 1998
The usually divided and sometimes acrimonious South African parliament on Thursday came together in a rare show of unity to give a warm send-off to President Nelson Mandela as he gave his last address as head of state. Opposition party leaders who usually gleefully ascend the podium to vilify the ruling African National Congress (ANC) used the same podium to heap praise on its erstwhile leader.
Marthinus van Schalwyk, the leader of the New National Party, the party that imprisoned Nelson Mandela for 27 years, said of Mandela , “You have the ability to be everybody’s president. It is one of the great ironies that people who suffered greatly have the capacity to forgive greatly.” And as if to exorcise his party of the ghost of its evil past, van Schalwyk stared the beast in the eye saying,  “No jail can ever keep an idea in prison. Convictions can never be held captive forever.”
The leader of the right-wing Freedom Front, Gen. Constant Viljoen, said that Mandela was an “exceptional person, a dignified, elderly leader from the Xhosa people.” The Freedom Front fights for a separate Afrikaner Homeland, hence the reference to Mandela, not as President of South Africa, but a great Xhosa leader.
Patricia De Lille of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) told Mandela: “We will miss you. We all love you,” while the leader of the small African Christian Democratic Party , Kenneth Moshoe, expressed surprise and gratitude that Mandela had called upon him, the leader of the smallest party in parliament, for his advice and opinion.
The only discordant note was struck by the leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and Home Affairs Minister, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who took advantage of the occasion to open up some ugly sores from the troubled past in the ANC/IFP relationship.
But Buthelezi’s aggressive and controversial style was more than made up for by the fragrance of praise showered upon Mandela by Tony Leon, Leader of the Democratic Party, and the utterly captivating ode to a great man, recited by the eloquent Thabo Mbeki, Mandela’s anointed successor.
"There are three categories of remarkable political leaders,” Leone remarked. “The first is the great and the bad: this includes Hitler and Stalin. The second is the great and the good: this includes Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt.
“And then there is the third category – a leader born with a special kind of grace, who seems to transcend the politics of his age. This is a very small category, and in fact I can think of only two such men in this century: Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.”
But perhaps the most poetic send-off came from Mbeki: “You have walked along the road of the heroes and heroines. You have borne the pain of those who have known fear and learned to conquer it. You have marched in front when comfort was in the midst of the ranks. You have laughed to contend against a sea of tears. You have cried to broadcast a story of joy. And now you leave this hallowed place to continue to march in front of a different detachment of the same army.”
After the praises, Mandela gave his farewell speech (see separate story) and humbly receive a standing ovation.
As Parliament broke out into song and dance, and South Africans honoured their beloved philosopher-king, the grand old man strode confidently out of the chamber, ending an era in South Africa’s parliamentary history, and moving into the next leg of his long walk to freedom.

*Njonjo Mue is a Kenyan human rights lawyer working with an international organization in Johannesburg.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013


Civil society groups defend victims at ASP

This article appeared on the blog, The Hague Trials
By Nevins Biko*

Kenya’s civil society groups put up a robust defense for victims at the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) in The Hague, where the government and the African Union sought to amend the Rome Statute to provide immunity for sitting heads of state.

The government was caught flat-footed because non-governmental organisations had sent representatives to speak at the assembly and attend all the crucial panel discussions and debates on the amendments. “The voice of the victims must be heard, lest they drown in the noise of those who want to entrench impunity by protecting those who commit serious crimes,“ said Njonjo Mue, one of the civil society representatives.

Civil society speaks out

The government delegation was surprised when Njonjo and his colleagues from the sector were given a platform to address the main plenary of the assembly. There they insisted on having the rights of victims protected instead of the assembly members focusing on suspects who committed the crimes. “The international community should not support impunity by allowing any amendments which will erode the Rome Statute provisions on equality before the law," said Njonjo.

So intense were the differences between the government and the NGOs that the government team stormed out of a key debate after clashing with representatives from civil society organizations. The Kenyan team, led by Deputy Solicitor General Muthoni Kimani, walked of the World Hotel Bel Air where the debate on the implications of the proposed immunity for heads of state on the ICC was taking place.

Delegates from Western countries and other parts of the world were left speechless. Human rights lawyer Njonjo Mue was one of the panelists at the debate. He appealed to the ASP not to bow to pressure and change any aspect of the Rome Statute.

Mue says the Kenya government has not done enough to deal with the problems affecting victims of the violence. He added there is no point for the government to "besiege the world with demands seeking to protect individuals from standing trial over such crimes".

Strong defence

Muthoni, who was with legal adviser in the office of the Deputy President, Korir Singoei, put up a strong defence for the government outlining the resettlement of IDPs and assistance given to victims of the violence. "The victims have become tools to be used by NGOs and people like Njonjo for their own benefits. Njonjo has not even met any of the victims he keeps talking about," said Singoei.

Muthoni and her team walked out when Njonjo challenged them to state how much had been used to compensate those who lost their kin during the violence. At one point, Korir shouted back as Njonjo was speaking at the meeting.

Victims in President Uhuru Kenyatta's case at the ICC opposed the proposal by Kenya and the AU to amend the statute and any other rules of procedure and evidence for the ICC. Lawyer for the victims Fergal Gaynor says the victims have expressed their desire to have Kenyatta face trial at the ICC because they do not support immunity. He said the victims do not see the trials as an attack on Kenya's sovereignty as argued by some those in the government delegation. “The victims would like to see justice prevail and they would like to see the suspects stand trial at The Hague," said Gaynor.

Lead image: Njonjo Mue (Photo: Bill/The Hague Trials Kenya)

*Nevins Biko is a pseudonym for a Nairobi-based journalist and blogger.


Saturday, 30 November 2013


This article appeared in The Star newspaper on 30th November 2013, following the 12th ICC Assembly of State Parties Meeting in The Hague.


PUBLIC squabbles between civil society and the government delegation at the just concluded Assembly of State Parties at The Hague almost scuttled efforts to rescue President Uhuru Kenyatta from his ICC trial.

NGOs stormed virtually all ASP events angering government officials.

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed said at a briefing last week that Kenyans at the ASP spoke as if they came from different countries.

On Monday the government team walked out of a debate after a bad-tempered exchange over the victims of post election violence and Kenya's proposed amendments.

The primary goal of the Kenyan delegation was to get immunity for sitting heads of state at the assembly that ended on Thursday. This was not achieved but concessions were reached on changing the ICC rules to allow the use of video link and for important persons to apply to the court for excusal to discharge their national responsibilities.

A top Kenyan official said that civil society groups had attempted to counter all government initiatives at the ten day assembly at The World Forum Convention Center.

“These NGOs have really hit us below the belt this time. We don’t know how they organized themselves in such a way and I think they must have been well funded to do what they are doing. They are surely evil societies and not civil societies,” said the official.

The NGOs, operating under the Coalition for the ICC, were present at almost every panel discussion.
If there was a government press briefing, it would be followed by civil society leaders responding.
George Kegoro of ICJ Kenya, lawyer Njonjo Mue, Gladwel Otieno of Africog, Betty Okero of CSON and George Muraro from the Kenya Human Rights Commission led the civil society representatives. They freely offered detailed information to delegates from all over the world.

Ugandan activist David Matsanga, a former spokesman for President Robert Mugabe and Joseph Kony, was doing PR for the government at the assembly. He was very angry with the NGOs.
“They have made us look so bad and I feel like we have lost things here. These guys are all over talking the opposite of what we are saying. Unless we counter them we will go away with nothing, “said Matsanga mid-week.

The first surprise for the government came during the special segment discussions on Kenya and African Union proposed amendment at the start of the ASP ten days ago.

ASP President Tiina Intelmann allowed member states, observers, and NGO representatives to give their views on the proposed amendments to Articles 27 and 134 of the Rome Statute to protect sitting leaders from trial at the ICC.

Lawyer Njonjo Mue jumped up even before Amina Mohammed was given the floor to state the Kenyan position as leader of the government delegation.

He was applauded by delegates after he eloquently stated why they were opposing the amendments.
“Kenya has suffered cycles of violence over the years and nothing has been done to end the cycle while victims of these episodes of violence continue to suffer. To our leaders, immunity will mean impunity and the international community should not be duped to support those who want to reverse gains made in fighting impunity through the Rome Statute,” he said.

Mohammed, who sat at the Kenya table in the middle row of the conference hall, looked back at Mue who sat in the area reserved for NGOs and observers.

“If the Kenyan people voted the constitution and rejected such immunity, we see no reason why the international community should allow for the same through the proposed amendments,” Njonjo said.
Muraro then jumped up to declare, “We should be talking on how the Rome Statute should be used appropriately to take care of the plight of the victims and not how best we can protect those who commit serious offenses.”

Amina retorted that Kenya and the African Union deserved to be heard but the damage in the assembly had already been done.

She said that government had resettled displaced families and helped victims of the violence.
She said President Kenyatta had played a critical role in peace and reconciliation in Kenya and ensured security within the Great Lakes region through the fight against terrorism and piracy.
Amina hit out at the NGOs at a press conference afterwards.

“The victims are all our people. We should stop making it like some of us are more concerned with the plight of victims than us. Nobody owns them more than others. We all feel strongly about them and we need to help all of them," Amina said.

“We cannot come here to deal with our problems. We have to go back home and dialogue over these issues”, said Amina told Njonjo.

“We cannot have such conversations while abroad. We must have them at home. We should not appear like we live in different countries," said Amina.

Another confrontation took place this week when Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko was called out of a panel debate to a different room where the NGOs were bashing the government before the international community.

International delegates were left speechless on Monday when the Kenyan team led by deputy solicitor general Muthoni Kimani stormed out of the debate at the World Hotel Bel Air after a bitter exchange with the NGOs.

A panel including Njonjo Mue had been debating the proposed immunity for sitting heads of state at the ICC.

He asked the ASP not to bow to pressure from Kenya and change the Rome Statute.
Mue said the Kenya government should not "besiege the world with demands seeking to protect individuals from standing trial over such crimes".

Muthoni Korir Singoei, legal adviser in the office of the Deputy President, put up a strong defense for the government.

"The victims have become tools to be used by NGOs and people like Njonjo for their own benefits. Njonjo has not even met any of the victims he keeps talking about," shouted an agitated Singoei.
Muthoni and her team walked out when Njonjo challenged them to state how much had been used to compensate those who lost relatives during the post-election violence.

Kenyan MPs called a press conference to demand who the NGOs were representing and who had funded them.

“We want to know why they were allowed to address the ASP which is for member states of the Rome Statute. Which state are the NGOs representing?", said MP Irungu Kangata.

MPs openly argued in the corridors with NGO leaders and other delegates had to intervene to cool down the situation.

At the end of the conference, the government and AU succeeded in getting some amendments to the ICC rules of procedures and evidence but the battle with the NGOs left many delegates confused.
“We came here to fight impunity. We have made it clear that the proposed amendments to Rome Statute will touch the core or heart of the ICC,” said Kegoro.
See more at:

Corridors of Power.

The usually witty and evasive Attorney General Githu Muigai met his match at The Hague last weekend. On the sidelines of the ongoing ASP meeting, the AG came face to face with what his Jubilee friends call the “evil civil society” and challenged them to disclose their interest in the ICC cases and who they speak for. But one of his former students, Njonjo Mue, rose to the challenge and said he must have missed the class where the AG taught that the law should be used to help those in power to evade justice. - See more at: Corridors of Power

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Curtain Comes Down at The Hague.

Today is the closing day of the ICC Assembly of State Parties meeting here in The Hague. It has been a long and gruelling two weeks. The Kenya government brought out a huge delegation led by Amb. Amina Mohammed and AG Githu Muigai and including the DPP, the Deputy Solicitor General, Kenya's Ambassador to the Netherlands and myriad officials from Nairobi, The Hague, New York, Brussels and other missions nearby. They were variously joined by MPs and supporters like David Matsanga and Moses Kuria and Spokesman in the Presidency Manoah Esipisu.

Their brief was simple, get as many concessions from the ICC for Kenyatta and Ruto as they could. Their strategy was straight forward: Aim for the sun and hope to reach the moon - demand the ridiculous and hope to get the unreasonable.

And so it began on the opening day with angry speeches made from the floor of the plenary. Then the debate on head of state immunity on Day 2 that went late into the night where Prof. Githu Muigai seemed to lose touch with reality claiming that Kenya was responsible for the security of 250 million Africans from Djibouti to DRC.

There were various side events they attended and spoke angrily, attacking the messenger because they no longer had a monopoly over the message: Who does civil society speak for? Who paid for you to be here? Why are civil society  allowed to address the ASP? At one point, during a debate on prosecuting heads of state on which I was a panellist, second tier government officials choreographed a bear knuckle frontal attack on me and when I responded to their allegations and accusations, they dramatically stormed out of the meeting leaving the international audience rather bemused.

All the while there was serious ongoing lobbying on the language of the amendments Kenya was pushing through to ensure that Uhuru Kenyatta does not appear for trial, and we pushed back as best we could speaking to state parties and pointing out the fact that Kenya was trying to amend the Rome Statute by the back door.

We have been called names on social media and fellow countrymen and women here have accused us of unpatriotic behaviour claiming we 'want our President to be jailed.' But we have been too busy defending the rule of law to respond to these attacks. We will leave history to be the judge.

And so as the curtain comes down on the ASP, we return home with a sense of satisfaction in the knowledge that since the government of Kenya has been privatized and deployed to speak for two people, this last two weeks, we have done our best to be the voice of those who are not able to speak for themselves.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Against Goliath...

When you have a government delegation with unlimited resources and the AU behind its position; when there are closed door meetings you cannot access and can only wait for the latest draft to come out showing the latest compromise, so that you can take it and start the next round of talking to the states to persuade them how unreasonable it is; when respectable government officers remove our information materials from the display table so that others may not know the truth; it can all get so exhausting. It is easy to give up. Until we remind ourselves why we are here. We are here because there are 1,133 Kenyans who are not here, who will never be here. Their voice must never be allowed to be silenced. — at the ICC Assembly of State Parties Meeting taking place at the World Forum Center, Den Haag.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Dispatch from The Hague

The Hague, Saturday 23rd November 2013.

At a side event organized for African states in the Africa Room at the World Forum by the Coalition on the ICC, Attorney General Githu Muigai read the usual script about how the government has cooperated fully with the ICC etc etc. But this time he went one step further saying that we in civil society should disclose our antecedents with regard to the Kenyan cases. He said that he was speaking for the government and we should disclose who we speak for. My reply was as follows:

"The government has perfected the art of obfuscation and turning the ICC narrative on its head. But let us be clear why we are here. We are here because Kenya has failed dismally to provide justice for victims of post election violence.

When he taught me law, Prof. Githu Muigai taught me among other things that the law was a tool to pursue truth and to achieve justice. I must have missed class the day he taught the lesson that we should use our education to help people in power to find the most legal ways of breaking the law.

Today, the AG is a part of a big government delegation that is going around the world making the case for the Kenyan trials to be stopped, and yet he has drafted laws at home seeking to curtail alternative voices so that only the voices of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto and their supporters are heard.

The AG asks who we speak for. I speak for the 1,133 people whose voices were permanently silenced in 2008, the 600,000 who were displaced, the hundreds who were raped and all those who lost their livelihoods.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Our choices had their consequences: the short story of two friends who took different paths...

1994 is a lifetime away, and yet I remember it as if it was just yesterday. I was a graduate student at Oxford University reading international law and comparative human rights. I had bumped into a tall, graceful and intelligent Kenyan woman at a social event and we had struck up a conversation. I later found out that she was a Kenyan diplomat recently arrived at Oxford for a one-year mid-career development course. We became friends and I would invite her from time to time to attend events at Jesus College where I was serving as President of the Graduate Common Room.

On one such occasion, I invited her to a talk I was to deliver to a mixed audience of dons and students. I spoke of the emerging world order that would shape the world of the 21st Century after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In my talk, I envisaged a world that would no longer be dominated by states and multilateral institutions such as the UN and the World Bank, but that would be increasingly shaped also by civil society, both global and national, as citizens found their voices and organized themselves along common causes. It seemed a fairly novel idea at the time. But it seemed to have left a lasting impression on the mind of my new friend for she has always brought up that talk and what it foretold whenever she has had to introduce me to someone new.

This past week I bumped into my friend again during the Assembly of State Parties of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. She is here on a mission. To persuade the international community to stop the prosecution of her boss and his deputy for their alleged involvement in the worst atrocities to have occurred in Kenyan history. I too am on a mission. To speak up for the 1,133 Kenyans whose voices were permanently silenced six years ago, the 600,000 who were rendered homeless, the hundreds who were raped and the thousands who lost all their livelihoods. They have waited for six years for justice. It would be a travesty to ask them to continue waiting for another five or ten years.

And so my friend and I find ourselves on different sides of that world that I foresaw almost two decades ago, fighting for causes we both believe to be right, but knowing deep down that we both can't be right. One thing is clear, we both claim to be doing what we are doing in a far away land for the love of our country.

I meet her again at the delegate's lounge and we exchange pleasantries, promising to give one another a call and have coffee when we are back home, but knowing full well that that will not happen.

Somehow I miss our days among the dreaming spires of Oxford when we imagined the world as it was about to become not knowing that it was so much easier to dream about that world than it would be to eventually live in it.   

Thursday, 21 November 2013




20 – 28 NOVEMBER 2013

Debate on Prosecuting Heads of State and Government and its Consequences of Peace, Stability and Reconciliation

Remarks by Njonjo Mue, Human Rights Lawyer and Kenyan Transitional Justice Expert

On behalf of Kenyan Civil Society.

Moderator, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

I thank you for this opportunity to address the Assembly on these important discussions on the indictments of sitting heads of states.
There is need to look at the impact the proposed head of state immunity will have on victims and affected communities.
Today as we discuss the proposed amendments to the rules of procedure and the Rome Statute it is important to take into consideration the following realities touching on the affected communities, victims and by extension post conflict societies:
1.       That the Rome Statute system deliberately ensured that there would be no immunity for any individual on the basis of official capacity. Equality before the law for grave crimes is a fundamental tenet that is not only recognized by the Rome Statute but also by international practice and increasingly adopted by national jurisdictions. For example, contrary to the assertion of the Attorney General, my country Kenya has codified this tenet into its Constitution. Article 143 (4) provides that immunity of the President from criminal prosecutions does not extend to a crime for which the President may be prosecuted under any treaty to which Kenya is party and which prohibits such immunity.

The perspective that the court is a court whose justice applies equally to all regardless of their status in society is the very reason it has received significant support from post conflict countries and more so those that the court is actively involved in.

Most Victims and affected communities have supported the court because of the realization that the court is capable of dispensing justice even when the alleged perpetrators are the most powerful members of society. A reality that does not exist in the judiciaries of most post conflict States.

The proposed amendments are likely to reduce the ICC to the same situation as the national judiciaries that affected communities rarely can place their faith in. In other words, the proponents of these amendments seek to remake the Court in the image of the very inadequate judicial systems that the Court was created to complement.

2.       The Rome Statute targets only those most responsible for serious crimes of international concern. Looking at the cases that have been opened both at the ICC and other international tribunals, those most responsible tend also to be influential members of society who have the power and financial wherewithal to organise and plan for systematic commission of very serious crimes.

The proposed amendments would give those individuals the incentive to use their influence to capture power in order to evade accountability. These amendments therefore risk making impunity a prize to be won in an election, as well as a reason why having won that prize, leaders are likely to cling onto power to continue evading accountability.

Kenya’s Attorney General says that Kenya is a willing member of the Rome Statute and was not dragged kicking and screaming to the ICC. I agree with him. But once it became clear who was sought to be indicted, that it was some of the most powerful people in the country two of whom subsequently became President and Deputy President, the government has pulled out all the stops to enable the accused persons to evade accountability. The Prosecutor of the ICC is on record as saying that she has faced serious challenges with regard to cooperation from Kenya.

3.       Victims and affected communities would be required by the proposed amendments to postpone their desire for justice, simply because the perpetrator is a head of state. What message would we be sending to the affected communities? That their dignity is dispensable as compared to the dignity of the heads of state who would have a free license to commit serious atrocities and evade justice so long as they are heads of state? Isn’t this the very reason that the deliberations on the establishment of the of the Rome Statue contemplated and forestalled this very threat by enacting Article 27 of the Statute?

4.      It has been suggested that the proposed immunity is not substantive, but only postpones the time when a serving head of state may be indicted until after they have left office. However, in states that have weak judicial systems, non-existent or ineffective witness protection agencies, and where witnesses’ lives are put indefinitely on hold sometimes following relocation to unfamiliar foreign countries, proposing that a trial be put on hold for five or ten years will have the practical effect of leading to the effective collapse of such a trial. Immunity will mean impunity.

5.      In conclusion, if as we all seem to agree, that justice is vital for sustainable peace and reconciliation, then accepting head of state immunity in circumstances that lead effectively to the collapse of the justice project will undermine rather than promote peace, stability and reconciliation.

Thank you.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Anatomy of Accountability

On 16 October 2013,  I was a panelist, together with Maria Kamara, the ICC Outreach Coordinator in Kenya, and Steve Lamony of the Coalition for the ICC, at a media briefing organized by Journalists for Justice at the Panafric Hotel in Nairobi. You can listen to the audio of my presentation here:  The anatomy of accountability

My friend Njeri Okono kindly transcribed the salient points of my presentation for those who may not have time to listen to the audio. Thanks Njeri.

Njonjo Mue says: 
We've aided and abetted politicians to turn the post-election violence (PEV) narrative on its head. The victims are no longer those who were murdered, raped, sexually mutilated, dispossessed or displaced. Some picks from his audio clip:

"The victims are now 2 or 3 people who themselves told us they want to have their day in court…the victims are those individuals who have mobilised all the resources of the State, and the resources of the continent, to try and put a spanner in the wheels of justice."

"The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting." [Milan Kundera, writer]

"We don't have a national narrative. All we have are politicians saying one thing today, completely denying it tomorrow, and we behave as if that is the truth, despite the fact that we DO know that that is not the truth."

"Kenya has a history of human rights violations... massacres, torture, assassinations, grand corruption. This has been compounded by a culture of impunity, where people who are well connected, or powerful individuals never have had to face up to what they have done. People have killed and maimed others to ascend to power but nothing has been done... [an entrenched culture and cycle] of election[-related] violence...all culminating in the post-election violence of 2007-2008...People had come to realise that you can get away with murder, quite literally…You can do whatever you want to get to power, or to retain power. That is just the Kenyan way."

"Since post-election violence, we've had what I'd call post-post-election violence. We've had Tana River, Baragoi, Busia, Bungoma, Samburu, Mandera...We did what we've always done. We appointed a commission of inquiry, it reported, we've not seen the report...We're starting to go back to where we came from before the intervention of the ICC...It is important to talk about facts in order to get to the truth."

"It is important to remind ourselves how ICC ended up being a daily reality, because politicians make it sound like the ICC just showed up at our doorstep, kicked the door open, got involved with our internal affairs, and therefore should go away and mind its own business, and leave us to mind ours."

"Kenya played a key role in the drafting of the Rome Statute...voluntarily signed it... States, in the exercise of their sovereignty, voluntarily sign the Rome Statute...Who forced Kenya to go into the ICC? Kenya exercised its sovereignty to do that."

"Sovereignty is not something you pick and drop at your own convenience."

"The ICC is a court of last resort: it only steps in when a State party is unable -- or unwilling -- to prosecute...In the case of Kenya, it was a case of unwillingness, rather than inability. Kenya was given several opportunities to establish a domestic mechanism, but it failed to do so. But who took us there?...Ruto is on record as saying... 'Let's go to The Hague, because the ICC takes 90 years to start an investigation, and by that time we'll all be gone'...Who in Parliament voted against [the proposed] local Special Tribunal? Parliament took us there [The Hague]. The Government of Kenya took us there."

On domestic handling of PEV cases, and closing the impunity gap: "Even if the ICC cases go ahead, they are only pursuing three people, and there are hundreds, possibly thousands of middle-level and lower-level perpetrators. People in the villages say 'Somebody stole my cow; they are still milking it', 'Somebody took my furniture; they are still sitting on it', 'Somebody burnt my house; I know who they are!'. It's critical that these people be investigated and prosecuted, and if found guilty, they must be punished...That is the only way we shall restore the rule of law in Kenya. And that is the only way -- through pursuing of justice -- we shall get to a sustainable peace for this country."

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Where is God when it hurts?

In 'What Good is God?' Philip Yancey writes, "Where is God when it hurts?" He answer his own question, "Where God's people are. Where misery is, there is the Messiah, and now on earth the Messiah takes form in the shape of the church."

When Jesus heard of the murder of his friend and cousin John the Baptist by Herod, he did not lead a demonstration to Herod's palace as I would have done. He withdrew to a solitary place and mourned quietly, but only for a short while before a hurting world came calling and he got back to his core business of healing the sick and feeding the hungry.

I thought about that last week as the ICC trials began. A deep sadness came over me as I remembered the old woman who knelt praying at Kiambaa church on New Years Day in 2008 and the young man pulled out of a moving Matatu in Naivasha and stoned to death because he was from the wrong tribe. Like Jesus, I mourned quietly for my country, especially when I considered how far we have come in lying to ourselves that post-election violence was just a figment of our imagination.

Then I went to church on Sunday and heard an update about Joyce Cheruiyot. Do you remember her? She is the PEV victim whose picture has been circulating on facebook lately. (You can read her story on this link:

Joyce's face was badly burned during post-election violence. So burned that she found it difficult to close her eyes and to eat and speak because both her eye lids and lips had virtually been destroyed by the fire.

Well, a few weeks ago, our church held a fundraiser for Joyce to enable her to get plastic surgery to restore a semblance of normality to her facial functions and enable her to close her eyes and to speak and eat properly. And on Sunday, we had a second collection to enable her to provide for her family.

I remembered that in the immediate wake of post-election violence, our church took over the Jamhuri Park show ground and for weeks prepared meals for the IDPs that had streamed in from Kibera and other informal settlements fleeing the violence. We also took almost 200 children who had been evicted from the Rift Valley and who were standard 8 candidates. We rented a boarding school, employed teachers, provided all their needs and made sure that they were able to sit their exams at the end of that year despite the disruption wrought upon their young lives by PEV.

The church in Kenya has been much maligned by the wolves in sheep's clothing, those criminals who call themselves pastors who fleece the poor in the name of Christianity. But the real church of Jesus Christ is alive and well and continues to breathe life to dead situations, far from the madding crowd.

Where is God when it hurts? Where God's people are.

Monday, 5 August 2013


Bipolar disorder is a mental illness comprising extreme mood swings from exalted highs to despairing lows. My first experience of my own mental illness, long before I knew what bipolar disorder was or that I would live with the condition for the rest of my life, was an involuntary journey that took me to the abyss of depression when I was 24 years old. I was then a Rhodes Scholar and graduate  law student at Oxford University. Below I recall a season when I touched the nadir of despair and struggled to stay afloat against the swirling currents of self-condemnation in a world beyond hope and meaning.


Psychiatrists say that although some people are predisposed to mental illness due to their genetic make-up, there is usually a trigger that sets off the advent of actual illness. For me, the trigger had been the loneliness of being away from home for the first time in my life; living in a foreign land where people usually kept to themselves, the sun hardly shone and it rained almost continuously. Since the autumn of 1991, shortly after my arrival at Oxford University, I had watched helplessly as my life began to unravel all around me as I sank deeper into the depths of depression.

It was early May 1992. I had been sleeping rough in the streets since late March when it became clear that my continued stay at University had become untenable as I was unable to hand in any of my weekly class assignments. Attending to the simplest of tasks had become an unbearable burden. However I was too terrified to accept my apparent failure to accomplish what had brought me to England and to take the reasonable decision to return home.

I had therefore abandoned my room at Jesus College and embarked upon an unending journey to nowhere, wandering aimlessly by day around the streets of Oxford. At night, I would find a secluded place and lie down under the cover of the starless sky, exposed to the elements, drifting between sleep and wakefulness, my mind never quite finding rest. All the while, I took great care not to go anywhere near Jesus College, the Law Faculty Building or Rhodes House where anyone might recognize me.

When I seemed to run out of places to go in Oxford, I would take the intercity bus to London to continue wandering some more, all the while brutally hating and condemning myself continuously for being such a good for nothing failure who could not make anything out of his life despite having been given the best opportunities.

Neither the rain nor the chilly cold deterred me from my aimless wanderings. On the contrary I endured them as a fitting punishment for being such a loser. I would walk and walk going nowhere in particular and yet ending up everywhere, wishing I could die and leave all this misery behind, yet too terrified to take my own life.

Once, before I left college, I had found the numbing pain in my mind too hard to bear and I had made elaborate preparation to take an overdose but I had chickened out at the last minute, which made me condemn myself all the more. “You are not even brave enough to kill yourself, you good for nothing idiot!” a voice would later mock me from within, almost audibly. “Why don’t you just go off and jump onto the path of an oncoming train? No one would miss you anyway!”

I had no appetite for food whatsoever and I would not eat until I was on the verge of starvation and then I would buy something, anything – a sandwich, a cake, a soda, an ice cream, whatever – and force it down my throat without tasting it, and it would be enough to keep me going until the next time I felt too weak to continue my endless journey to nowhere.

Sometimes, when I happened to be in London, I would return to Euston Station, where I had worked at a fast-food restaurant in happier times on an earlier visit to London at the end of 1989. During these dark days of depression, I would sit leaning against a wall at the station concourse near the food court trying to get some elusive rest oblivious of the crowds of people swirling around me rushing to board their trains. Just after 11 p.m., when the station was about to close, I would be evicted by the cleaners back to the bitter cold, into the outer darkness, exposed to the elements that had by now become my only companion.

One late sunny afternoon in June, I was wandering inside one of the parks in Central London when I happened upon a young couple just hanging out, having fun and obviously celebrating their seemingly newfound love. I had been watching the young man from a distance as he taught his girlfriend how to ride a bicycle. He was now sipping from a can of beer as he watched proudly and cheered her on as she wobbled along a nearby cycle track. Although I was in no state to admit this to myself at the time, I was desperate for some human company having gone for months without actually talking to anyone.

“Can you spare some food?” I asked the young man, whom I later learned was an Iranian student.

“No!” he growled back seemingly irritated at this unwelcome intrusion to his romantic pursuits and clearly in no mood to discuss the matter further.

“Thank you,” I said meekly without feeling. I started to walk away with no particular destination in mind, but then he called me back.

 “What did you ask?” he sought to clarify, as if he suddenly felt guilty at being so abrupt even before he had actually understood what it was that I had asked him.

“I asked whether you had any food.” I repeated.

“I’m sorry,” he said remorsefully. “I thought you were asking for beer. A lot of people in this city don’t want to work and they beg for money just to buy drugs and alcohol.” He now sounded just as friendly as he had been hostile a moment ago.

He regarded me up and down as if trying to make sense of this unusual spectacle of a young black fellow, clearly a foreigner, who seemed so articulate and yet looked as filthy and disoriented as any homeless Londoner that he had ever seen. I must have been quite a sight to behold. I had not had a proper night’s sleep in longer than I could remember. Neither had I had a proper meal for just as long. It had been ages since I had taken a shower. I wore the winter coat I had first bought back in October from the Oxford open market and which had not been touched by water since except the seemingly endless English rain.

 “My girlfriend and I are just about to go home to have supper and you are welcome to join us,” said the young man, who told me his name was Mohammed.

The early summer sun shone warmly behind us as I joined Mohammed and Salanger, his Colombian girlfriend, both self-sponsored students of English, for the ten minute walk to their flat, but I knew it was more than the warmth of the sun that I felt. It was the kindness of two young people, fellow aliens in a foreign country, who had reached out to me and instinctively empathized with my plight even before I explained it to them.

Though I did not understand it at the time, this brief encounter was to be an important lesson for me on the value of unconditional acceptance by other human beings as a critical step on the path towards healing from mental illness.

As we approached their flat which was about a kilometer from Kings Cross Station, Mohammed and Salanger asked me about my predicament. I told them that I was an African student without specifying from which country and that my school fees and pocket money from home had inexplicably been delayed. I added that I was now out on my luck and trying to survive while waiting for my family to sort it out.

It was a lie. But it seemed a more believable story to tell them than the truth. It would have sounded incredible to try and explain that I was actually a graduate student of law at Oxford University - a Rhodes Scholar no less - and that I actually had plenty of money in the bank since I had hardly used any of my living expenses for the last two terms, but I was paralyzed by debilitating depression and unable to make rational decisions regarding my life.

Mohammed and Salanger lived on the first floor in a block of flats near the Angel Tube Station. The young foreign couple’s flat was small and sparsely furnished. It was so neatly arranged that it gave the impression of being more spacious than it actually was. From what I could tell, it had a single bedroom and a small kitchenette. The living room had an old sofa set in front of which was a glass top coffee table. There was a small television set and radio on a simple wooden stand. On top of the TV, there stood two miniature national flags of Iran and Colombia. At one of the corners of the living room, there was a picture stand on which stood a recent photo of the young couple whose radiant smiles seemed to light up the room.

I was able to notice and store up all this information in great detail in my mind at a fleeting glance despite being hardly able to function normally, which is one of the ironies of mental illness. One exists in a twilight zone where one is at the same time extremely alert to the goings on around them and yet unable to connect meaningfully with one’s social environment. This is why it hurts so much when ‘normal people’ ignore us, patronize us, speak about us as though we are not there, or make decisions concerning us without involving us.

While Salanger quickly prepared a simple meal of spaghetti and minced meat, Mohammed shared with me his own struggles with loneliness in London before he met her fifteen months earlier. She served us and we ate in silence as we watched TV, though in my case, I merely stared blankly at the flickering images in the box before us and barely heard what the evening newscaster on ITV had to say in his bulletin.

As usual, my mind was racing with countless thoughts of self-condemnation. Why could I not just get my act together as these two young people had clearly done under more reduced circumstances than I who had graduated near the top of my class with a law degree and had been awarded a prestigious and generous scholarship to one of the world’s top universities?

In the course of our evening together, this God-sent couple had become quite friendly and obviously sympathetic to my plight. They seemed oblivious to my unending mental anguish, or if they noticed it, they mercifully pretended not to.

Although they seemed to recognize that I had nowhere to spend the night, Mohammed and Salanger clearly would not extend their hospitality to inviting a total stranger to stay with them overnight. Instead, they did the second best thing. They gave me an old duvet and packed some of the left-over spaghetti and minced meat in a plastic container for me. It was around 10.30 p.m. when I thanked them for their kindness and stepped out into the chilly London night.

(Months later in the early days of my initial recovery in October 1992, I would look back at this brief encounter with a young Iranian student and his Colombian girlfriend - foreigners themselves trying to find their way in a cold unfriendly country - extending a hand of friendship to a total stranger. I would recognize it as one of the many hitherto unnoticed evidences that even at my lowest and most vulnerable moments God had lined up His angels to watch over me.)

Alone once again, I wandered in the general direction of Kings Cross Station. I found a small deserted park. There I sat on a wooden bench overshadowed by a few trees which stood as silent witnesses to my lonely suffering and meaningless search for meaning.

Soon thereafter I lay down, converting the cold hard bench into a makeshift bed. I used the plastic container, still warm from the food inside, as my makeshift pillow and covered myself with the old duvet trying to shield myself from a soft rain that had suddenly began to fall on me.



By Njonjo Mue

When the horizon 
suddenly grew dark
and distant thunder
her majestic approach,
men panicked,
women fled,
youths scattered.
running helter-skelter
to find the nearest shelter.

But not I

I stood here.
Waiting, hoping, looking up.
Desiring to get cleansed,
beginning to get soaked,
but needing to meet her,
pleading to know her name.

Then down she came,
pure energy cascading.
A soothing drizzle at first,
then an impatient pounding.
Escorted by light and sound;
and oh, so cleansing.
Watering this thirsty ground.
Heralding a new beginning.

Come, daughter of the rain,
usher in a new season for me,
lonely child of pain.
Approach elegantly from afar.
Refresh, replenish,
scare off the dust,
and chase away
the scorching heat
that’s enveloping
my heart.

© Njonjo Mue
    1 May 2003. 


Thursday evenings at Alliance were reserved for clubs and societies. It was the highlight of the week. For in addition to not having prep, clubs and societies would organize debates and usually invite girls’ schools to participate. To a mass of hormone-charged teenagers, the presence of girls always set off a wave of excitement.

And so, soon after supper on Thursdays, the school would usually become a beehive of activity and at the best of times, a kaleidoscope of colours. The Accrossian greens mingled with the Kotetian reds, the Bomarian greys mixed with the Choxerian browns, the Cabbs blues interspersed with the State House greens. Once in a while, we might even have the odd ‘third world school’ like Senior Chief Koinange, Mary Hill or Moi Girls Kamangu straying into our hallowed grounds.

We derisively labeled the latter schools ‘third world’ because, in the foolishness of our youth, we had categorized schools into a similar hierarchy as that obtaining in the world economic order without any sense of irony in the fact that this global hierarchy placed our own continent in the so called ‘third world’.

We were guaranteed to have at least one girls’ school grace the School each Thursday evening. Even when no other schools showed up, we were always guaranteed to have the faithful Accrossians coming to attend one or other activity hosted by the Junior Debating Society (JDS), the Fourth Form Debating Society (FFDS), the Senior Debating Society (SDS), the Young Christian Students (YCS), the Young Farmers’ Club, the Wildlife Society, the Kiswahili Club, or the Science Club, among others. We were allowed to be members of up to three clubs but we usually found a way of gate-crushing the activities of others when the guest list was right.

Ahead of an external meeting, as we called debates where visitors were expected, a highly elaborate ritual usually got underway in the dorms in preparation. Boys would take an extended shower after games and rush through their supper after evening parade. We would then don our best crisply ironed uniform, owned or more likely borrowed, and splash on ourselves generous doses of cologne – usually Brut Ferberge – which was shared all around. I sometimes wondered whether the visiting girls might not suspect that this cologne was supplied to all students by Mr. Owiti, our Quartermaster, along with the uniforms that were issued to each student on arrival at the school.

The debates would be held at the Carey Francis Memorial Lecture Theatre or any of the lecture rooms in the Science Block – BLR, PLR or CLR. In most cases, the visitors would arrive to find us already seated in the debating room and so there was no chance before the meeting started of striking up a conversation with a girl, or ‘hooking’ someone as we called it. We therefore spent the half hour of question time trying to impress the girls by asking witty questions to the ‘cabinet ministers’ and contributing thoughtfully to the main motion of the debate. But all the while, we would be busy identifying who our preferred ‘catch’ would be and making calculations on how to go about ensuring we ended up ‘sinking with her’.

 Following the debate, we would all stroll to the Dining Hall for refreshments and socializing for a few minutes with the girls before escorting the Accrossians to their gate or seeing off other visitors to their bus. The short walk from the debating chamber to the dining hall was a critical period. It was a make or break for one’s social standing in the School. Competition for ‘hooking’ the preferred chick would usually be intense particularly because at that age, peer pressure was overwhelming and our definition of beauty largely superficial. There were therefore few girls among the visitors that were considered acceptable to ‘sink’ with and the fewer the visitors, the more intense would be the competition. Floating was unthinkable, though it often did happen with devastating consequences for one’s reputation.

On Tuesday evening once a month, the Theological Society, whose patron was the inimitable Rev. Fred G. Welch (more famously known as Contra), would invite several schools at once. It was then that all the girls would seem to descend upon us at once in perfect display of grace and colour. They would join us in hearing a talk by Dr. Tokunbo Adeyemo, Prof. Watson Omulokoli, Rev. Timothy Njoya, Rev. David Gitari, or some other theologian as they addressed us on some deep theological subject. The fact that the Theological Society meetings were reserved for Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Formers, made junior boys long with envy for the day they would be admitted into the elite club.

Once or twice a term, there would be a charity film screened on a Saturday night to raise funds for some worthy cause. Unlike other entertainment activities which were free, students were required to pay a small amount to buy a ticket for the movie and refreshments were sold at the Senior Common Room during the interval. Proceeds would go to charity. No charity evening was complete without visitors from one or more girls’ school.

One Saturday evening there was a charity film about to be screened. Acrossians had already arrived and I was busy making calculations as to which chick I was going to ‘hook’. Being only a Form 2, and with my sinking skills far from perfect, there was a distinct possibility of floating and that would be an unspeakable dent on my reputation. 

But the early signs were good. I had already spotted three distinct prospects. The evening was pregnant with possibility. Still, one could never be too sure and I had to position myself strategically within ‘striking distance’ of my first choice, a fellow Form 2 girl from Macpherson House whom I had met during swimming practice a few weeks before. Things were looking good.

Just at that point, a stream of red skirts and sweaters flowed into the hall. Alas, Loreto Limuru, better known as Kotet, had responded to the invitation, a rare occurrence for charity films which were usually a Bush-Across affair. 

If the excitement before had been palpable, it now became downright tangible. Quick re-calculations had to be made among those of us who had loyalties in both schools. There was great potential for trouble as I spotted a Kotetian I had spoken to on several occasions before, enough times for observers to conclude that we were 'an item'. 

Preoccupied as I was with planning how to avert a serious crisis, I failed to notice that the stream of girls from Kotet had stopped flowing into the hall as it was now filled up with many girls still waiting to be admitted. What was more, another busload from Mary Leakey had arrived for the charity film and were also stranded outside the hall. But not for long, for soon the entertainment prefect was on stage making an announcement.

"The hall is filled up and we have to make room for our visitors. All Form 2s, please leave the hall. You will watch the movie tomorrow afternoon," he said with disturbing finality.

Was this guy listening to himself?? How dare he pick on Form 2s? Why us and no one else?? Why could it not be Form 4s and Form 6s who were asked to leave? After all they were the ones who needed to study for exams and they were the ones who were always spoilt for choice during Theological Society meetings. But of course this would never happen. 

All students were equal but some were more equal than others, especially the candidates. His choice was arbitrary, but it had been made and was clearly not up for negotiation. Form 2s were to vacate the hall before the movie could start. But we would not give up so easily. We remained in our seats pretending he was speaking to someone else. There was a mini stand off until the burly figure of Mr. Tendeka (better known as Breshnev or Brezhi ), the Deputy Headmaster, made its way to the stage. 

"All Form 2s," he said in his unmistakable Kisii accent. "You will leave the hall immediately." While we could possibly argue with the entertainment prefect, the Deputy HM had now spoken, and his word was law.

My heart sunk. Didn't this man not know what damage he was doing to my youthful heart that was still wildly palpitating with excitement? Could he not understand that this was the night I might meet my future wife?? This was preposterous! This was turning out to be a disaster of epic proportions, at least to an infatuated 15 year-old boy whose hormones were running amok. 

Having no option, we filed out of the hall forlornly as if on our way to attend a funeral. Many of us had borrowed pleated trousers and the mandatory brut-faberge cologne. I was even wearing a new pair of boots borrowed from my dorm mate. And now I was headed for Prep??

The rebel in me was sufficiently provoked and as we reluctantly made our way out of the hall under the watchful eye of the Deputy Headmaster, Mr. Tendeka, I started singing softly but defiantly  under my breath to the tune of the old gospel chorus ‘Moto Umewaka Leo’,  "Kazi ya Tendeka, kazi ya tendeka..." Suddenly, all the disenfranchised Form 2s who now found an outlet for their frustration joined loudly in our new-found freedom song, "Kazi ya huyu shetani yaTendeka..." 

The rest of the hall burst into laughter. I was not sure whether they were laughing with us because they found our protest song humorous or they were laughing at us because we were being evicted from the hall and were going to miss out of all the fun during interval and after the movie.

But Mr. Tendeka himself was not amused. He huffed and puffed on stage but that did not deter us. We sang all the way to the classrooms. We knew that we would eventually be punished for our impertinence but that was another problem for another day. What mattered to us now was that we had expressed our discontent and had not meekly walk out of the hall when unjustly ordered to do so. 

Saturday, 3 August 2013


One of the most satisfying aspects of my job when I served as Principal Human Rights Officer at the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights IN 2006 – 2009 was prison reform. This included not just advising government on penal reform policy, but prison inspection to ensure respect for the rights of prisoners and upholding of best practice. 

Prison inspection was particularly gratifying to me because I myself had been a guest of the state several times and I knew first-hand what serving time in a Kenyan prison was like. I had first been incarcerated in 1994 at Industrial area Remand Prison. At the time, Kenyan prisons were so congested that any communicable disease that broke out spread like bushfire and prisoners were dying at a rate of one or more a day. Prison was the place where you went in but were lucky to come out alive. Society locked you up and threw away the key leaving you at the mercy of prison warders who themselves were little better treated by the system than the prisoners that were placed under their care.

During my time at the Commission, my team and I often conducted impromptu visits to prisons around the country. We inspected the cell blocks, ate their food, conducted confidential interviews with inmates about their well being, and spoke to prison officials about the challenges they were facing looking after people society had given up on with the inadequate resources that government placed at their disposal. We then prepared reports and used them as the basis for advocacy for improvements. We also visited prisons in response to routine complaints or the need for urgent interventions following ongoing human rights violations or to deal with a clear and present danger to the welfare of prisoners.

One of the more memorable prison visits happened at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison on 17th November 2008. My wife Katindi and I were driving to work that morning when I got a call from my colleague Kamanda Mucheke informing me that there had been trouble overnight at Kamiti during which a prisoner had been killed and that we needed to go immediately and investigate. I quickly dropped Katindi off at her office then rushed to my office at the Commission.

Accompanied by our Chief Investigator, Joseph Kaberia and two interns, we set off for Kamiti. On arrival there, we were at first refused entry but we refused to leave. Soon thereafter, an officer was asked to call me in. I was to leave my colleagues at the car park as I was escorted alone to the office of the Officer-in-Charge where a crisis meeting was underway. It was chaired by a person who introduced himself as the director of operations from Prisons Headquarters and attended by the Officer in Charge, a Mr. Mutevesi, several senior prison officers, a policeman from the nearby Kiamumbi Police Station, and a doctor.

 “Mr. Njonjo, where have we met before?” the Director of Operations welcomed me trying almost too hard to be friendly. There was an air of panic around the room.

 “I am not sure we have met,” I said curtly being careful to ensure that I was not distracted from the serious purpose of my mission here by an exchange of pleasantries. “Could you kindly let me know what is going on?”

“Well, there was some trouble in the prison yesterday which is why we are meeting here,” he said vaguely.

I had been fully briefed about the specific nature of the ‘trouble’ so I decided to help him out, “What about Ibrahim Ngacha, the prisoner who was killed in Cell G6?” I asked. “Please tell me what happened to him.”

There was shocked silence as everyone stared at everyone else with the startled look of children who had been caught trying to conceal a misdemeanor from a seemingly all-knowing adult.

“It is not true to say that a prisoner was killed,” he stammered unconvincingly. “It is more accurate to say that a prisoner died and we are still investigating the cause of death.”

At this point, I got a call from Kaberia. “Njonjo, those guys are keeping you in there as they try and remove the body from the cells” he alerted me. “A GK Land Rover has just been driven in and we are sure that’s what they want to do.”

I stormed out of the office and and rushed down the stairs. I demanded to be taken to Block G where I was escorted by two warders to Cell 6. There I found the body of Ibrahim Ngacha. His fellow inmates had refused to let the prison authorities remove the body fearing that they would be blamed for his death while they claimed that he had died at the hands of brutal prison warders. I was joined by an officer from Kiamumbi Police Station who assured me that they would investigate the cause of death. After I took photos of the body and interviewed the eye witnesses, I was able to persuade the prisoners to allow the prison officers and the police to remove the body.

As I was walking out of the block, a prisoner shouted from a nearby cell, “Go to G36! Go to G36!!” The warders said I could not go to that cell and I told them to try and stop me. They both rushed out presumably to seek further instructions from their seniors and left me to roam the cell block unhindered. 

I ascended the stairs to the first floor and found my way to G36 where I found inmates who had been scalded with hot water in the cause of the violence that had taken place the previous day. They also told me that there had been unbelievable brutality meted out against the prisoners by the warders. I went to two or three other cells and recorded statements that all seemed to corroborate the story of indiscriminate violence that had been unleashed upon the inmates in the course of searching for contraband.

At one point, one of the prisoners asked me whether I wanted to see some evidence of what they were claiming. He then produced a phone with which he had recorded the goings-on of the previous day. I viewed the clip and could hardly believe what I saw. It seemed as though the entire complement of prison warders had descended upon Kamiti the previous day. They had ordered all prisoners to strip naked and had mercilessly embarked on an uncontrollable orgy of brute violence.

After promising the prisoner to replace his phone, I smuggled the footage out of Kamiti. At the gate, we were met by reporters from all local media houses with, each seeking to scoop the rest, asking me whether I had any footage of the violence that had taken place the day before. I resisted the temptation to give the footage to just one media house. It was important that the news of brutality behind prison walls come out and spread as far as possible if the issue of urgent prison reforms was to gain traction. We therefore made copies of the footage and distributed it to all media houses. 

By 1.00 p.m. the story had become the lead item on all TV Stations. It was carried at 4 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. It was picked up by the international media and the wide coverage forced the government to condemn what could no longer be denied as it was splashed on TV for all to see. The government also promised prompt investigations and committed to meaningful prison reforms. The officer in charge of Kamiti prison was suspended and six warders were interdicted following the events of November 16, though it is not actually clear that anyone was ever prosecuted for the death of Ibrahim Ngacha.

I returned to Kamiti recently this time not to inspect the facility, but to participate in a fundraiser of a good friend who is an inmate at the prison. My friend had gotten permission from the prison authorities to organize a harambee to raise funds for his children’s university education. The fundraiser was presided over by the Commissioner of Prisons and attended by the Prisons top brass.

It was a sight to behold seeing prisoners and warders clearly interacting as human beings in an atmosphere of mutual respect. The prisoners looked happy and well looked after. We were entertained by some of the best talent I have seen anywhere – acrobats and dancers, singers and actors - all prison inmates who were making the best of their time at Kamiti.

My friend is pursuing a London University law degree by correspondence while he serves his time and thanks to the fundraising effort that was supported by prison authorities at the highest levels, his children too will finish their university education. As my friend said in his speech, prison has come a long way from being a virtual death sentence, to brutal punishment, to rehabilitation, and now to empowerment.

After the fundraiser, I met one of the officers who had gathered for the crisis meeting following the death of Ibrahim Ngacha in 2008.

“What you did at that time helped us to realize that prisoners were not animals,” she told me referring to the confrontation at the office of the Officer-in-Charge five years earlier. “They are our own brothers and sisters who may have once behaved like animals; but the way to help them is to treat them like human beings and not to brutalize them as had been happening prior to that. I want to thank you.”