Saturday, 9 February 2013

And Justice For All - Part Two

In July 1994, President Daniel Arap Moi shocked the nation by revealing the existence of the February Eighteenth Resistance Army, a rebel group based in a foreign country whose aim was to destabilize and eventually overthrow the government of Kenya by unlawful means.

As loyal Kenyans turned out in the streets to burn effigies of on 'Brig.' Odongo, the leader of the movement, what they did not know was that what the government was 'revealing' as a threat to state security was a long-spent force and the information now being made public had been in the hands of security forces and the government for over a year. In the second part of And Justice For All, Njonjo Mue tells how he stumbled upon some of the inside story. 

*The names of some people have been changed to protect their identities.


My sojourn as a guest of the state at Industrial Area Remand Prison had began a day earlier when I spent a night at Kamkunji Police Station ahead of my appearance in court and eventual transfer to remand.

It was a chilly November night in 1993 in Nairobi. I tried in vain to get some sleep on the cold concrete floor of the Kamkunji Police Station men's cell. I had lost track of time. I would drift in and out of sleep, more from fatigue than from an environment conducive to snoozing.

For in addition to the floor being deathly cold, the stench emanating from the two buckets that served as toilets was utterly emasculating; the cell doors opened and shut with annoying frequency as yet another drunk was thrown in to join our miserable ranks.

At the same time, there were regular night-piercing screams coming from the 'torture chamber' of the Station as some unfortunate soul paid dearly for some unknown sin. And the beating seemed to continue all night!

"Why do they treat fellow human beings like animals?" The soft voice was coming from somewhere to my right. I could barely make out the shadow of the speaker in the semi-darkness. The cell had no light of its own but relied on a soft glow from the Station reception a few metres away.

"And probably the only offence that one has committed is to have one too many at his local pub," I opined above the latest screech from the tortured soul.

"My name is Wekesa," volunteered my new unseen friend.

"I am Njonjo," I said offering a hand to meet his already outstretched one.

"Why are you here?" Wekesa inquired in a disinterested monotone.

"It's a long story. It began with a minor traffic violation," I answered, hoping that my own tone would discourage him from seeking to know more details of my ordeal. Fortunately, he seemed more keen to talk than to listen.

For the next hour and a half, Wekesa told me his story. In the previous six months, he had been in more police station cells thank he could remember. They would transfer him after every few days. His family had no idea of his whereabouts and the police would not take him to court.

"What did you do?" I asked, but he hesitated, only telling me it was a matter of state security. He was beginning to think that he would never see the outside of police cells again, he said. I told him that I was a lawyer that that perhaps I could help.

The revelation of what I did for a living seemed to ignite a spark within him, rekindling his will to live. His despair seemed to evaporate before my eyes (ears, actually, since I still could not see him clearly). Soon, he embarked on a monologue of what it was that the Moi state held against him.

"I come from Bungoma," he began. "In 1990, I did my O-Levels but was unable to find employment. After a while, I was approached by someone who said that there was an opportunity to do business in Uganda and asked whether I was interested. Of course I was!"

"We soon thereafter left for Uganda, but when we got there, I was placed in a camp in the East of the country where other young people were undergoing training. It was a rag-tag 'army' that was preparing to overthrow the Kenya government, which it accused of being a dictatorship. To tell you the truth, I can't say that I was disappointed to join such a movement.

"On February 18, 1991, the Movement named itself the 'February Eighteenth Movement (FEM) and the army christened itself the 'February Eighteenth Resistance Army (FERA). I was told that the date was deliberately chosen as it coincided with the date in 1957 when Freedom Fighter, Dedan Kimathi, was hanged at Kamiti Maximum Prison. According to the founders of FEM and FERA, their vision was to complete the struggle for Kenyan independence that Kimathi and other authentic heroes of the struggle had began but had not lived to complete. FERA was led by a 'Brigadier' Odongo, and we were assured that it had the full support of the Museveni government and that, when the time came, the Ugandan National Resistance Army would fight alongside us in the war to liberate Kenya.

"I became a diligent soldier and quickly rose through the ranks. Soon, I was selected for further training first in Libya and then in North Korea. This took a total of eight months. When I got back to Uganda, I was put in charge of supplies and promoted to the rank of Captain. This was in mid-1992.

Despite my personal good fortune, it was clear that morale was low among the ranks. The Museveni government had reduced support. 'Brig.' Odongo informed us that Museveni had been willing to lend support when Kenya was a one-party dictatorship, but now that Moi had agreed to multiparty elections, there was no further need for guerrilla activity.

"At this time, toward the end of 1992, Moi announced a general amnesty and asked all those who had fled abroad for political reasons to return. I weighed my chances and thought that there wasn't a future with 'Brigadier' Odongo and his youthful army; most of them had deserted him, anyway.

"Trusting the word of the President, I made my way back to my village in Bungoma. I reported to the provincial administration who were already aware of my involvement in anti-government activities. Our local DC took me to see Elijah Mwangale, then Minister for Agriculture.

"The Minister was very happy to see me and even said that he would arrange for me to meet the President to seek his forgiveness at a public ceremony. But before my meeting with the President, I had to be debriefed by the CID. Accompanied by a fellow guerrilla, Elias Muhanji (not his real name) we were driven to Nairobi to meet with Noah Arap Too, the CID Director.

"Our meeting with Too was cordial. He expressed great admiration for our courage in coming back and assured us that we would not be harmed but would be treated as heroes once we met the President. However, he said that first it was necessary for the intelligence service to get more information on the guerrilla movement in order to effectively deal with those still out there.

"For this purpose, Too was sending us back into Uganda with specific instructions to obtain all the information we could lay our hands on - documents, payroll, invoices, etc. He gave us KShs. 20,000/- each and a car to take us up to the border. We were given two weeks within which to return.

"We had not made it known at our camp that we had returned to Kenya. It was therefore relatively easy to get back with a business-as-usual air. Being in supplies, however, I had been missed during my brief absence, but when questioned, I concocted a story to the effect that I had fallen ill and been briefly hospitalized in nearby town.

"I quickly went around surreptitiously gathering all the information I could lay my hands on. Unfortunately, most of it had to do with supplies. Muhanji did manage to lay his hands on ration records - the boys were not paid salaries, they just got by on subsistence.

"We returned to Kenya after a week and called Too on the special number he had given us to inform him of our return. He sent two vehicles to Bungoma to take us 'to meet the President' at State House Nakuru. But when we got there later afternoon, we were informed that the President had had to leave for Nairobi and that he would see us there at 7.00 a.m. the following morning.

"The following morning, Muhanji and I sat sipping coffee in the waiting room at State House Nairobi. We could here the President's familiar voice drifting towards us through the partly opened door as he conferred with a cabinet minister. Neither of us would admit it, but we were both thinking the same thought: 'How much money will the President give us in gratitude for our patriotism?'

"Just when we thought it was out turn to be ushered into the posh presidential office, the two CID officers who had driven us from Bungoma came into the waiting room to inform us that Too needed to see us before our meeting with the President. There were a couple of minor details he needed clarified from the information we had brought back, they said. Our appointment with the Head of State would be pushed back to 10.30 a.m.

"We were never to see him. The two officers drove us to CID headquarters and that is where my nightmare began. Instead of being ushered into Too's office, we were thrown into the cells there, for the next one week, we were beaten and tortured half to death. I spent nights in a water logged cell; they put pins under my finger nails, squeezed my private parts and beat the soles of my feet all the time telling me to tell them when the plot to overthrow the government was to be carried out. However much I tried to tell that that Too already had everything I knew, they would not listen.

"After a week, during which I did not see Muhanji, we were brought together again in Too's office where a senior CID officer told us that we were required to instigate a border crossing by one of 'our' men from Uganda so that he would be 'arrested with weapons and help the government win the election' that was then just weeks away.

"I was not aware how we were supposed to somehow convince a rebel soldier to cross to 'enemy territory,' but I was too sick to ask. I could hardly walk. Still, at the taxpayer's expense, we were driven back to Busia by four CID operatives, one of whom had a camera, evidently to capture this 'public relations' coup.

"When we got to the Kenyan side of the border, one officer ordered us to do as we had been told. It was as if we could summon someone the border by remote control. I asked them to let one of us cross the border in order to instigate their 'coup'. They agreed. Muhanji was the obvious choice since he could still walk.

"No sooner had he crossed the no-man's land than Muhanji let out a shrill laughter and waved goodbye to us all. We would not see him again, but I was going to pay the price. After waiting at the border for almost two hours, we drove back to Nairobi and my torturers resumed their favourite pastime with renewed zeal.

"In late December 1992, after months of torture, I was finally taken to court and charged with uttering false information to a police inspector. The Charge Sheet read that I had falsely stated to a CID officer that I had seen some men crossing the Kenya-Uganda border armed with rifles and grenades. The lie that they had tried to make me manufacture was the same one that they were now turning on me! Imagination was clearly not high on the CID training curriculum.

"After my second appearance in court, my family, who had been alerted of my whereabouts by a newspaper story, hired a lawyer for me. But as fate would have it, in early January, my lawyer was nominated to Parliament by the new Moi government and he dropped my case like a hot potato. Since then, I have never been returned to court. They have instead taken to ensuring that I get to know the inside of every police cell in Nairobi, Thika, and Kiambu in this never-ending cycle that I am trapped in."

"What about your family?" I asked. "Do they know where you are?"

"How can they?" Wekesa asked dejectedly. "When you are constantly on the move, even you find it hard to keep track of yourself," he laughed gently without any feeling.

"Why do they keep playing this game of musical chairs with you?" I asked.

"I don't know," he answered. "But I suppose they are afraid that if they take me to court under this false charge, and a trial is held, the real circumstances of my arrest will come out and embarrass them. But if you are really a lawyer, then you can help me, can't you?" There was so much hope in his voice. He pressed some papers in my hand and told me that it was his detailed statement.

The anger in my voice was palpable as I told him that I hoped to be out the following day and I would certainly see that justice, in his case having been delayed by almost one year, was finally going to be done.

The first light of dawn was streaming in through the tiny window near the roof of the cell. It exposed several drunks still snoring blissfully away, oblivious of the discomforts of the accommodation that the tax-payer so generously provided for his wayward brethren.

I glanced to my right and saw Wekesa for the first time. He was young, barely twenty, and of medium build. He wore a simple shirt that was once white, and a pair of brown trousers. And, apart from the dusty pair of old soldier's boots that he still wore, one would never have guessed that he had once trained to overthrow the government.

As morning slowly drifted into our tiny cell, I heard my new friend sob softly. It was a cry of hope after so many months of pain and despair. The tears that slowly trickled down his cheeks and dropped onto the cold cell floor were tears of relief. They told me that he had needed to tell his story for a long, long time. They also made one other thing clear: this young man was no soldier; this was a boy who had escaped from a world of killers only to be thrust into the lap of merciless goons. And he was clearly in need of help.

I knew I had my work cut out for me. As soon as I left the confines of Kamkunji, I was going to engage the state in a dangerous game of one-upmanship. After many months of unjust suffering and unlawful incarceration, it was clearly time to set this captive free.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Njonjo for sharing this story and for all you have done to reform kenyan Prisons.
    Might this be the case with Waiganjo? I heard him say that he was arested while from a holiday in Uganda!