Tuesday, February 19, 2008



By Jerry Okungu

It was 10.am on a bright and sunny Wednesday, January 23. It was the turn for the bodies of victims of police bullets in Nairobi to be prayed for in an open ground in the Woodley area of Nairobi City.

Similar meetings had been licensed by the Kenyan Police and had peacefully been held in Western Kenya and parts of Rift Valley. Having missed the previous prayers since I was out of the country, I decided to join families and friends of the deceased as is customary in our country.

As prayers and eulogies got underway, I could feel the crowd getting restless and whispering to one another. Sooner, there were murmurs that the General Service Unit- the dreaded brutal arm of the Police Force had surrounded us. It was only a matter of time before everything would explode in our faces.

Despite the anxiety, all the lined up speakers that included the Pentagon members, went through the tense motion and concluded their speeches before leaving the microphone for Raila Odinga to pay his last respect to the fallen Kenyans.

On the ground were 38 dead bodies, all of them, by coincidence, had their names beginning with the letter O indicating that they were either from the Luo, Luhya and Kisii communities of Western Kenya.. Incidentally, all of them had died of gunshots sometimes at close range, indicating that they were shot by the Police. Certificates of their deaths, signed by a Government Pathologist confirmed that the 38 dead bodies died of gunshots. Some of the spent cartridges that had slain them were displayed at the service.

Just as Raila Odinga was making his last remarks, all hell broke loose! Several teargas canisters were lodged in to the crowd simultaneously in all directions. The main tent where we sat became a nightmare for the Pentagon security staff. The challenge was to evacuate Raila Odinga, his wife Ida and all the five other Pentagon members whose lives were now at stake. The fear was that it was still possible for the Police to stage manage the fracas and mow everybody down them claim that they were attacked and shot whoever they shot in self defence.

Sooner rather than later, the GSU were in the crowd clobbering everybody with buttons and gun buts ruthlessly without discrimination. It was at this moment that we realized that death was staring us and took to our heels. We just ran and ran without caring about the direction. All we wanted was to get out of the place into some safe place before calling colleagues to confirm their safety or demise.

As an eyewitness, I asked myself many questions. Why did the government license the prayer meeting knowing full well that the Police would break it up? Why did they send the Police there knowing full well that ODM rallies are always peaceful without Police presence? Why did the government trick bereaved families into taking coffins into the prayer ground only to disperse them, leaving coffins with dead bodies rotting in the scotching sun?

However, the most intriguing aspect of this unfortunate incident was that the government was doing this knowing full well that the international mediation team, led by Kofi Annan had arrived in the country a day earlier to start negotiating the solution to the crisis.

According to Kofi Annan, his team was supposed to have started its work that morning; possibly by meeting President Kibaki and Yoweri Museveni in the morning. Yet as such overtures were going on, the government was busy clobbering the other side of the negotiation team.

As I have said before, this mediation team has no chance unless the hardliners in the Kibaki government are gotten rid of.These are the people who stand to gain the most if the status quo remains. They are the ones that stand to lose the most if a coalition government between Kibaki and Raila is negotiated. Therefore in their hearts of hearts, they are prepared to do anything to derail the process.

However, listening to the speeches delivered at the funeral service, it was evident that there will be no let up any time soon on the part of the opposition. Already there is a feeling that government targets are getting used to bullets and teargas. The moment they get immune to these government weapons of violence, our cities will be like Mogadishu, Beirut and Baghdad. When civilians realize that they can no longer rely on the state for personal security, they will arm themselves in self defence. This is the reality that we all must confront.

As I wrote this article, that one incident had paralyzed telecommunication services in most parts of Nairobi. Yes, as the ODM security team battled with the Police to create safe passage for the ODM leaders, the angry youth set ablaze a Telkom Kenya server room next door. Three hours later the Police and the Fire Brigade were still battling it out to put out the inferno!

Was it necessary for the Police to provoke a peaceful funeral service and cause chaos? Who stood to benefit from this recklessness?