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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Mathare Killing Fields: The Untold Story Of A Massive Massacre By The Kenya Police Part I of II

Kumekucha Exclusive Investigation

The blood has dried. The tears have dried too. But the hearts of the poor residents of the Mathare slums are still bleeding and crying for justice.

The violent police crackdown on people suspected to be adherents of the outlawed Mungiki sect in the sprawling Valley of Death is still fresh in the minds of many. June 2007 is perhaps the worst bloodbath the residents have ever witnessed. It was similar to what happened in North Eastern Kenya during the infamous Wagalla massacre.
The descendants of Mathare residents will forever remember June for it’s the month that armed police backed by the dreaded General Service Unit turned the slum into a killing field to avenge the killing of just three of colleagues on the night of June 4—but on innocent wananchi and not the real perpetrators. A major security operation that was launched a few minutes after the police were shot dead left a trail of blood and tears in Mathare.

By the time the police guns fell silent a few days later, at least 80 people – men, women and children—had lost their lives for a crime they were not party to. Many other residents were left nursing broken jaws and limbs. Mothers and their young children spent cold nights as State agents turned the shanties they call home into a slaughter houses for humans.

And while the police were slaughtering and brutalizing the poor and helpless residents of Mathare, other Kenyans turned a blind eye to their problems and opted to watch free police movies on their TVs. They seemed contented with the lies that were being churned out by the mainstream media that the people who had been killed were members of the Mungiki sect. Mathare residents were paying for only one crime, a dreadful one in Kenya—being poor. When did women old enough to be our mothers and young children become members of the dreaded Mungiki sect?

What happened in Mathare and the wall of silence from other Kenyans showed how Kenyans have lost value for human life. In search for the truth, Kumekucha has spent a number of days in the slums interviewing witnesses and police officers who were willing to shed light on exactly what happened—and they made chilling revelations which we promised yesterday that we would expose today. All the information published here was counter-checked with various independent sources and we believe it’ll help shed light on the evils that our police perpetuate under the cover of darkness.

According to our investigations, the Mathare massacre could be traced to the incident where three policemen were killed when they went to Mathare slums on the night of June 4. Information in our possession shows the officers had gone to the slums to collect protection fees from traders who carry out illicit businesses like brewing and selling chang’aa and selling bhang.

The three officers were not very conversant with the slum since they had just been transferred to the capital city from stations in the countryside. According to police officers conversant with the Mathare massacre, police had formed a tradition of venturing into the slum at night under the pretext of doing foot patrols to collect protection fee from the traders. When the officers attached to Mathare are transferred from Nairobi, they always make sure they induct their new colleagues to the extortion ring.

In the case of the three officers, it seemed their colleagues whom they replaced never gave them proper briefing and this cost them their lives. They seemed to have greatly underestimated the might of a criminal gang going by the name of Mungiki, which rivaled the police in collecting protection fees from the residents. The majority of poor Mathare residents live under the mercy of both the police and the ruthless criminal gang. The gang also profits from charging illegal water and power connections in Mathare, which is home to about 500,000 people. Traders who pay the Mungiki gang are assured of protection from the police. The three officers had not done their homework well.

Our investigations have revealed that when the three officers went to the slum under the cover of darkness on the fateful night, they did the usual thing - moving from one trader to another collecting protection fees. But they walked into trouble when they approached a woman who was selling chang’aa in her den and demanded to be given Sh500. A few minutes before the police called on her, the woman had parted with Sh300 to the Mungiki gang. Furious that the Mungiki had not kept their promise of keeping the police at bay, the woman ushered the officers into her chang’aa den and told them she only had Sh200. She then excused herself saying that she was going to borrow more cash.

Reflecting on how they had made good harvest that night, the officers relaxed and sat down on a makeshift bench and waited to bag in Sh500 extra. In the meantime, the woman managed to trace the Mungiki gang who were just hovering in the vicinity and voiced her protest. Without wasting time, the Mungiki gang hurriedly armed themselves and went for the officers.

Investigations by Kumekucha revealed the gang caught the officers unawares and they sprayed them with bullets as they sat on the bench. None of them had the time to cock their guns, let alone pull the trigger. Two of the officers died on the spot while the third one succumbed to bullet wounds on the way to hospital.

The officers were killed at a time when Mungiki gangs were on the loose in Nairobi, Murang’a and Kiambu and they were being blamed for beheading more than 10 people in a span of a month. At least 10 police officers had also been felled by the Mungiki power in the same period. Strangely, the police reaction was very cold, almost unconcerned when innocent people were being butchered by Mungiki thugs. In fact, different police bosses could be seen on TV re-assuring Kenyans that those incidents were isolated and that they were on top of things.

But the zeal they went about avenging the killing of their three colleagues broke every rule in the book of law and left many people baffled. How comes the police never react this way when Kenyans are being killed? If the same force was applied every time a Kenyan—regardless of whether you are an ordinary person of a police officer—was killed by criminals, the Mathare incident would have passed for just any other. In fact, criminals would have been wiped from the map of Kenya long time ago. But the police only seemed to feel the pain when one of their own was under attack.

No human being—apart from the police carrying out the operation—was safe in Mathare when the police came calling under the cover of darkness. By this time, the gang which had killed the officers had vanished long time ago with their guns. Our investigations showed that the first group of officers who raced to the scene where their colleagues were killed, interviewed witnesses and found out exactly what led to the killings. When this information was relayed to their seniors at the provincial police headquarters and at police headquarters, an execution order for the woman who contributed to the deaths was issued. The woman died under a hail of bullets and her body was among those which were discarded by the police in open fields along the Mombasa highway to be eaten by wild animals or to rot naturally.

Truck-loads of GSU officers and officers from specialized units like the Flying Squad and the Special Crime Prevention Unit were mobilized and they descended on the Valley of Death like hungry vultures. They formed a ring around the valley to ensure that no resident left the area. On the first night, police shot dead 33 Mathare residents in cold blood. The security operation went on for more than a week and at least 80 people had lost their lives by the time the police guns went silent.

Our investigations show that senior police officers held an urgent meeting after the three officers were killed and resolved that the security operation could not be effective with TV cameras rolling and journalists watching the crackdown. A senior officer was appointed to handle journalist and confine them into one corner as the police butchered and terrorized the residents on the other invisible end. They feared journalists would expose the massacre to the outside world.

It was the work of the senior officer guarding the journalists to feed them with misleading information, which most of them happily published or aired without question. Unknown to the journalists, the police were busy executing any residents they came across on the other end. They then carried the blood-soaked bodies into waiting police lorries, which were hidden on the other end. Another senior officer in charge of the bloodbath squad would occasionally order a policeman to fire in the air towards where the journalists were “waiting for news” to scare them. The officer who was with the journalists would then tell the journalists that they were being shot at by the Mungiki and that was why the police would not take the risk of allowing journalist to venture into the “battle-front”.

The Daily Nation sent shivers down the spine of senior police officers when it went to town with a headline story on the riddle of the missing bodies from the Mathare massacre. Senior officers were afraid their cover would be blown off. It’s still a mystery why the newspaper editors never took the story further after revealing how the figures of the dead given by the police had failed to tally with those recorded at the City Mortuary. All cases of police shootings or unnatural deaths in Nairobi and the outlaying districts are recorded at the City Mortuary. So, the police would not have taken the bodies to other mortuaries. Where did the missing bodies go?

Investigations by Kumekucha reveal that police only took a few bodies to the City Mortuary. The rest were loaded onto police lorries and dumped in the vast grassland along Mombasa road. Police officers interviewed said their bosses ordered the bodies to be disposed off in such a crude manner to avoid the wrath of international human rights watchdogs. They also feared the discovery of bodies of women and children would give the force a very bad image. Most residents of Mathare told Kumekucha they had not traced the bodies of their loved ones but feared going public on the issue to avoid meeting the same fate.

A similar trick by the police to dispose off bodies of five men in a grassland in Athi River three weeks ago backfired when it emerged that the victims had been removed from police custody, shot dead in an unknown place and then their bodies were dumped in the tall grass. It puzzled everyone when the police issued a statement soon after the bodies were discovered and alleged they had been killed by members of their gang even before they could carry out any investigations! How did they come across the information that they were so hurriedly feeding Kenyans? Were they witness to the murders? The truth finally came out when relatives of the dead men stepped forward and disclosed that the victims were dragged from police custody and then killed. Last week, the Daily Nation carried a story on how the executions were done but hid it in the inside pages. No journalists from the mainstream media has ever bothered to re-visit Mathare and tell the world the truth. It’s only Kumekucha who has dared to do it at great personal risk.

Read Part 2

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Anonymous said...

Kumekucha thank you very much for this blog. It provides me and my fellow Kenyans, an insight into issues not highlighted elsewhere. I have been reading this blog daily for the last one month and appreriate your efforts immensely.
However, I have an issue with you. Why do you keep on hitting out on the mainstream media? You seem to have an issue with these guys.
Well, I must point out your blog and the mainstream media operate on completely different environments. Where as nobody knows where to find you ( a majority of us don't), one can easily find Wangethi Mwangi or Kwendo Opanga. Don't you realise that these people are known to society. I don't want to appear to be supporting their misgivings. All I want to put accross is that you are different.
As much as I know about the mainstream media, they not supposed to promote sensationalism. Can you imagine the Daily Nation carrying the story above just as it is. We will see the editors in CID headquarters in no time. I hope you remember the recent saga involving the standard group top management, where Melli, Kwendo Opanga, Chaacha Mwita and Wanyagah were taken in for questioning.
These guys have their personal security to consider.The courts in Kenya are slow in delivering justice and I don't think we are ready for more of political assasinations.If the murders of Tom Mboya remains a mystery, Robert Ouko, J.M Kariuki etc etc are still unresolved, then I think the editors have a lot to put into consideration.
That's all and keep up the good work. The blog is addictive.The information here can't be found anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. However I know someone who has been working / living in mathare valley and he has a different view. According to him alot of people died however majority of those killed were mungiki. Of course the method of killing cannot be justified.
Thanks for the article though very interesting


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