Our Children Were Betrayed by Village Elders
Story told by Stella Marris Ndinya
Translator: Lena Grace Anyuolo
Photographer: Ibrahim Rashid Otieno
“It’s only through a just legal process where the police officer(s) responsible are sentenced and put in prison for murder will we have hope as a community. Otherwise, the killing of innocent children by the police will continue with impunity.” My name is Stella Marris Ndinya. I live in Mukuru Kwa Rueben. On 19th April 2016, I lost my firstborn son, Francis Kioko. He was in high school, in form three.
Village elders who were members of Nyumba Kumi instigated his murder by telling the police they suspected a group of youths were taking part in criminal activity. My son was killed with seven of his group members at a garbage collection meeting. They were all told to lie down on the ground in an open field before the police opened fire, shooting them one after the other.
My second-born son who was in form one escaped death by a whisker. He had run back home to prepare my lunch at the instruction of his elder brother. As he ran home he heard gunshots from the direction he was coming from and called for their father who was at home.
My husband ran to the field and found Kioko still alive. He pleaded with the cops to spare our son’s life but his pleas fell on deaf ears. He couldn’t save our son.
Our journey to get justice has been met with frustrations at every corner.
At the mortuary, the police tried to tamper with the post-mortem report. They postponed it three times and later wrote incorrect dates of death on the post-mortem sheet. We were taunted by the police who told us that because we are poor, we would not get justice.
The village elder who betrayed our children lived with us in the community. He would monitor everything that we were doing and leak information to the police. This also frustrated our efforts at gathering evidence to take the case to court.
One witness to the murder, a young man called John, who had climbed on top of a biogas toilet when the killings took place, was constantly threatened by the police. The police told him that they didn’t have to shoot him in order to kill him, there were many other ways. We reported the threats to IPOA with the demands that John be put on Witness Protection. We were told to wait. The second time John met the police, they beat him up so badly that IMLU had to take him to the hospital.
Two weeks after John was discharged, he was killed. We found his body in a field with his phone and some money that his mother had sent him from Saudi Arabia, still inside his pocket. We reported the killing to IPOA yet nothing happened. This scared off any other witnesses to the case because they feared for their lives.
Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA) and Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) gathered the evidence which was presented at Milimani Law Court and a case was opened.
For four years, we made countless trips to and from the law courts. In December 2020, a date for the judgment hearing was set. But this was just the beginning of yet another tedious route to justice.
To date, I don’t understand what happened because, instead of a judgment, the case was referred to Makadara Law Courts and we were afraid to attend the proceedings because it was time for the accused police to give their testimony.
I am bereft and I have lived in fear since the incident. I was threatened by the police who killed my son and I had to flee from Mukuru Kwa Rueben to Kikuyu. I struggled to find work in Kikuyu.
Eventually, I had to come back to Mukuru. I would have starved to death in Kikuyu for lack of work.
Sometimes I would receive pictures of myself taken secretly while I was in court. Other times I would be stopped by the police and searched. The police wanted to steal vital documents related to my son’s case. I was told by the police officer who killed my son that I would also end up dead. I told him that if death was the price I had to pay so no child is wrongfully executed, then let it be so.
Another time, the police officers who killed my son came to the compound where I lived looking for me. Luckily I wasn’t home, and my neighbors protected me by denying that they knew me.
When I reported these incidents of threats and intimidation to IPOA, I was told to go to the police station and get an OB number – an official police record – then come back to IPOA and file my complaint. I was dumbstruck. How would I report to the same officers who were threatening me?
In the media, our children were portrayed as thieves. It was broadcast that the police had killed eight notorious gangsters in Mukuru. This coverage ostracized us, the parents of the deceased, from the community because no one wanted to be associated with thieves. We know this is far from the truth because they were attending a garbage collection meeting when they were murdered on a false accusation by Nyumba Kumi village elders. How could they be mistaken for thieves?
I am deeply affected. My son is too. He has trouble staying in school. I have made it my life’s mission to seek justice for my son and his friends. They were innocent children who did not deserve to die.
It’s only through a just legal process that the police officer(s) responsible are sentenced and put in prison for murder that we shall have hope as a community. Otherwise, the killing of innocent children by the police will continue with impunity.