Life-size grafitti confers lasting fame on Mwatha

Human Rights activist Caroline Mwatha, who campaigned against extra-judicial killings. [Photo, Courtesy]

A life-size graffiti depicting Thomas Sankara on a container housing the Dandora Community Justice Centre stares at anyone accessing the compound. The centre has been a thorn in the flesh of trigger-happy police officers in the sprawling informal settlement.

Sankara, who was Burkina Faso’s head of state, remains Africa’s most revolutionary leader, 32 years after his assassination. His ideals about challenging the status quo without fear continue to motivate activism movements across the continent.

A graffiti of Caroline Mwatha was added next to Sankara’s at the Dandora Community Justice Centre, where she worked as a researcher until her death.

The organisation, in a statement, said the graffiti will ensure the spirit of a woman known for standing up against the police lives on despite her death under unfortunate circumstances.

“Your legacy remains. You were a voice of reason. The community can attest to that,” the organisation stated.

A postmortem conducted on Thursday revealed that the human rights activist had died of excessive bleeding from a ruptured uterus after a botched abortion. “I cannot comment on the report as I have left the matter to God. The only thing I can say is that  we are making arrangements for her funeral,” Mwatha’s husband Joshua Ochieng said following the autopsy.

Human rights organisation Haki Africa, which had a pathologist present during the autopsy, has called for more support to human rights groups like the one Carol was working with. “To work in these centres is enormous in defense of human rights and social justice. The work of comrade Caroline Mwatha must live on. Her death should not define her life,” said Hussein Khalid, the executive director of Haki Africa.

On the streets of Dandora, she was known as Carol Mtetezi, a term she earned for taking on the police who for a long time, had a demigod status,killing and arresting anyone with reckless abandon.

Concerned about the number of youth dropping dead under mysterious circumstances in the hands of the police, a group determined to reverse extra-judicial killings in their neighbourhood came together two years ago.

Carol was among those present at the meeting that gave birth to the Dandora Community Justice Centre. The idea was to document all deaths perceived as extra-judicial killings and then put the government on the spot, either through protests, court proceedings or exposures in the media. Then the next step was to align with mainstream non-governmental organisations with a track record of fighting for human rights, hoping that people at the grassroots would see this and join in the war.

Justice groups

What began in Dandora has become a blue print by residents of slums across Nairobi, who today also want to stop police killings in their own way. From Kibera to Mathare and Huruma, all the way to Kayole, youths have formed various justice groups, whose aim is to put a stop to police killings.

Organisations such as the Dandora Community Justice Centre, Mathare Social Justice Centre, Githurai Human Rights Net and Kayole Social Justice Centre, have so far emerged as the most vocal.

Mathare Social Justice Centre, for instance, convenes a meeting every Tuesday to talk about residents’ struggle for justice and how to demand for accountability from the state. In an interview with this writer two months ago, Carol said they knew what they were doing was dangerous, but someone had to stand up for the society or they all perish.

At the time. 22 young men had been felled by government bullets in a span of 10 days and residents of the slums they hailed from had been pushed to the limit, sparking protests.

“I have been followed and even asked to stop fighting the government, but I have reached a point where some things don’t scare me,” she said. Following our meeting, protests were organised in Dandora and Carol invited us to cover the demonstrations, which turned chaotic. According to her, the message had been passed and she believed that eventually, such protests will force the government to cave in.

This was evident last month when police leadership from Nairobi held a town hall meeting with the residents of Kibera to discuss how best they can work together following the killing of Leeds University student Carlilton Maina that had grabbed global attention. In Dandora, where the grassroots movement against extra-judicial killings started, the police and the public held a joint New Year’s Day celebration.

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Dandora Community Justice CentreHaki AfricaCaroline Mwatha