Price of press freedom: Nyaruri's widow opens up on struggles to take care of sons

Journalists protest in Nairobi recently for their press freedom after lots of attack on members of the fourth estate. Members of the Media have fallen victims in the hand of security agents and the police. [Boniface kendo, Standard]

In Kenya, some journalists have met tragic ends. The motives behind these murders are no mystery. But hidden in shadows is the silent pain, the deep sorrow and the relentless struggle of their shattered families.

For a decade and a half, Josephine Kwamboka has carried the burden of widowhood, manoeuvering through challenging circumstances to raise her two sons alone.

As the spouse of a silenced journalist who dared to expose the truth, Kwamboka's story is that of emotional anguish, resilience, and an unwavering pursuit of elusive justice.

She expresses the stark contrast between the murderers of her husband, whom she says continue to roam freely, possibly providing well for their families, while hers has descended into hopelessness.

In describing her pain and the void in her enduring struggle, Kwamboka said: "Losing someone, particularly a husband and the sole breadwinner, is akin to the world collapsing under you, leaving you alone in a void. The emptiness is so deep that you wonder if you will ever feel complete again.”

Kwamboka's husband Francis Nyaruri worked for privately-owned Weekly Citizen newspaper before he went missing on January 15, 2009. He wrote under the pseudonym Mong'are Mokua.

His decapitated body was discovered two weeks later on January 29 in Kodera forest, Homa Bay County. His hands were bound behind him and deep wounds on his back.

Locals refer to the forest as a "cemetery" because it's notorious for dumping of bodies.

Nyaruri allegedly wrote a story accusing the then Nyamira Officer Commanding Police Division (OCPD) Lawrence Njoroge Mwaura of using substandard roofing material in constructing Nyamira Police Station.

Before his disappearance, Nyaruri allegedly mentioned Mwaura adversely, claiming he had threatened him. Currently, Mwaura is the Chief Instructor at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) Training School in Nairobi.

In the banana and tea-dotted expansive Nyamira County, Kwamboka's world crumbled, leaving shattered fragments of life once bathed in love. The memory of Nyaruri, her partner of 11 years, lingers.

On that seemingly ordinary morning, Nyaruri, a loving husband and the pillar of the family left their Nyamira home at around seven o'clock. He left for Kisii town where he occasionally reported for multiple media outlets, including the Citizen Weekly. A routine that had played out countless times before it suddenly transformed into the prologue of a nightmare.

On that fateful day, Nyaruri had also taken approximately Sh30,000 to buy building material for a home he was putting up on land that he had acquired.

At 11am, Kwamboka spoke to her husband, unknowingly for the final time. 

After three days of futile waiting and countless inquiries about her husband’s whereabouts from friends and relatives, Kwamboka stepped into Nyamira Police Station on January 19 to report him missing.

Instead of being comforted, she was met with indifference.

The authorities' flippant quips, implying that Nyaruri was having an extended weekend of fun with another woman, wounded Kwamboka's heart.

"After two weeks of a futile search, I was called to identify my husband's body at Oyugis Police Station. I could only recognise his decomposed body through his clothing... a dark belt, white shirt (stained), grey socks, and the black trousers he wore on the day he went missing," recounted Kwamboka.

Shocked by the turn of events, Kwamboka fled the scene, and was only dragged back by journalists who had called her after an unidentified body was retrieved from the forest.

A devoted father, Nyaruri provided for his family and for his aging parents. Life took a turn for the worse. The comfort the family once enjoyed vanished and was replaced by adversity.

“Life pushed us to the ground abruptly. Our son, who had shown exceptional promise in his primary school exams, had to leave boarding school at Utawala Academy in Nairobi for a day school,” she said.

Despite numerous pledges for support for her family during her husband's funeral, these turned out to be empty promises. Her phone calls to some of the people who had promised help went unanswered.  

Some of the people in positions to help her sought sexual favours instead. Others, out of caution, especially women friends, distanced themselves, with some insinuating that because she was young, and pretty, their men might fall for her.

“Friends, once a source of solace, began distancing themselves from me due to the circumstances surrounding my husband's tragic end, while others acted out of their own insecurities,” she said.

Yet, in moments of isolation and when surrender felt like the only option, the weight of caring for her two young children -  aged nine years and one-year-old at the time, and her husband’s aging parents - became the anchor that kept her from sinking.

As weeks stretched into months and years, the now 41-year-old, a graduate in secretarial studies, slowly started to piece together the fragments of her life. She established a kiosk to sell water and soft drinks among other items.

These meagre earnings from the kiosk provided the family's daily subsistence and helped her see her two sons through primary school.

Despite earning a scholarship for high school and excelling academically, the dream of her firstborn son crumbled abruptly after finishing his first year at Nairobi’s Multimedia University due to a lack of fees. He was pursuing a bachelor's degree in business economics. His dream of breaking free from the clutches of poverty and, one day, helping his mother and younger sibling, has been shattered, perhaps forever.

Nyaruri's youngest son, currently in Form Three, is on the verge of dropping out of school due to lack of fees.

“The weight of our shattered dreams are heavy on me, and the prospect of a brighter future for my sons seems to slip away each passing day. I yearn for someone, anyone, to reach out and see these boys through school,” she pleads

Clutching onto hope, she prays that the recent visit by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa) to her home signals a potential breakthrough in Nyaruri's case review.

Ipoa has taken her statement, the fourth time such a statement is being taken since her husband's murder.

This renewed pressure to reopen Nyaruri's case follows a damning revelation involving taxi driver Evans Mose Bosire. Initially believed to have never given a statement to the police, it was discovered recently that Bosire had, in fact, provided a statement on March 12, 2009, at Kisii Police Station.

In this statement, Bosire implicated various individuals, including senior police officials. Strangely, Bosire was subsequently released from police custody without explanation and has been missing ever since.

In November 2022, Nyaruri’s family wrote to Ipoa, the Inspector General of Police, and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, seeking a comprehensive review of the police and prosecution files after new evidence emerged.

“The journey has been an emotional rollercoaster, and all we seek as a family is closure on my husband's murder. The truth on who killed him and why is all we need,” said Kwamboka.

Kwamboka's unwavering quest for justice is testament to the shadows cast by love lost and promises shattered.

As she tirelessly battles for the truth behind her husband's murder, she is also confronted with struggles to cater for and educate her children.

Her pain mirrors that of the widows and children of journalists whose lives have been tragically cut short in the line of duty. 

Her story reveals a justice system that has callously turned a blind eye, leaving behind silent cries and shattered families. In her ongoing battle, Kwamboka symbolises resilience amid grief, portraying the unyielding spirit of those who seek justice in the face of loss.

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