We want them dead or alive: Families mill around human rights offices in search of missing relatives

Sauda Omar Mwakitseko, 28, wailed uncontrollably as she narrated how her husband, Bakari Mwanyota, was picked up from their house last year by people who identified themselves as police officers.

Mr Mwanyota, 38, had just returned from Saudi Arabia on February 23, following the outbreak of Covid-19 when 10 men broke into their house at 1am and picked him up.

To date, he is not booked in any police station at the Coast. Ms Mwakitseko says they have visited all mortuaries at the Coast in search of their breadwinner in vain.

Mwanyota worked as a butcher in Likoni near the Consolata area before he went to Saudi Arabia in search of greener pastures, but the sojourn was cut short by Covid-19.

The men who picked him up said they were officers from Inuka Police Station. The next day he had not been booked at any of the police stations in Mombasa, Mwakitseko says.

“They broke up the metal grill and the wooden door and gained entry into the house at 1am. We thought they were thieves but they appeared in police uniforms and had guns," she says.

"They handcuffed my husband and said they were taking him to the police station for questioning over undisclosed matters. There is no clue on his whereabouts.”

Mose Kali also narrate the events leading to the abduction of her husband, Tunu Said Mwasheme, 53, from their house at Corner Mpya in Likoni Sub-county on July 19 last year.

Ms Kali says several men in police uniform raided the house at 3am and whisked away Mr Mwasheme in a kikoi and vest, promising to book him at the nearest police station.

“Those policemen were rough. They beat me up and broke my arm before taking my husband away. They took him away with his national identity card and our two mobile phones. They came in a vehicle," she recalls.

"We inquired at several police stations and searched the mortuaries but did not find my husband.”

Kali, 43, says at one time, the family went to Kwale Hospital mortuary after getting information the body of a man had been taken there but they found it was for another person.

She says Mwasheme was the sole breadwinner and his disappearance has ruined the family of seven children.

“I have a Form Four candidate and fourth-year university student who are at home because we cannot raise school fees. The going has been tough,” she says.

Kali claims Mwasheme had built four mosques and owned 14 shops but the business has been snatched from the family.

“He left a will that his family should manage the shops when he dies but we have been denied access to the shops. We have also been isolated by friends and relatives,” she says.

She says Mwasheme also owned a lorry used to transport building blocks and sand to construction sites.

Fatuma Tunu, Mwasheme's daughter, says the disappearance of her father ruined her marriage and family ties as they are now being viewed differently.

“We are living in isolation after the kidnapping of my father. We are suffering because the breadwinner is nowhere to be found,” she says.

Tears flowed freely in Mombasa on Saturday as families sought government intervention, following the kidnapping of their kin from their homes by hooded men more than a year ago in night raids.

The families who have renewed hope in the search for their relatives want to see them dead or alive.

Their hopes followed the recent disbandment of the Special Service Unit (SSU) of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations by President William Ruto.

In the past week, more than 20 families have visited Muslims For Human Rights (Muhuri) offices to inquire about their lost relatives.

Muhuri’s rapid response officer Francis Auma said many families whose kin disappeared have increasingly made inquiries after the disbandment of SSU.

He said more than 200 cases of forced disappearances have been reported, but only about six people have returned but remained tight-lipped.

He said Muhuri has reported some cases to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in The Gambia and was pushing for the United Nations' rapporteur to come and carry out detailed investigations in the country.

“The disbandment of SSU confirms that State agencies are responsible for the disappearance of men in Coast and as far as Garissa. In all these cases, the police are responsible. We want restoration and reparation. We also want action against the police officers responsible for the disappearances and killings,” he said.