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Protected killers who operate with impunity

By | May 4th 2011

By CCI Writer

The soft-spoken Joseph Bikeri, 32, a porter at a wholesale shop in Kisii town arrived home in high spirits mid-last month after a day’s work.

He passed by his mother’s house at Mwamogesa village for a brief chat before proceeding to his house for the night.

At midnight, a gang wielding axes, pangas and other crude weapons descended on his home. The gang demanded that he opens the door saying they were police officers on patrol.

Kisii Central OCPD Tom Mutisya speaks to residents at Mwamogesa village in Marani District after bodies of two men were found lying along a footpath. PHOTO/STANDARD]

But before he could open, the impatient gang broke the door using boulder and dragged Bikeri out as his wife Nyaboke watched.

They warned his wife of dire consequences if she dared raise alarm or report the matter to anybody saying her husband would return after some interrogation.

Shaken to the core, Nyaboke retreated to her house fearing the worst based on previous incidents in the same locality.

True to her fears, her husband’s beheaded body was found lying on a footpath 500m away from their home. The deceased’s hands were tied to the back and the body had deep cuts on the shoulders and neck, characteristic of killings done by the vigilante group. "They were about 20 people dressed in a scary manner. They warned me against screaming as they dragged my husband away. My husband died in a cruel way, something I have never witnessed in my life," narrates a tearful Nyaboke.

Shocking discovery

That same morning at the neighbouring Bochura village, the mutilated body of Stephen Maobe, 40, was found lying along a footpath about 400 metres from his house.

The deceased, a cobbler in Kisii town, arrived home and visited his mother before retiring for the night in his hut. His wife, with whom he had differences, spent the night in an adjacent kitchen.

Villagers were shocked to discover the body of the father of seven with the throat slit open the following morning. "My son arrived home at 7pm and came to see me before going to his house. I suspected something was wrong as nobody answered my call at his house yet the door was ajar. His clothes were scattered in the house when I entered," recalled the deceased’s mother Agnes Kemunto.

She insisted her son had no criminal past despite having domestic squabbles with his wife for some time.

Residents who sought anonymity for fear of reprisals from the vigilante group said the area had not experienced crime for some time after suspected criminals were eliminated by the sungu sungu a few years back.

"These extrajudicial killings are a sign that the activities of the terror gang are still rife despite our protests. No crime has been reported in this location and now we fear for our lives as we don’t know who will be next and for what reason," a resident who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal told CCI.

Speaking at the scene, Kisii Central OCPD Tom Mutisya said investigations had been launched into the killings saying the days were numbered for those behind the crime. "We don’t want to see a situation where individuals take the law into their hands by killing others. The law must be seen to take its course," said Mutisya. Almost a month later, no one has been arrested in connection with the murders.

Just like his predecessor Peter Njenga, Mutisya denies Sungu Sungu exists saying only a community policing group that complements police work is known in Kisii.

Bad memories

Interestingly, an unknown person told family members they were free to bury the body of the deceased at their homes unlike in previous Sungu Sungu murders where the gang prohibits the burial of victims at home. "Word reached us that we were free to bury the dead at home because the two were not the intended targets," said a family source.

The cold blood murders of the two ignited memories of the beheading of five men at Nyasore and Bomburia villages in the same district by suspected Sungu Sungu members.

The beheaded bodies of Jeremiah Bogonko, Dominic Obondi and Pascalis Onyinge were found in the morning at Nyasore area along the Kisii-Kisumu road.

The trio was dragged from a funeral committee meeting where they were keeping night vigil. The gang casually told the mourners to proceed with their activities.

Evans Siko Ogamba’s dismembered body was found 400m from his home at Bomburia village, five kilometres from the scene where the other three bodies were discovered.

Execution signature

In what locals described as typical ‘Sungu Sungu style of execution’, each of the bodies had the hands tied at the back and the severed legs lying next to the head.

Only drops of blood were found at the scenes and residents fear the gang could be drinking some of the blood in rituals.

Five days after the killings, anonymous leaflets warning families of the deceased men not to bury ‘criminals’ were circulated in the village. The leaflets warned of dire consequences including death and destruction of property if the order was flouted.

"Bodies of criminals should be buried in Government cemeteries. Any attempts to bury them at home will be tantamount to massive loss of lives and destruction of properties and we mean every word," read the leaflets in part.

After a prolonged stay at the mortuary and protests by family members, the bodies were released and buried under tight security. Despite all these murders, Government security officials deny existence of killer gangs. Eastern Nyanza Regional Commissioner Lydiah Muriuki says only community policing groups with known members and officials exists.

Addressing community policing groups in Kisii and Nyamira Counties recently, officials from the Community Policing, Gender and Children’s Rights at Vigilance House said Sungu Sungu was an illegal outfit whose members should be arrested and charged.

Speakers at the forums lamented community policing groups in the area had mutated and overstepped their mandate and were being protected by Government officials.

"Community policing is distinct from vigilante groups that are illegal. We note that some community policing groups have overstepped their mandate by misusing their powers. This will end when the initiative is reformed," said Senior Superintendent Osborn Mwawaza.

Community policing officer Terry Muchemi admitted there were flaws in constituting community policing groups in the past, but said reforms were underway to rectify the problem.

The Municipal Council of Kisii last year came under severe public criticism after it was accused of employing the services of the outlawed gang to reign in on rogue matatu operators in Kisii town.

The council allegedly retreated following heavy compensation claims from matatu operators whose vehicles had been damaged during running battles with members of Sungu Sungu working in cahoots with council askaris.

Matatu touts who spoke to CCI told tales of how they cheated death after being arrested by the gang. "They are well known and have cells opposite the main bus park where they beat victims senselessly once arrested. Some of us have scars from beatings inflicted by the gang," said a tout who declined to be named for fear of repraisals . Sources privy to the group’s operations say some members own stalls opposite the main bus park where they operate during the day. It is believed that the large group initially responsible for murders across the region is divided into wings.

One wing operating under the guise of community policing generates revenue from various sources including the municipal council. It is alleged that some civic leaders support its activities.

Sources say in every group of 20, there are three specialist ‘hangmen’ who execute victims using pangas and axes. The victim is taken to a secluded area, interrogated, asked to say a final prayer before the execution.

Local politicians have been accused of not condemning the group’s extrajudicial activities directly instead asking the Government to guarantee residents their security. Residents now fear the group may be used by politicians in 2012 polls, further giving it strength.

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