Mary Awuor had just been admitted to Cosmopolitan Hospital in Kisumu County when news broke out that the Parliamentary Select Committee on electoral reforms had struck a deal.
The committee announced that Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chiefs had finally agreed to go home. Her heart skipped a beat because it was during protests to push the commissioners out of office that her husband was killed in cold blood.
Frederik Otieno was shot dead by a trigger happy police officer on May 23 near Tivoli centre. The police denied killing him, saying he was trampled on by demonstrators as they scampered for safety after they lobbed teargas to disperse them. However, a postmortem report showed a bullet lodged in his body.
Ms Awuor has been in and out of hospital after developing high blood pressure and other stress related illnesses following her husband’s death.
“Did Fred have to die, yet he was not part of the demonstrations?” she posed.
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And he was not alone. Dozens of Kenyans, especially from Nyanza and Nairobi paid a heavy price in the push for electoral reforms.
From Migori, Homa Bay, Kisumu to Siaya and Nairobi, the anti-IEBC protests claimed at least ten lives, more than 25 sustained bullet wounds, while property worth millions of shillings was looted or destroyed.
The heartrending pictures of four-year-old Jeremy Otieno, who was hit by a stray bullet on the back in Kisumu, the savage attack by police on a helpless Boniface Manono in Nairobi streets and a profusely bleeding CORD activist Japheth Maroko, captured the gravity of the IEBC protests.
In Kisumu, besides the deaths, two supermarkets were looted and damaged after protesters broke the glass windows with stones. Many people were injured in Kibera, Nairobi, when police engaged in running battles with demonstrators.
Scenes of CORD co-principals Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetang’ula being teargased captured the mood of a country angry for change.
Muhoroni MP James Onyango K’Oyoo captures the ultimate prize Kenyans paid to force the reforms. “The blood of those who were killed, injured or maimed saved this country from sliding into further anarchy. The people who died or suffered injuries are the heroes of the electoral reforms.”
Mr K’Oyoo said Kenyans and the international community still remembers with bitterness the brutality police meted on Kenyans, especially those in Nyanza during the protests.
In fact, one victim of the protests, Dorothy Anyango from Homa Bay is still being held at Tenwek Mission hospital because of a Sh430,000 medical bill.
Japheth Maroko, a CORD activist from Meru, known for coining the famous “Baba while you were away” phrase was injured during the demonstrations in Nairobi but is happy his bravery has now ushered in electoral reforms. “We have paid the price,” he said.
Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar said the only way to honour those who lost their lives during the demonstrations will be to implement, in full, the IEBC select committee recommendations.
“We will go back to the streets if the recommendations by the Joint committee are not implemented in full,” Mr Omar told The Standard on Sunday. Kisumu Town West MP Olago Aluoch noted that the lives lost in the quest for electoral reforms were not in vain.
“It was painful to see Kenyans lose their lives because of a few individuals who had opted to stay put even though they knew the risk they were putting Kenyans in,” said Mr Olago.
He said the hardline stance by the commissioners fueled the protests.
He added: “During the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee, I advised the commissioners to leave office even before a single Kenyan had lost their lives but they refused and insisted on staying.”
The MP regretted that the events that followed, led to street protests that saw the rights of several Kenyans violated.
“If they had left the way most Kenyans advised them before the protests, we could have not have had the bloodshed that was witnessed around the country,” said Olago.
The legislator also criticised the move to pay the commissioners from taxpayer’s money.
“To add salt to injury, after the pain that they have put us through with the deaths and injuries Kenyans are now being asked to pay for the remainder of their term,” said Olago,” this is unacceptable.”
Human rights activist Audi Ogada said although reforms have already been made in the electoral commission, several victims whose rights were grossly violated are still struggling with the burden that the protests brought to their lives.
“Several people lost their loved ones with others even condemned to permanent physical injuries almost all of them yet to find justice,” said Mr Ogada. He called for justice for the victims of the protests.
“Yes, we have the reforms but what about the victims? The people who abused the rights of people must be brought to court and answer to the crimes they committed,” said Ogada.
Even though the regional Law Society of Kenya (LSK) leadership has promised to help the victims get justice, Awuor is likely to continue living in misery after she failed to secure her husband’s death certificate.
Hampered legal intervention
“Nothing can be done without the death certificate, and it is this habit of the hospital and the office of the Registrar of Persons tossing me around that I am even down with pressure,” said the mother of two.
Otieno was rushed to Aga Khan Hospital in Kisumu shortly after the shooting incident, but was later pronounced dead.
However, the hospital’s medical report did not indicate where the man died, a situation which has seen the Registrar of Persons decline to print the death certificate.
“The Registrar told me they cannot print a death certificate with the place of death missing, and the hospital has said they cannot write the place of death claiming the body was brought to the facility already lifeless,” said Awuor.
The hospital’s Medical Director Sam Oula however declined to comment on the matter, but said Awuor has already taken a legal direction with the matter.
“She (Awuor) has already gone to a lawyer who is working on the matter, so at this point it is a legal matter which I cannot comment on,” said Dr Oula.
James Imbukwa is another victim who is seeking justice for the death of his first born son on June 6.
Ayub Kaukau, 28, a casual labourer in Kisumu town was shot on his left shoulder along Jomo Kenyatta Highway and died on the spot.
Mr Imbukwa recorded a statement at Central Police Station in Kisumu on the death.
And just like Awuor, he is yet to lay his hand on the death certificate of his son, and this has hampered legal intervention.
“Since I buried my son on June 18, my life has never been stable. I am so stressed given that he was my shoulder to lean on especially when I am financially down. But now that the IEBC issue is solved we hope we shall get justice,” he said.
Even though LSK Nyanza Chapter had offered pro-bono services for the victims, none of the cases have been filed yet.
Chairman Rayola Olel said, six of their members have been assigned to handle the 17 cases which are likely to be filed by October.
He confirmed that getting the death certificates and succession documentation has delayed the commencement of the cases, but assured that his office is committed to ensure justice for the victims.
- Reports by John Oywa, Kevine Omolo and Harold Odhiambo