A fighter for justice in Kenya
a tribute first published in the Review of African Political Economy., coordinator of Mathare Social Justice Centre and member of the Social Justice Centre Working Group, celebrates the life of a fellow activist, in
CAROLINE MWATHA OCHIENG was a tireless campaigner against police brutality and illegal arrests in Kenya, and was involved in documenting these cases. Through the documentation of these systematic injustices, Caroline, a founding member of Dandora Social Justice Centre and member of the Social Justice Centre Working Group (the collective voice of social justice centers in the informal settlements in Nairobi), was exposed to police harassment and threats, but she never gave up and continued to fight for social justice. Earlier this month, she was murdered.
Her disappearance and murder sends a terrifying message to human rights defenders and social justice activists who are fighting against systematic extrajudicial killings and police brutality in Kenya. Caroline Mwatha Ochieng’s life was spent in urban struggles fighting for social justice.
I recall a recent event that illustrates Caroline’s tireless commitment. On December 13, 2018, at 9 p.m., I received a distress call from an activist who had been illegally arrested and detained at the Kwa Mbao Administrative Police (AP) camp — an informal settlement where the Dandora community Social Justice Centre was monitoring human rights violations.
Carol Mwatha was our team leader at the notorious Kwa Mbao AP camp, which is under the jurisdiction of the Dandora Social Justice Centre. She was responsible for monitoring and documenting cases of human rights violations and extrajudicial killings by security agencies.
Under the leadership of Carol Mwatha, we spoke to the officer in charge of the AP camp, who was supervising those who had been arrested in the raid that evening. We demanded the unconditional release of our comrades. They were being detained illegally for refusing to bribe a police officer, something that exposes many youth in these areas to extrajudicial killing. As a result of Carol Mwatha’s intervention, our comrades were released unconditionally.
SYSTEMATIC AND illegal detection and extortion is part of the culture of impunity in police stations across Nairobi’s poor communities. After the release of our comrades, I walked with Carol from the Kwa Mbao AP camp, and we reflected on the challenges that human rights defenders face, having to confront police harassment and intimidation. I listened to how devastated Carol felt at police brutality, and I could see in her a determined activist and fighter.
We face enormous challenges as grassroots human rights groups and activists documenting cases of the systematic violations in the informal settlements where, we are attempting to build community social justice centers and rethink the struggle for democracy and social justice from below.
The struggle against social injustice and deplorable living conditions exposed Carol Mwatha to dangers that eventually led to her disappearance on February 6 and her subsequent murder. Caroline’s body was dumped in the city mortuary under a different name on Tuesday, February 12, and the police reported a story of a botched abortion to cover up her murder.
Caroline Mwatha Ochieng was a tireless campaigner against police brutality and illegal arrests, and she was involved in documenting these cases and referring them to the independent Police Oversight Authority and other organizations that have been mandated to seek accountability and redress against human rights violations in Kenya. Through the documentation of these cases, Carol was exposed to serious police harassment and threats, but she never gave up and continued to fight for social justice.
Carol’s family, friends and comrades will continue to remember and celebrate a selfless comrade who sacrificed her life in defense of social justice and paid a heavy price. Caroline Mwatha lives on in our struggles.
Long live the spirit of Carol Mwatha.
We will never forget you comrade, and your memory will live forever in our hearts.
First published at the Review of African Political Economy