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Killing of 2 activists points to corruption in Kenya

Many suspect police in gangland style murders of human rights defenders in Nairobi.

Spot at the University of Nairobi campus where a student was shot to death by police. The students were demonstrating against the police, who they accused of assassinating two human rights activists in Nairobi. Police opened fire on the student protest, killing one. (Tristan McConnell/GlobalPost)

The brutal and bloody daylight murder of two Kenyan human rights activists has thrown the country into turmoil, revealing the rot at the heart of the police and divisions at the center of government.

Last week a top United Nations expert on state-sponsored murders described the Kenyan police as “a law unto themselves”. Philip Alston, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, said: “They kill often, with impunity,” and accused the police of running death squads.

Friday the police force was accused of being behind this latest double murder.

“The human rights community in Kenya holds the government fully and wholly responsible for the assassinations,” said Cyprian Nyamwamu of the Kenya Human Rights Consortium.

A spokesperson for the police denied any involvement. However, Prime Minister Raila Odinga issued a statement that implicitly pointed a finger at the police, saying, “I fear we are flirting with lawlessness in the name of keeping law and order. In the process, we are hurtling towards failure as a state.”

Oscar Kamau Kingara and his colleague John Paul Oulu were moving slowly in thick late afternoon traffic in the capital Nairobi when, eyewitnesses say, three men in dark suits carrying pistols leapt out of two cars that blocked their white Mercedes front and back.

The two activists, outspoken critics of the government and the police, were shot repeatedly at point blank range. Kingara died behind the wheel of his car. Oulu was mortally wounded and died later in hospital.

The gangland-style assassination was watched by nearby students milling around outside a University of Nairobi dormitory. Kingara and Oulu — a recent graduate of the university — were well known to the students who were incensed and immediately blamed the government for the murders.

When the angry students refused to give up Kingara’s body — “Without the body there is no evidence,” explained one — a battle ensued between stone-throwing students and police armed with tear gas and guns.

After an hours-long sporadically violent standoff the police finally recovered Kingara’s body but they left behind them another, that of a student shot and killed during the rioting.

His blood lay fresh on the ground at the entrance to the university dormitories compound. Nearby, the shot-up Mercedes was jammed against a wall where the students had pushed it in a bid to keep car and corpse from the police they blamed for the murders. A
bloody trail led to the stairwell where the students had hidden Kingara’s bullet-riddled body.