By Paul Wafula
Bungoma; Kenya: Only seven of the hundreds arrested over the attacks in Bungoma have been charged in court as police investigators struggle to keep up with the raging violence.
Another ten people taken to court were released on good behaviour bonds.
All have denied involvement in the gang attacks with some claiming the police are doing a shoddy job finding the real killers. The suspects, who are being held in remand, point out that gangs have continued to kill people in the county more than a month after they were arrested. This demonstrates the headache facing police investigators at a time when residents are forming vigilante groups to confront suspected members of the gangs.
The seven men in prison were linked to one robbery against a woman in Bungoma’s Kware village in early April. No other charges have been brought over the dozens of other attacks, including those that ended in ten murders.
In an exclusive interview with The Standard On Saturday at the Bungoma GK Prison, two remandees say they have nothing to do with the violence. Kennedy Makokha and his co-accused Patrick Kuluku say they were arrested for stealing a mobile phone only for the charges to be changed. The two are charged alongside Constant Sifuna, Calistus Simiyu, Patrick Kuluku, John Masindani, Samuel Nyaranga and David Masinde.
“We have been in custody since last month, but the violence has been going on,” Mr Makokha said. “If we were the key suspects, then the NSIS (National intelligence Service) or CID (Criminal Investigation Department) should have interrogated us, but this has never happened. It means even the intelligence units don’t believe we are the perpetrators of the attacks.”
The slow pace of investigations has left villagers frustrated. Vigilantes have killed eight suspects so far, including a woman in Chemche allegedly found with crude weapons. Police are yet to confirm any link between the lynching victims and the gangs behind the killings. The masterminds of the attacks, which have spread to Busia, are still at large.
Bungoma OCPD Amos Cheboi and his team do not believe they have the wrong men in custody. They continue to pursue others still on the run. The seven on trial were each granted a bond of Sh300,000 with two sureties of similar amount. But by going to press, none had managed to raise the bond.
“We have never left this prison since we were remanded,” Makokha added. “We cannot be the same people still maiming the residents of Bungoma county. The real suspects must be out there.”
Seven charged in court
Court documents seen during this investigation show the seven were charged with “being members of a gang terrorising members of the public in Bungoma and Malaba”. The men are alleged to have attacked one Ms Rukia Naskanda at Bungoma’s Kware Village, together with others, armed with offensive weapons, and robbed her of property valued at Sh50,000. They were charged on April 8 this year and entered a plea of ‘not guilty’ on April 12. The charge sheet further adds that while being escorted to court, one of them shouted at Ms Naskanda saying she was lucky to be alive. He allegedly added that if released on bond, he would kill her. The court warned the accused not to threaten witnesses. The next hearing of the case is set for June 4.
Police in Bungoma are under immense political and public pressure to bring the perpetrators of the violence to book. They recently conducted mass arrests of people they think are involved or have information on the attacks. They have, however, failed to get evidence they could use in court. This has seen over 97 per cent of all those arrested released.
By Friday last week, 309 suspects had been arrested. Over 297 were released without being charged in court. Seven were charged and another ten released on a personal bond to keep peace. At least 15 people have been killed and more than 150 maimed in a spate of violence that has continued for several weeks in Bungoma and Busia counties. Some of the survivors have had their eyes gouged out and limbs hacked off.