How did rights hero Mwatha die? Botched abortion or extra-judicial killing?

Rights defender disappeared on February 6 last year, body found at City Mortuary

In Summary

• Colleague said Mwatha had received threats from police officers and she was worried she could become part of the statistics she documented. 

• At least 200 rights activists to attend an event to celebrate her life at her former workplace, the Dandora Justice Centre on Saturday.


Dandora rights activist Caroline Mwatha.
MYSTERY: Dandora rights activist Caroline Mwatha.

It has been a year since rights activist Caroline Mwatha died — critics say she was killed for naming names — and questions linger over her death.

Meanwhile, suspects linked to her killing from a botched abortion battle charges in court. They're out on bail.

A celebration of Mwatha's life will be held on Saturday at her former workplace at the Dandora Justice Centre. 

At least 200 human rights defenders, community members and civil society members are expected to attend.

Mwatha was a founding member of the Dandora Justice Centre and the social Justice Centre's working group. She was heavily involved in the documentation of extrajudicial killings in Dandora and was committed to highlighting the ills committed by rogue officers.

She went missing last year on February 6 last year. She failed to report to work after taking her daughter to school early n the morning.

Her phone went unanswered after many people tried to reach her. Then it was switched off.

A Justice Centre colleague went to her home in the evening and found her 13-year-old daughter alone.

Mwatha's father, Stanislas Mbai,  strongly believed she was still alive after extending their search to hospitals, police stations, water bodies, forests and city mortuaries and not finding her. 

Mbai filed a missing person report at Buruburu police station two days later.

A colleague said Mwatha had received threats from police officers and she was worried she could become part of the police brutality statistics she documented.

Because of her work, police were under a lot of pressure to find her.

Five days later, the police broke the news that her body had been found at City Mortuary, under another name.

Local and international media and rights activists were agitated. They held regular demonstrations, regularly dispersed by tear gas.

A  report by pathologist Peter Ndegwa said she bled to death from a ruptured uterus. She was five months pregnant and had been carrying a male foetus that was mutilated in a botched abortion at a backstreet clinic in Dandpra Phase I.

The public was bewildered by the autopsy and called it dissatisfying. Family members found it hard to explain that Mwatha, who was married, was pregnant and would resort to an abortion in a backstreet clinic.

“It is hard to believe this, given that I have seen Caro all this while and had not noted the pregnancy,” her father said.

A funeral service was held and the activist was buried on February 23 at Asembo Bay, Siaya county.

She died at age 37 and is survived by a widower Joshua Ochieng' and two children,  a boy 17 and a girl 14.

The children are living with their grandparents (Mwatha’s parents) in Dandora as Ochieng’ works in Dubai.

The four accused — Betty Akinyi, her son Dale Richard Ramoya, Michael Onchiri, and Alexander Gitau — were charged with her death.

They allegedly conspired to murder her and her unborn child and disposed of her body.

They denied any wrongdoing and were remanded, ordered to stay away from the abortion 'clinic.' They were variously granted Sh300,000 and Sh500,000 bond.

Rights group Haki Africa’s executive director Hussein Khalid said the group was not satisfied with the investigations, alleging a cover-up. It was alleged police could have arranged to have the abortion go wrong. 

“Definitely, the police are not doing enough to protect human rights defenders. The police remain a constant danger to activists," he said.

“I would like to see the police setting up a human rights unit to advance adherence to human rights within and outside the police service,” he told the Star.  

Dandora’s human rights defender Wilfred Olal said, “We are still following up on the case, one year on. We cannot speak legally though the wheels of justice are taking too long,” he said.

Activist Boniface Mwangi said Mwatha spoke for the voiceless.

“She was a human rights defender, a lover, daughter, sister and wife. Her death took minutes, maybe hours, but she lived 37 full years, she loved, fought fearlessly and exited this stage we call life as a hero. Go forth, Comrade. Rest in Power. The struggle continues,” he said. 

Edited by R.Wamochie