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November 17, 2018

Wafula faced many threats

Activist Ken Wafula./VICTOR IMBOTO
Activist Ken Wafula./VICTOR IMBOTO

Activist Ken Wafula was a very abrasive man who spoke his mind freely; some would say carelessly. This earned him many enemies. He had to be whisked out of Eldoret on numerous occasions to save his life due to his stand on the ICC cases.

He would call me in the middle of the night when his security situation deteriorated. Usually it was about strange people in an unmarked car hovering near his gate; or strange people following him around town; or some overzealous supporter of politicians confronting him in the town and threatening him. On a few occasions he was physically attacked, but on many others he escaped narrowly.

In December 2012, news filtered out of six human rights activists in Eldoret who had been earmarked for elimination for their stand on the ICC. Ken was one of them. Details of where meetings were held, who was in them and how much money was to be paid or had already been paid to the hitmen seemed to leak from insider sources.

It turned out the hitmen were to be brought from Uganda through the Malaba border. The lead hitman was known only as Saddam, so we learnt, and this was not going to be his first job in Kenya. Sources linked Saddam to numerous other gun killings in Kenya, including the daylight shooting of the bodyguard of the then Mt Elgon MP John Serut in June 2007. Ken and his colleagues survived thanks to the help of friends and human rights groups.

My most memorable encounter with Ken was either in 2014 or early 2015. Ken called me frantically to say one of the lead lawyers in one of the Kenyan ICC cases had called and requested for a meeting. Ken wanted some advice. I told him categorically that he should not agree to meet the lawyer and if he must, then he should be accompanied by a lawyer.

He agreed. This was just a day or two to the proposed meeting. The next day Ken called to say he had just finished a meeting with the lawyer at a five-star hotel in Nairobi. I was shocked! Were you with a lawyer? I asked. No. Were you with any friend? No. You were just alone? Yes.

I sighed and asked him how the meeting went. He was cagey, only saying it was cordial, and the lawyer was accompanied by two women (most likely British) from his team. The two took notes as Ken and the lawyer talked. The lawyer mostly asked questions. What did they ask? I gave him a piece of my mind, but we remained friends.

Ken then retreated to Eldoret. We rarely talked after that and he sort of kept off the limelight (he loved the media). Then one day I saw Ken in the media saying the ICC cases should be dropped because he thought the accused were innocent. He came out strongly in defence of one accused.

I reluctantly called him. We talked generally for a while then I asked about his statement (several colleagues had called to remind me why I should not have defended Ken all those years because he was unreliable. But I wanted to hear Ken’s side). Ken told me his was tactical: He was exhausted of having to go into hiding every now and then; having to cry out for help.

He said he felt helpless and betrayed by colleagues because no one believed him any more about the threats on his life. He talked of a strange car that was permanently parked in front of his gate. The occupants never talked to him, they would only come out to follow him around whenever he tried to leave his house. He felt so insecure and abandoned by friends.

He told me of a text he received telling him he had only a few days to live. When he went to police for protection, the officer he talked to seemed more scared than Ken. He felt cornered, much the same way Meshack Yebei had felt when he ran to him saying he felt he was going to be killed.

I accepted Ken’s explanation. Here is a man who survived many threats to his life, some of which we never thought he would survive, but now lies cold in the mortuary, killed by the one thing that never threatened him — high blood pressure. How I wish Ken had accepted his diabetic condition and sought treatment.

May his soul rest In peace.

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