201409-it-happened

Charles Mwangi’s curiosity led him closer to a police security operation, oblivious of the danger that lurked behind. Like the proverbial cat, he was almost killed. He became the victim of a stray bullet. He recounts events of that fateful day and lessons learnt to WANGARI MWANGI.  

For most of 2007, media reports were awash with stories of criminal activities of the Mungiki sect, an illegal political-religious group accused of extortion and luring jobless young men into its fold. The group had devised a way of making income by threatening to behead matatu operators and owners of homesteads who defaulted on their daily cash payment to members of the sect, in what was dubbed as protection fee.

The group unleashed terror on anyone who failed to play by their rules, thereby harming many innocent Kenyans. A week hardly went by without news report of gruesome murders purportedly carried out by the sect members. This prompted the then minister for internal security, the late John Michuki, to issue an order that would see police officers carry out random police operations to flush out the killer gang.

With the police patrols intensified, it wasn’t uncommon to come across armed policemen in uniform and civilian clothes, patrolling the streets and estates in search of Mungiki suspects. The situation was not any different in Nairobi’s Kahawa West estate, where 32-year-old Charles Mwangi lived.

An innocent look…

When the sound of gunshots rent the air one day in August 2007 in his neighbourhood, Mwangi could almost guess that police had gunned down a Mungiki suspect. He had just finished his lunch at a café near Mahiga Primary School opposite Kamiti Maximum Prison in Kiambu County. But when the second gunshot went off, Mwangi and other clients in the café got curious. “It was rare to hear gunshots at lunch hour so when the sound of a second one went off, I suspected something was amiss. My curiosity led me outside to check,” he says.

He first saw police officers in civilian clothes with their pistols pointed to the sky. Then his attention was drawn to the school-going children who were walking home from the nearby school. He remembered that it was nearing the end of school term and pupils were usually released from school earlier than normal. And when the third gunshot went off, Mwangi’s fatherly instincts got the best of him.

“I only recall running towards a young boy who appeared confused by the sound of gunfire. Minutes later I was on the ground wounded,” says Mwangi who didn’t immediately notice he had been shot as he was not in pain. A bullet pierced right through his knee, missing the knee joint by a whisker. It was only when the gathered crowd of onlookers started pointing at the pool of blood oozing from his leg that he realised he had been shot.

He says the policemen arrested two men randomly before taking off in the police van that had been waiting. “The policemen didn’t bother despite noticing they had shot me. The onlookers were helpless and didn’t know how to assist me,” Mwangi explains.

Some people in the crowd offered Mwangi some first aid to prevent further bleeding by tying his leg with a piece of cloth, while others were making efforts to take him to hospital. In the meantime, the officer in charge of the nearby Kiamumbi police post got wind of the news that a man had been accidentally shot by the police and came to the scene accompanied by two other policemen. They took Mwangi to the police station to record a statement before taking him to Kiambu District Hospital for treatment.

In pursuit of justice…

Though he didn’t have any fractures, he couldn’t move the injured leg for three months in what turned out to be a painful healing experience. The injury left scars that will forever remind him of his brush with death.

His efforts to get justice were futile as he was asking the same policemen who shot him to follow up the matter. By the time he was reasonably healed to start following up the matter, he discovered the officer who had recorded his statement had been transferred and his statement could not be found.

“The police officers who shot me still worked at Kiamumbi police post. I felt helpless asking the perpetrators to provide me justice. After several trips to the police station, I gave up. At some point I started getting threats on my phone to stop pursuing the matter. I even relocated to Murang’a fearing for my life, as the anonymous messages seemed to suggest I was a suspected Mungiki sect follower who deserved to be shot,” explains Mwangi.

Mwangi, like many other innocent victims of police shooting is unhappy that he didn’t find justice. Though aware of his legal rights, he says it is very difficult for the ordinary Kenyan to pursue justice, especially when they don’t have money to pay for legal help. But he learnt several lessons from this experience, the most important being to try to stay safe at all times.

Lessons learnt…

If we lived in a perfect world where you didn’t have to worry about any threats on your life when you are up and about, then you wouldn’t have to take any precautions. But unfortunately we live in a world where danger looms everywhere. If you are caught up in a situation where you sense real danger, the rule of thumb is to stay clear, if you can, and only fight if you must.

If you don’t have a clear exit to run out of danger, look for a place to hide. Don’t worry about rescuing your belongings; just worry about your life. If you find an escape route and there are other people with you, try to get as many to flee with you as possible.

If the incident involves shooting, your best bet is to remain on the floor and not to run as moving makes you an easy target. If the shooting is random, barricade yourself behind large solid objects like columns and stay clear of windows and doors. Don’t scream or call for help as doing this gives away your location.

Don’t allow curiosity to put you in dangerous situations. For example, when there is a shootout, avoid going to the direction of gunfire. If police ask you to get down or stay away, do so without arguing. They are trying to keep you safe. If you suffer gunshot wounds, focus on fighting for your life. Don’t panic as you wait for help to arrive. Don’t try to move if the shooter is still within range, and sometimes it may help to play dead.   wangari@parents.co.ke

Published in September 2014