Letter from Argwings Odera to Prime Minister Mori (January 08,2001)
Dear Mr Prime Minister,
This is the most painful letter I have ever written. Painful because the middle finger of my left hand is fractured. Broken on December 26 by Konoike security guards near the Sondu-Miriu Hydropower Project in Nyanza, Kenya. This fracture was made worse by Kenya police who tortured me. It was then aggravated by fellow hardcore inmates who beat me on orders from the police.
My left shoulder aches. The outcome of a bullet graze that was aimed for my head by Kenya police on the same date. It was meant to be fatal, I was told by police commander Kola of Ahero police station.
He told me: gMy orders were to shoot you dead. I would have been charged with murder. Then I would have spent seven years in prison. I was going to come out definitely. But when do you think you would have come out of your grave?h
What am I talking about? Perhaps I have put the proverbial cart before the horse. I introduce myself.
My name is Argwings Odera. I am the person co-ordinating the human rights campaign in Nyanza and efforts to save the Sondu-Miriu river from the overwhelming negative impacts of a 80 MW hydropower project initiated in 1999. This is a project funded by the Japanese government. Over 200,000 people are affected negatively.
This is the third time I am being arrested because of our activities at the project. We were first arrested and detained for two days sometimes in November 1999. Then we were arrested again, with about 20 others, on February 28, 2000, detained for a day at Ahero police station and released without charge.
What did I do this time round? Mine was a case of shoot the messenger before he delivers the news. My colleagues and I had held a meeting on December 19 with the country representative of JBIC in his Nairobi offices. We outlined the problems of Sondu-Miriu. The representative listened to us for two hours. Then he spoke for thirty minutes.
Among the things he said was that we go to Sondu and inform the affected community of an impending meeting with top Japanese officials. We told him of our fears. He guaranteed that he would end the harassment in the project area and protect us from further arrests.
Thus it was with joy that I set out December 26 to be the bidder of good news to members of the community. I did not have any foreboding as I drove from Nairobi for 500 kilometres to the project area.
At around midday, I was snaking up the dusty road towards a nearby shopping centre called Apoko. I offered a lift to three villagers who were walking up the hilly and windy 15 kilometres to the shopping centre.
At the centre, one of them informedf he was going acrossd the river, another four kilometres, over the bridge built by Konoike. This bridge, according to project documents, was meant to benefit members of the local community who did not have to spend any more money on the ferry operators.
I was stopped at the bridge by security guards who told me I was unwanted in that area and that our project vehicle had been banned from using the road. I left the villager to walk across the bridge. I turned the vehicle and was flagged down by another villager who requested I take him to the shopping district. I obliged.
The time was 12.30 pm, December 26. As I drove back towards the shopping district, about a kilometre from the bridge, a big green gravel mixing truck came thundering towards me. On my left was deep depression. We drive keeping left. On my right was a mountain wall. The vehicle was steered directly towards me. I steered right. The left side of my car was hit, the side mirror cluttered into the deep ravine. There was dust all over.
Another vehicle, a van, came behind me and blocked my path.
Two Konoike security guards emerged from the haze. They were waving their walkie-talkies menacingly. I identify one as Charles O. Ogutu and another as Mike Gundo. I can identify the rest by sight. All I could hear them say was: gYou are the inciters. Today you will see fire ch
That was before I spat out blood when the guards punched me, secifically Ogutu, in the mouth. The villager was shocked. He was yanked out of the car, beaten and kicked into the depression. I only saw his white shirt disappearing beneath me as he rolled over and over. It was at that moment that I locked myself in the car and rolled up the windows. The Konoike guards stoned the car in a bid to break in. They only stopped when they saw villagers appearing over the hills with machetes. They radioed for reinforcement.
At 1.30 pm, five armed policemen appeared with a vehicle. I was still sandwiched between the two cars. The police leader ordered me to open the doors of the vehicle. Instead, I opened a small section of the window. I heard Ogutu urge him to shoot me dead in the car.
gShoot him c shoot him. Kill him. He has stopped our money from coming. Kill him!h That is all I remember hearing.
I told the policemen to let me know if I was under arrest and to show me the arrest warrant. I told him I was afraid to open the window further because the Konoike guards had just broken my finger, and I did not want them to break another finger. The policeman stepped back and talked over his walkie-talkie. Four policemen had surrounded the vehicle with their guns cocked.
I was dehydrating fast because I was confined in the car under the sweltering tropical heat.
At 3.30 pm, more policemen, all armed came. The number I counted rose to about 30. The number of villagers was also swelling as word spread across the villages about what was happening to me.
One policeman identified himself as Kola, the Ahero police commander. He ordered me to open the doors to the vehicle. I asked him if I was under arrest. He said he just wanted to have a word with me. I told him we could speak through the small crack because my finger had been broken and I was afraid the Konoike guards, who were hovering around, would break the other fingers.
He got angry and declared I was under arrest. He ordered me to open the door of the vehicle. I told I would gladly follow the policemen to the station but no armed policeman would be allowed to enter inside the vehicle as per office regulations.
I remember him saying: gWho do you think you are? You think you are gold? I will call a towing vehicle at your own expense!h
The number of armed policemen, machine guns, rifles and pistols, had swelled to about 50. The number of villagers had also increased to more than 500 people.
At 6.45 pm the angry villagers started throwing stones towards the policemen who fled the scene. I was later told the recovery vehicle had just come and was preparing to tow my vehicle. I could not see it because I was sandwiched between the two big vehicles. Apparently the villagers had vowed that the police would not take me anywhere.
At 7.15, darkness crept. I am told the villagers were afraid the police would use the cover of darkness to harm me. The villagers lit three pressure lanterns which illuminated the area very well. They settled for a night-long vigil.
At around 8.30 pm, I heard movement on the left side of my car. Then I heard instructions being given. I heard something like gFire in the car c if it gets him, too bad! Fire three shots that side and you fire twa c twa c twa the other side.h
Horrified, I opened the passenger side window to tell the police not to shoot at the villagers because I surrender. The next thing I saw was a black figure with an AK-47 aimed at me. Everything else happened in slow motion.
I could see myself laughing and telling myself I was not meant to die this way. Meanwhile, I started dropping down. The floor of the car was so far way. And there was a lot of heat on the left side of my body.
My eyes were clogged with glass. My nose was bleeding, also clogged with glass. There was strong smell of metal, I guess gunpowder. I could see my head rushing towards one of the Konoike vehicles that had blocked my path, the door opened.
I could see fire flies all over. Except this time the flames were ugly. They were red and
Sparking instead of the beautiful light yellow. I remember assuring myself that the villagers would be safe. But I was having difficulty breathing because I had been kicked into the floor of the Konoike van which was still carrying Mr Ogutu, the Konoike security man. The vehicle was being driven too fast and somebody kept punching my ribs from the back.
The police later said they had fired over 100 bullets which I was to pay for.
The Konoike vehicle was stopped 15 kilometres from the site of my arrest. Ogutu said he had to kick in two of my teeth. The policemen escorting me pleaded with him not to do that because their boss knew the condition I was in when I was arrested and they would lose their jobs if I arrived in a different condition. He was promised there will be enough room to beat me when we reached the Ahero police station.
I lost track of time at that moment.
I was kicked into the police station from the van. There I was received with blows and kicks by a Mr Otieno, the district criminal investigation officer. I was immune to pain at that time. I could not see. My hearing was bad. I heard him say I was going to die from my bullet wound. That is when I realisedf my T-shirt was glued on the left side of my body. It was wet and cold. But I could not see, rolling my eyeballs would cause a great deal of pain.
I was stripped naked and taken to a room where I was told the police would plant a letter on me that I was planning to bomb the construction site. Otieno and other policemen asked me if I was ready to confess that I was the Sondu bomber. I sad no. I was lashed but felt no pain because my whole body was throbbing.
That is when they noticed my broken finger. Somebody grabbed the finger and twisted it demanding I confess. Now there was real pain. I screamed. The police said as a journalist, I will never type again. Somebody punched my wounded shoulder. I screamed again. Somebody ordered I stop screaming and start singing a popular local song titled Malo! Malo! (Higher! Higher!). I knew the song that night. I sang with every stab of pain on my shoulder or finger. I wished they could just go on kicking me and punching me and leave the shoulder and finger alone.
I heard Ogutu saying my future was ruined because he was going back with a group of police officers to shoot at the men and rape their women. Their blood would be in my hands.
I think at around 1 am, I was thrown in jail. The inmates had been ordered to beat me up because I was bringing trouble to the government. I landed into more fists and clawing hands the moment I was thrown in jail. It was at that moment the inmates noticed my dislocated and broken finger. Afraid they had broken the finger, five of them pinned me down as one yanked the digit back into place. I screamed. A dirty rag was shoved in my mouth to muffle the scream.
Then they noticed my eyeful of glassses. I was pinned down again and another licked the eyeballs, spitting in the sloth bucket all the time. Because I did not want the rag shoved in my mouth, I screamed inwardly.
I am nursing horrible thrashes and wounds on the lips.
But I was glad for what they did. They then peeled off my shirt to inspect the bullet wound. One of them produced a colgate toothpaste which was smeared over the wound so that it dries over the wound.
Then they demanded to be told what I had done.
The next day, I was ordered to empty the full sloth bucket. Naked, bare feet, I walked into a filthy toilet, now half blind, where I emptied the sloth bucket. Later in the day, I was summoned from the cell block. I was informed I was going to sing again.
I sang amid pain and torture. This time I saw Otieno, the investigating officer, making orders for my beating. Suddenly, all the police stopped beating me and saluted. At the door was a senior intelligence officer ? the people who report directly to State House and the president. I was taken to another room where this man, he is kind, interrogated me for four hours. He did not beat me. He asked such questions like preferred sex position.
This is also the day the beating officially stopped. The station commander, Kola, however kept on reminding me that he was yet to give me 10 strokes of the cane. My request to be seen by a doctor were turned down. My request for my clothes were turned down. I was only given my jeans trouser.
Came December 28 and we were close to 100 people in the cell. Water was brought in a bucket to wipe the floor. The hardcore inmates used it to bath before assigning people duty to wipe the floor of the lice infested jail.
Came the 29th and I was in the privileged circle. I was allowed to bath with the dirty water and wipe myself with soap. Other prisoners merely looked on enviously.
This was the same day I was removed from Ahero in a hide and seek game between the police and my lawyer. I was moved 30 kilometeres away to the Kisumu jail, kept incomunicado before being transferred 50 kilometres away to Maseno.
Again I was denied the opportunity to see a doctor, to bath or to sit in the sun. I spent 30th, 31st and January 1, 2000 with nobody knowing my whereabouts. I was not tortured at Maseno. I would just drift into sleep, back into wakefulness and back into sleep. I lost a lot of weight for lack of water.
It was then on December 2, that I was produced in court, injured, wounded and beaten, charged with resisting arrest, incitement to violence, tresspass and taking photographs and publishing false information to Japan.
What lesson did I learn from all this punishment as I painfully reflect on what happened to me? That the will of the people of Sondu-Miriu shall prevail!
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