By Irũngũ Houghton
Public reaction to the sentencing of Baby Sagini’s cousin, grandmother, and aunt this week seems muffled in contrast to the widespread horror expressed seven months ago. Seeking justice is often a long process. Distracted by our own daily challenges, we often miss the all-important end to a chapter of injustice that once deeply disturbed us.
Kisii Resident Magistrate Christine Ongweno sentenced Baby Brighton Sagini’s cousin Alex Ochoga (27), aunt Pacifica Nyakerario (51) and grandmother Rael Nyakerario (80) to prison for 40, 10 and 5 years respectively on Monday 24 July. Found guilty earlier for conspiring and causing grievous harm to the three-year-old, the Magistrate noted that the incident had changed not only the life of baby Sagini, but also the lives of the family and the community of Ikuruma location forever.
The case still reads like fictional horror. Brighton was found lying within his homestead with both eyes gorged out. Presumed dead, he had been stuffed in a gunny bag, placed under a bed, and left for the night. The next morning, he was found dumped within the homestead, clothes torn, face stained with blood and his eyes missing. Persons across three generations who knew him had conspired and caused this irreparable damage to the minor.
Tragically, the minor had prematurely fallen into the crosshairs of an intense land inheritance and succession battle by adults. The narrative is a common one and affects all ages. We have yet to fully internalise the national trauma of the rising murders of infants, adults, and the elderly in land succession disputes. Between 2019 and 2022, 145 elderly people were killed across Kenya. Many of them are widows and from the counties of Kilifi, Kisii, Kirinyaga and Nyeri.
Kenyan families face multiple complex challenges today. Rising living costs driven by climate change, ultra-capitalism, and an overly indebted state combine to exclude millions from employment opportunities and essential services. Increasingly feeling excluded, hopeless, fearful, and restless, millions are easy prey for populist narratives against those with different beliefs (thoughts and religion), cultural identities (ethnic, race, gender, and age) or those that make different choices (sexuality, dress and expression).
Political, social, or religious populism is both alluring and corrosive. It sets people against each other and fragments the social fabric of households, communities, and nations. It also dismantles respect for cultural diversity. With this, comes the disinformation, lies and prejudice we experience daily. Sandwiched between intolerant and discriminatory attitudes, cancel culture and social media algorithms that accelerate violent differences, the possibility for upholding Article 10 of the constitution narrows daily.
There is a direct link between radicalized influential Christian cults exposed by the Shakahola Massacre, rising gender-based violence, anti-refugeeism, hate crimes against LGBTIQ+ persons, the draft anti-LGBTIQ Family Protection Bill and attempts to roll back the Sexual Offences Act or the Anti-Female Genital Mutilation Act. It’s time we joined the dots, these trends are not isolated or disconnected.
Left unchallenged, epic historical conflicts such as the German holocaust, Rwandan genocide, or the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims loom closer with each murder, cult, claw-back legal amendments, hate bill, delayed access to justice or attack on minorities.
The 2022 movie “Die Wannseekonferenz” (The Wannsee Conference) popularizes the true story of how fifteen men from the Nazi Secret Service, security police and German ministries met in secret for 90 minutes to design the “Final solution to the Jewish”. The 1942 Wannsee plan was responsible for the mass murder of millions of Jews, homosexuals, dissidents from all over Europe. That fifteen men could do so much damage was only possible in the presence of an ignorant, disinterested, fearful, highly discriminatory, and divided society.
Let’s seize the opportunity of celebrating 70 years of independence and 75 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this year to declare and act against any form of identity-based discrimination. The Kenyan family does not need more hatred, it needs ways of dealing with the fears of being bankrupted, excluded, violated, and hurt.
Irũngũ Houghton is Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director and writes in his personal capacity. Email: [email protected]