|Article by Ogova Ondego
Pictures by Lee Naomba
Published September 14, 2007
Some 14 Kenyans said to have been on a mission to rob a bank and rescue fellow criminals from a remand prison in Tanzania were shot dead near Moshi town on September 5, 2007. The incident would have passed like just another crime-busting event were it not for the developments that have followed and that appear to be a case of xenophobia that, writes OGOVA ONDEGO, threatens the limping East African Community that is meant to culminate in a European Union-like integration of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi by 2012.
Even before the execution of the 14, it is reported, Kenyans working and living in Tanzania have not had it easy obtaining and renewing work permits. A Kenyan journalist working in Tanzania has lived in a hotel over the past three years as no one is willing to let a house to him. Another Kenyan working for a Tanzanian airline can only operate from Nairobi as getting a Tanzanian work permit is more difficult than landing the senior position he holds.
Though Tanzanians have merely tolerated Kenyans since the late Julius Nyerere’s Ujamaa policy days that referred to Kenya as a man-eat-man society, at no time were Kenyans mistreated as is happening now during the regime of President Jakaya Kikwete.
Kenyans not only find it difficult to obtain and renew work permits but are also under scrutiny and suspicion, being trailed or unnecessarily stopped and interrogated at police road blocks, according to media reports. But while Kenyans are being hounded and rounded up in Tanzania, hundreds of Tanzanians live and work peacefully in Kenya. Some of them even have acquired land and other properties in Kenya.
A survey conducted by Steadman Associates in Dar es Salaam on the East African Community in early 2007 showed that unlike Kenyans and Ugandans who favoured the union, most Tanzanians polled were opposed to the integration of the East African region saying they feared the community could spawn crime, land clashes, tribalism and unfair competition to Tanzania, mainly from Kenya.
In June 2005, barely six months after the revival of the East African Community, Kenyans working with Mwananchi Communications, a Nation Media Group subsidiary that publishes The Daily Citizen and Mwananchi newspapers of Dar es Salaam, were deported from Tanzania on accusations that they were working in Tanzania illegally and that they evaded taxes as their salaries were paid to them in Kenya. These senior employees were Mutuma Mathiu, Mbogo Murage, Chaacha Mwita, Kizito Namulanda, Waithera Munyoro and Manjoi Kamau.
Following the killing of the said 14 Kenyans in Tanzania in early September 2007, some Kenyan human rights activists who went to Tanzania to investigate the incident were arrested and locked up by Tanzanian police and were only released when the Kenyan high commission in that country intervened. Were the police afraid that their attempts to cover up what is likely to be a heinous act in executing suspected criminals instead of arresting and arraigning them in a court of law would be uncovered?
Crime is a vice and an affront to almost any community. As such, any one who engages in crime is known by his or her name and not that of his or her race, tribe, gender or citizenship.
Criminals can never be friends of any one as mischievous children have often driven a wedge between their parents or guardians on one hand and neighbours on the other that at times leads to fights and quarrels. But that is not to say that suspects should be lynched by mobs and vigilantes as appears to have happened in Tanzania. Extra-judicial killings can never be accepted in a civilised world, especially where lawfully armed security agents have outnumbered and overpowered suspected criminals.
Almost daily, Tanzanian media report that Kenyans are wrecking havoc in the Kilimanjaro, Arusha and Dar es Salaam regions through spates of armed bank robbery.
Said Benjamin, who works for Televisheni ya Taifa (TVT), says Tanzanians “should not allow any one to harass us in our own country but we should hit them before they kill us and plunder our property.”
Hawa Mathias of Mwananchi, Pendo Fundisha of Nipashe and The Guardian, and Janeth Mwenda of Mtanzania and The African newspapers, say the killing of the 14 Kenyans in Moshi is a sign of the kind of crime Tanzania is likely to grapple with should integration of East Africa be realised.
The Tanzanian reporters say “Kenyans, including their women, are used to shedding blood without flinching; they place greater value on acquiring wealth at the expense of human life. We Tanzanians value and cherish peace. We’d rather remain poor but have peace and harmony in our country”.
Festo Sikagonamo, a reporter with Radio One of Dar es Salaam, urges Tanzanian security and immigration officers to be more vigilant in safeguarding Tanzanian borders.
The 14 people who were executed by Tanzanian police near Moshi on September 5, 2007 in what was said to be a botched robbery attempt were identified as Hannah Nyakanyi Kingara, Simon Maina Ndabaki, Moses Kuria Kamau, David M.N. Mbugua, Peter Maina Waweru, William Muiruri Kamau, Philip Irungu Wanjiru, Ludovick Gicheru Kariuki, John Gikonyo Buku, Zachary Mwangi Kimathiro, Jeremiah W. Macharia, Wilson Irungu Kiige and Gerishon Karangi.
Reports issued by the Kilimanjaro Regional Police Commander, Lucas Ng’hoboko, said the victims, who planned to rob a bank in Moshi, carried three AK-47 rifles, three pistols and more than 200 rounds of ammunition, two hand grenades and five bullet-proof vests.
Ng’hoboko claimed the said Kenyans planned to rob Exim bank and also to rescue six Kenyan robbery and murder suspects held at the Karanga Remand Prison.
So where can one find the truth, bearing in mind that the dead tell no tales?
Oscar Foundation, the Kenyan human rights group that also provides legal aid to suspects in courts of law, believes the Tanzanians are being economical with the truth.
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And their thinking seems to get credence as they were arrested and locked up when they ventured in Tanzania to find out what had happened.
According to Oscar Foundation, “Preliminary autopsy results on the 14 victims of this heinous crime shows that all were shot at close range and with a high velocity rifle. Some of the bodies also bore marks that are indicative of torture. We are convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the victims were subjected to torture before being shot.”
If they indeed were tortured, then their killing can only be described as execution or extra-judicial killing.
Media reports indicate that President Kikwete and his minister for safety and security, Mwapachu, had expressed concern over rising crime rates in Tanzania involving Kenyans.
Mwapachu is even reported to have warned that due to the threat posed by armed Kenyan criminals, his country may re-think its position on the envisaged East African integration.
But listening to broadcasters like BBC Swahili Service, one can easily deduce that the sentiments of Kikwete and Mwapachu are not isolated but that they have to be taken in the context of how Tanzanians view Kenyans in their country.
Many listeners who send text messages to BBC usually say they do not want Tanzania to join the Est African Community in order to avoid infection of crime, corruption, thuggery, tribalism and other vice from Kenya.
Soon after the shooting of the 14 Kenyan suspects KTN news showed Ng’hoboko chest-thumping in an almost vengeful manner about their work: “They should not think they can come here to loot and get away easily with our resources. We shall deal with them ruthlessly.”
Ng’hoboko praised the xenophobic vigilante-like tip-off from Tanzanian community-policing as being key to their successful operation in eliminating the suspected thugs.
Since then, Tanzanian media have been awash with congratulatory messages to the Kilimanjaro region police over a job well done.
Additional reporting by Thompson Mpanji in Tanzania