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Seeking Justice: The Tragic Case of Kwekwe Mwandaza

By Isabella Obara

In a landmark judgment on February 15, 2016, the High Court in Mombasa delivered a verdict that sent shockwaves through the community. Two police officers were sentenced to seven years in prison each for the tragic killing of 14-year-old schoolgirl Kwekwe Mwandaza in Kinango, Kwale County, on the fateful night of August 22, 2014.

Justice Martin Muya, presiding over the case, did not merely convict the officers for the fatal shooting but also found them guilty of misusing their rifles. The shooting occurred during a raid at Kwekwe’s parent’s home, where the officers were ostensibly pursuing her uncle, George Zani, wanted for alleged murder. Justice Muya emphasized a gross omission on the part of the accused, highlighting their failure to establish the occupants of the house before executing the raid.

The tragedy took a legal turn when the convicted officers decided to appeal. In 2015, the Court of Appeal made a significant declaration. It stated that police do not possess unlimited power to use their weapons, even in self-defence. Merely claiming self-defence is not a sufficient defence; proof is required that the officers ignored other available non-violent options. The National Police Service Act, the judges emphasized, mandates officers to prioritize non-violent means, resorting to force only when non-violent options prove ineffective.

Justices William Ouko, Martha Koome, and Kathurima M’Inoti dismissed the officers’ claims of self-defence, underscoring that George Zani was not in the house the police raided. The judges held that the 13 officers involved in the raid had acted recklessly by opening fire. This precedent-setting decision reinforced the principle that law enforcement must exhaust non-violent means before resorting to force.

In the wake of the criminal liability being affirmed, the Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) has taken up the cause on behalf of Kwekwe Mwandaza’s family. IMLU is pursuing further legal avenues, seeking declarations of gross human rights violations concerning the right to life and security of the person. The organization is also pushing for both punitive and general damages on behalf of the grieving family.

IMLU staff Isabella and Mugacho during a home visit of Kwekewe’s mother on September 28, 2023 in Mombasa.

As of today, the matter is back before the Mombasa High Court. This ongoing legal battle symbolizes a broader struggle for justice, accountability, and the protection of human rights. The tragic loss of Kwekwe Mwandaza serves as a poignant reminder of the responsibilities that law enforcement agencies bear in upholding the law while respecting the sanctity of human life.

May Justice Prevail! This rallying cry encapsulates not only the hopes of the Mwandaza family but also the broader aspiration for a legal system that safeguards the rights and dignity of every individual, even in the face of those entrusted with upholding the law.