Written by Nandemu Barasa and Obed Simiyu
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Kenyans, mostly those from the rural areas, suffer in silence for lack of a voice to fight for them as their duly elected leaders have since migrated and made themselves comfortable in bigger towns and in Nairobi city where they conduct their activities.
These leaders, have abandoned the people who gave them employment as Mps with hefty payments and allowances only to appear to attend to funerals on weekends and vanish to their abodes not to be seen again until another funeral, calamity or when attending to fundraisers in churches, schools of their close friends or relatives and if not, when they come back to solicit for votes for re-election.
The rural folk suffer from gross human rights violations both from militia and government agencies, but their leaders do nothing or little to have their grievances addressed.
However, there are a few people, informed by their own desire, calling, passion and vision to champion for the rights of Kenyans whose constitutional rights are violated yet they have no means of getting justice.
Such people are human rights activists like Mr. Job Wandania Bwonya, the Director of the Kenya Human Rights Watch (KHRW), who has dedicated his life and resources in fighting and championing for the rights of the voiceless in Western region.
The man Job Bwonya
Job Bwonya, a re-known human rights activist in the entire Western region was born on 9th October 1960 at Sibumba village, Chebkube location, Cheptais division of Mt Elgon district.
His father Jacob Silambole Bwonya passed on in 1986 at 90 years. Bwonya`s father was village leader, Lukongo, during the colonial period and served in that position from 1939 to 1959. Bwonya`s mother Ester Wachemba Mukhono born in 1926 and she is still alive. She has been a farmer and a businesswoman selling agricultural products although not so much.
Bwonya`s father was initially staying in Kitale, Trans Nzoia but migrated to Bisunu in 1919 and later Chebkube in 1925.
Bwonya from Banambale clan of Bukusu sub tribe started school in the year 1969 at Chebkube Primary. When he was in class six, he moved to Namunyiri Primary school and later sat for his class seven examinations in 1975.
He was initiated in 1974, Omuchuma namba mbili.
He joined Kaboi Secondary School now Kaboi Techinical in Nandi District from 1976 to 1979.
In 1980, he did a government apprenticeship course at Rivertex and was later absorbed in the department of mechanical engineering.
He left Rivertex Company in 1983 following retrenchment and later took a preaching course at Migori Training in 1984.
After the training, Bwonya became a youth leader Walanga Monthly Meeting and later an assistant secretary of Chwele Quarterly Meeting of Friends (Quakers) church. Bwonya is a family man with two wives and eight children, five girls and three boys.
Bwonya`s activism nature started when he was still in school right from primary. At a certain stage he was nicknamed Haki, for fighting for pupils’ and students’ rights especially when he was a prefect in secondary school. He strongly believes in equality and that is why he started defending the rights of his colleagues at his early age.
At school, he played volleyball in secondary school up to the district level. His hobby has been and is still reading human rights literature mostly and travelling.
In 1992 Bwonya was employed by UNDP to take part in data collection from informers about the 1992 clashes during the resettlement program. He also did a Diploma in Community Development at the Kenya School of Professional studies in 1996 after which he was employed by the Kenya Human Rights Commission to monitor women rights in western.
He also worked for Institute of Education in Democracy (IED), between 1996 and 1997. He was at the same time doing publicity for Red Cross Bungoma branch and he did it for three years.
Birth of KHRW
According to Bwonya, it was in 1999 when the idea of forming a human rights organization especially when he recalled about the 1992 clashes in Mt Elgon and how his own family lost property worthy thousands and houses destroyed in broad daylight.
In 1999, with the help of Lawyer Bulimo, Dr Marumbu, Francis Wangusi, the now acting CCK boss, Professor Nasiombi, Justice Mbito and others, Bwonya managed to start Western Kenya Lobby group which was registered in November 2000.
Bwonya has attended over fifteen training programmes relevant to his line of work including those ones that deal with advocacy, governance, administration and many others. He has also been in several cities around the world such as London, Paris, Geneva, Arusha, Kampala, Juba and Johannesburg among others attending conferences related to human rights.
All along, Bwonya has faced so many challenges in his work but the one he recalls that nearly frightened him was that one of 2009 when his organization documented an article on extra judicial killings in Mt Elgon.
The government was really after him forcing him to go into exile in South Africa with the help of a foreign embassy where he stayed for nine months.
Initially Bwonya had also been arrested when his organization talked about a group recruiting in Mt Elgon which later became the deadly Sabaot Land Defence Forces (SLDF) that was led by the slain Wycliffe Matakwei.
The government had rubbished Bwonya`s claims and termed them as rumors meant to cause tension. Bwonya was arrested but released later.
According to Bwonya a lot needs to be done as far as human rights are concerned arguing that Kenyans should also never allow the country to have a coalition government but instead must have the ruling party and a strong opposition that will check the government and protect the common citizen.
On several occasions, he has met senior UN officers including UN special rapporteur Philp Alston (left) and former US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger who discussed with him on human rights violations and how to promote the rule of law. Bwonya believes in respect for human life and he argues that he will continue promoting his belief.
Currently Bwonya`s organization is documenting a report about those people whose whereabouts are not known from Mt Elgon following the Kenya Forces operation dubbed Oparesheni Okoa Maisha.
Mr. Bwonya,has also petitioned the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) over the electoral boundaries review where he has pointed out anomalies in allocation of new electoral units across the 47 Counties.
The petition has been copied to the Speaker of the Tenth Parliament as well as the Parliamentary committee on the implementation of the Constitution highlighting contentious issues he wants addressed that will cushion areas where residents of counties in the former Western Province have shown dissatisfaction and claimed they have been denied their democratic right.
Bwonya currently stays at Sikhendu in Bungoma North District, Bungoma County.
According to available reports, as at September 30, 2011, the organization had publicized 186 cases of human rights violations in the print media, and followed up 126 cases of enforced disappearances.
Within this period, the organization carried out seven study reports on extrajudicial killings and disappearances, child labor, the role of the government in land clashes and cattle rustling in Western Kenya and conflict prevention on District Boundary disputes in Western Kenya. It also carried out study reports on women development and cultural diversity in Western Kenya, impact of culture, ethnicity on political, social and economic development of the region and community policing in the administration of justice.
The organization embarked on civic education program through, public forums and cell group training strategy, during the Constitutional review process and the various commissions on land laws, the post election violence among other activities in the region.
Currently, the rights body is involved in monitoring documentation, advocacy and rapid response to human rights violations, established a legal aid and medical program to assist victims and survivors of Human Rights Violations in Mt Elgon area and quarterly publications and monthly brochures highlighting the progress, development and other activities of the organization.
It is also involved in Training TOT’s on ,monitoring and documentation of human rights violations, conflict management and transformation and small illicit arms proliferation, capacity building workshops to strengthen women and youth groups in Bungoma and Mt. Elgon and Trans Nzoia Districts, membership groups and the general public to build local capacities on human rights monitoring and documentation.
Currently as well, it is involved in researches on emerging thematic issues on Human Rights such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), land rights, minority groups, women rights, disappearances and extrajudicial killings, and other cultural diversity that affects the social development of women in the society.
Consequently, it is involved in public education forums, productions of human rights education materials for child rights, marginalized groups, paralegal trainings of organizations monitors and Aids and human rights awareness campaign.
The human rights body is geared towards undertaking at least four advocacy campaigns every year with the aim of sensitizing the community and helping the organization to develop networks of contacts in the region and ensuring that the human rights violations do not go unnoticed.
It also projects to assist to influence the community to change their customary behavior, attitudes and thinking in regard to women development and human right - through human rights education programms.
Moreover, it is set to raise awareness among the public to amount protest against violations and other social injustice as well as lobby for legislative changes on poor policies that affect the community/country.
Since its inception in Nov. 2000, Western Kenya Human Rights Watch, to-date, has handled a total of 11,952 cases of human rights violation.
The organizations doctors treated 352 victims of police torture, advocates offered free legal representation to 68 state harassed human rights activists.
The organization undertook public awareness programme on civic education, civic skills and civic virtues, civic education on constitutional Review Process, contributed to the bill of rights, monitored and documented human rights violations and handed in 47 petitions to the government on the status of human rights violation in the region.
In addition, Mr. Job Bwony who is the Executive Director said the body has trained a total of 87 (TOT’s) in various human rights disciplines.
The human rights body also has a well laid down media campaign programme that is intended to influence legislations on the rights of women, children, the marginalized and those with disabilities in the society, to change behavior and negative Customary attitudes towards the girl child, women education, inheritance and property rights and influence or change behavior and attitudes of the rural civil societies and communities in regard to good governance.
The media programme also intends to change National Legislation and Customary attitudes on women rights, to divorce, physical and fiscal Protection in divorce, and single women parenting, of children in divorce and separation and as well change or influence the behavior attitudes and thinking regarding human rights of officials such as community elders, chiefs, policy-makers, judges, prison waders, police and other security institutions.
The body’s public relations and fundraising programme is in place to increase the organization membership, to strengthen the relations between the Secretariat, Membership, Board and Donors, to enhance the organization’s public image and strengthen its funding base and to develop and sustain an effective Western Kenya Human Rights Website.
On October 27, 2011, Mr. Bwonya, while launching a 48 page report dubbed ‘Hold your Heart’ said that 300 people were still missing 3 years down the line, majority of them forcibly dispersed by the Kenyan army operation in Mt.Elgon.
Human Rights Watch then urged the Government to immediately establish an independent inquiry to exhume suspected mass graves and to investigate atrocities committed by both Kenyan security forces and the SLDF.
Bwonya said that as human rights body they are seeking for justice to be served to the families of the missing persons, for some were even government employees.
According to them the government has done little to assist victims in their search and has not ensured an independent and impartial inquiry into the abuses by either side. The report was based on field investigations and interviews conducted in Western province of Kenya by the organization.
The low intensity Mt. Elgon insurgency started in 2006 when the SLDF militia resisted government attempts to evict squatters. The militia attacked thousands of civilians suspected of supporting the government –raping, killing and mutilating them.
In the run up to the December 2007 elections, the SLDF waged a campaign of terror in favour of opposing Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) candidates for local council posts and parliamentary position.
The Kenyan Government on March 2008 initiated a heavy handed military and police joint operation known as Okoa Maisha where security forces are alleged to have carried out extra judicial killings, tortured and arbitrarily detained thousands of people.
Over 750 people together with 270 security officials are believed to have been killed by the SLDF between 2006 and 2008.
The KHRW has further called the International Criminal Court (ICC) to broaden its investigations in Kenya if the Kenyan Government is unable to carry out the investigations.
KHRW Board of Directors
At the moment, the group has seven board members.
Mr. Stephen Munyasia (Chairman) Mr. John Mukhooli Khaukha (Financial Consultancy) Mr. Donald Bulimo (Legal Officer - A practicing Human Rights Lawyer), Justice Gideon Mbito - (Rtd) High Court Judge, Mr. Wanyama Wanyoni – Member ( human rights lawyer) Everlyne Khakasa (Member) and mr. Job Bwonya as the Executive Director.
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