Foul play? Mystery over ICC witness 'sudden' death in Kakamega

Christopher Koech, who taught at Khaunga Primary School in Mumias, died under unclear circumstance on Sunday after he was admitted a Kakamega County Referral Hospital when he became suddenly ill

Photo credit: Pool I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • He was reported to have gone to school on his motorbike on Saturday and spent about an hour there before he left hurriedly for an undisclosed destination.
  • He was later found lying on the side of a road next to his motorbike near Shibuli market.

The death of a potential International Criminal Court (ICC) witness who was a teacher at a school in Kakamega is shrouded in mystery, with human rights activists piling pressure on authorities to unravel it.

Christopher Koech, who taught at Khaunga Primary School in Mumias, died under unclear circumstances on Sunday after he was admitted to Kakamega County Referral Hospital when he became suddenly ill.

He was reported to have gone to school on his motorbike on Saturday and spent about an hour there before he left hurriedly for an undisclosed destination.

He was later found lying on the side of a road next to his motorbike near Shibuli market.

He had foam in his mouth and was sweating profusely, raising suspicions of poisoning.

Shibuli lies on the Mumias-Kakamega road, some 21km from the primary school.

Relatives and friends of the late Christopher Koech.

Relatives and friends of the late Christopher Koech, a teacher at Nabakholo Primary School in Kakamega County in Kaptebee Location, Turbo of Uasin Gishu County on July 18, 2022.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

The teacher was said to have been agitated and engaged in a brief struggle with traffic police officers who blocked him from riding the motorbike as his condition looked serious.

His death has left his colleagues in shock and disbelief.

Recanted statement

Human rights activists told the Nation yesterday that the late teacher was among ICC witnesses who were to testify at The Hague-based court in relation to the 2007-08 post-election violence that hit Kenya after disputed presidential election results but he later recanted his statement.

“At one time, he was under witness protection and even sought refuge in a neighbouring country,” said rights activist David Koros in a telephone interview.

He claimed Mr Koech was to travel to The Hague to testify in lawyer Paul Gicheru’s ICC case. 

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto at some point faced crimes against humanity charges at the same court but the cases collapsed for lack of evidence.

Kakamega County Police Commander Joseph Kigen said the matter had not been reported to the police.

“We will investigate the incident and take appropriate action,” said Mr Kigen.

The traffic police officers, who were a short distance away, were reported to have collected the motorbike and asked people at the scene to rush him to Kakamega County General Hospital.

A witness said the officers retrieved a number from his mobile phone and called the school and were informed that Mr Koech was a teacher at Khaunga Primary.

Principal Benson Wabuyabo told the Nation yesterday that Mr Koech had complained of a slight headache when he arrived at school on Saturday morning and was advised by colleagues to see a doctor.

“He didn’t look that bad and was at the school for about an hour and then left on his motorbike. We had advised him to take some painkillers to relieve the headache,” said Mr Wabuyabo. 

Worsened condition

At the hospital, Mr Koech was admitted to Ward One and attended to by doctors. His condition was reported to have worsened on Saturday night before he died on Sunday morning.

His brother, Mr Peter Leting, said he received a phone call from Mr Koech’s neighbour who informed him about what had happened.

“Since it was late at night on Saturday, I decided to travel to Kakamega on Sunday morning. I travelled to his place of work at Khaunga not knowing he had been admitted at the hospital,” Mr Leting said.

When he got to the hospital, he found his brother lying in bed and he was still foaming at the mouth.

“His condition had not improved. He couldn’t talk and kept groaning in pain,” he said.

His brother breathed his last shortly after Mr Leting visited him.

A postmortem examination is set to be conducted to establish what caused his death.

Mr Koech had taught at Khaunga Primary for two and half years.

Mr Wabuyabo described him as a hardworking person.

“He was posted to the school after he was recruited by the Teachers Service Commission. He performed his duties well and his death has come as a great shock to us,” said Mr Wabuyabo.

Family members said they were unaware that he was an ICC witness, noting that he had not discussed the matter with them.

“He did not disclose to us if he was a witness at the ICC and that he planned to travel out of the country,” said Mr Leting when asked about the ICC connection.

“The teacher is among ICC witnesses who lived in fear after recanting their statements,” Mr Koros said.

He demanded independent investigations into the death, noting that many ICC witnesses had lost their lives under unclear circumstances.

“The government needs to be more serious in offering protection to individuals who cooperated with the ICC team,” appealed Mr Koros.

Other human rights activists in the North Rift region confirmed that Mr Koech was an ICC witness but had recanted his statement.

Family members told the Nation that Mr Koech did not have any terminal illness and his admission to the hospital on Friday was the first.

The family distanced itself from conflicting reports on how the teacher met his death, saying they would wait for the postmortem examination report to find out the cause of death.

“We have heard that detectives from the Directorate of Investigations are following the incident and we do not know why. For now, we are waiting for a post-mortem report before making more comments,” said Sammy Tangwar, a close friend

Burial is planned for Tuesday next week.

Reported by Benson Amadala, Barnabas Bii and Titus Ominde

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