He was a shining star and his family’s great hope, but his light was dimmed in the prime of his life.
Freelance journalist William Munuhe was helping police trap and arrest Rwandan genocide fugitive Felicien Kabuga, in a plan orchestrated by the FBI and detectives from the Special Crime Prevention Unit.
But Munuhe was killed on January 14, 2003, the day he was supposed to meet Kabuga. His decomposing body was discovered by detectives in the bedroom of his house.
The sleuths had broken into the house after waiting for three days in vain for his signal to ambush and arrest Kabuga.
The body was lying in a pool of blood and was disfigured using a corrosive acid, with indications that he had been shot. The gruesome murder shattered Munuhe’s once happy and united family.
Left to fight on their own, their hopes of finding out what happened to their kin and get justice are diminishing by the day.
Arrest of Kabuga
The only things keeping the family going are a press release from the US Embassy and verbal assurances from the Kenyan government that they will get to the bottom of the matter.
And even with the arrest of Kabuga in French capital Paris last year, the family has little to smile about as no one seems to be bothered about them.
In the quest for justice, no one has struggled more than Josephat Muriithi, Munuhe’s elder brother, who is pursuing the matter on behalf of the family.
Sitting in his small dusty electronics shop in Nakuru town, the 52-year-old appears worried and disturbed.
Even as he attends to his clients, he watches carefully anyone who seems to be approaching his shop.
On one side of the room lie old electronic equipment while on the other are documents and old newspaper cuttings.
These documents, which include court papers, press releases and correspondence from various organisations, carry the evidence of his long quest to get justice for his brother.
All this information is waiting to be shared with the right person.
Muriithi recalls that his brother, upon completing high school, travelled to Nairobi in 1997.
He said they lived in the same house in the city for about six months before Munuhe could establish himself.
“He did not go to college but had this passion for writing. I used to buy him paper where he could write stories and sell them to media houses and organizations in Nairobi,” Muriithi said.
Muriithi was later transferred to Nakuru, leaving Munuhe in Nairobi.
“He would come to Nakuru and discuss with me some of his projects, including working with Amnesty International, among other big organisations,” he explained.
His star appeared to be rising rapidly and within a short time he could send financial assistance to family members and run projects at home.
Muriithi said his brother hung around powerful people in government and seemed to be matching well with their style.
“Sometimes when I was with him I could see him stop to chat with some very powerful people, whom in my capacity I could not just face,” he said.
One day, Muriithi said, his brother told the family that he had made a deal with some big people in government and at the American embassy that, if it went through, would change the fortunes of his entire family.
“He told us that the chances of him relocating abroad were very high if the deal succeeded.”
However, sometime in 2002 things changed and Munuhe started expressing fears for his life. He told the family that people were trailing him and that his life was in danger.
“One day he asked my mother what she would do if anything happened to him. My mother got so worried and even broke down. He also opened up to me that some people had followed him to a hotel and robbed him,” Muriithi said.
It was on January 15, 2003 that police officers visited his mother and broke the sad news of her son’s death. The police told her that he had committed suicide.
Muriithi linked up with his mother in Nairobi at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations. They were then escorted by police to Munuhe’s house in Gatu estate, Karen.
Stains of blood
They learnt that police had broken into the three-bedroom house to retrieve his body.
“There was blood scattered all over the room. We could see stains of blood on the roof and the sink in the kitchen. There was no bed sheet nor mattress on the bed. One of the officers disclosed to my mum that my brother was killed,” he said.
The family proceeded to City Mortuary, where they found Munuhe’s mutilated body.
“The face was disfigured as if he had been doused in some corrosive acid, his eyes were gouged out and he had patches of yellow wounds all over his body which made it difficult to identify him,” Muriithi said.
He said that police assured the family that they would investigate the matter and allowed them to go home.
The family also met with the US ambassador at the time, Johnnie Carson, who promised that the US government would follow up the matter to ensure justice for them.
The US Embassy issued a press release dated February 13, 2003 acknowledging that Munuhe’s death was directly related to his willingness to share information on the whereabouts of Kabuga.
The statement also explained that the US, through the Reward for Justice Program, would pay rewards to individuals who would provide accurate information that may lead to the arrest of suspects in Munuhe’s killing.
“When Mr Kabuga is finally captured, as we are certain he will be, the Rewards for Justice Program will make its decisions about the distribution of the reward money.”
But nothing else came forth.
“We waited for years but received no communication from the government. They went silent as Kabuga fled not to be seen again,” Muriithi said.
After years of waiting in vain, Muriithi decided to follow up the matter with the police. He sought a public inquest into his brother’s death.
But nothing came of those efforts. He wrote emails to the International Criminal Court seeking its intervention but the court directed him to seek alternative legal redress in Kenya.
In the course of pursuing justice, the journalist’s father Nelson Gichuki succumbed to heart-related complications while his sister died in an accident involving a bus and a train.
In 2018, Muriithi decided to file a case in a Nakuru court seeking to have Kabuga declared either dead or alive.
He listed as respondents the Interior principal secretary, DCI, DPP, Inspector-General of Police, principal civil registrar in the Immigration department and the Attorney-General.
It was during the hearing of the case that Kabuga was arrested in Paris in May last year.
His arrest rekindled hopes for the family, who believe that Kabuga is responsible for Munuhe’s death and want to see him punished.
Kabuga, 87, once the richest man in Rwanda, is said to have funded the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which more than 800,000 people were killed.
After his capture, he was moved to The Hague, where he faces seven criminal charges, including committing genocide and crimes against humanity.
Munuhe’s family now want to be considered for reward money after Kabuga’s arrest.
Muriithi claims his family is eligible for compensation, arguing that his brother’s death resulted from his close association with investigative agencies pursuing Kabuga.
“We therefore request the US Embassy to reconsider the distribution of the reward money that was placed for the willing person to help in apprehending the dangerous criminal who has since been arrested.”