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Mob Rules

A case of mistaken identity

KEVINE OTIENO

If there was a day I saw death with my own eyes, it was July 24, 2016,” says Steve. “I now know that God has a purpose for my life.”

Ready to Do Good

It was a fine Sunday morning. The sun kissed the blue sky above the lakeside city of Kisumu. On Sundays the hustle and bustle of the city diminished, save for people going to and coming from Kibuye Market, the largest open-air market in East Africa.

On the other side of town six members of the Adventist Youth Society (AYS) gathered outside Bethlehem Seventh-day Adventist Church to set out on a mission to Ojala, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Kisumu. They were going to visit a man who had been fellowshipping at the Bethlehem church.

Mzee Zephaniahand was sick. Steve, one of the six-member team, had a medical missionary friend who promised to call on Mzee to diagnose the problem and advise an appropriate treatment plan. They planned to meet at Ojala, so they could go to Mzee’s home together.

When the group arrived in Ojala, Mzee was not home. He had gone to Obambo, a nearby center, to see a doctor.

Mzee’s son, whom they did find at home, told them that his dad would be back by noon.

Beware of Strangers

About noon the group heard a woman wailing and cursing, calling for neighbors to help her catch someone suspected of abducting children. Her child told her that three men had tried to abduct him from a farm near their house. Incidents of child trafficking had been rife in this neighborhood, so the mother did only what was natural for someone in her position.

The youth told God that if this was to be their last day, they would rest assured that they belonged to Him.

The villagers immediately poured from their homes armed with all manner of crude weapons.

The distressed woman told them where the suspects had run, and they set off in pursuit, passing Mzee’s home, where Steve and his friends sat in the shade.

A few minutes later the crowd returned to the village dejected, their pursuit unsuccessful. The alleged suspects had apparently vanished.

Upon reaching Mzee’s home, one young man from among the returning group, evidently under the influence of alcohol, suggested that the group sitting under the shade could be the suspects. His comment attracted the attention of the crowd, and it started interrogating the men because they were strangers. Soon the crowd became rowdy and unreasonable.

The mob began demanding blood, armed with machetes, clubs, hammers, whips, and stones. One of them carried a large stone as if he intended to drop it on the heads of the strangers. They said they were going to hold them captive until Mzee returned from the hospital to tell them if he knew the six youth.

Praying for Security

Unfortunately, Mzee was not back by noon. His son contacted him by phone to inquire when he would be back. Mzee told his son that the doctor had injected him with a medication that required immediate bed rest. He said he wouldn’t be back until 5:00 p.m. The mob agreed to wait. The inebriated youth in the mob were unhappy with this “unnecessary delay.” In a cell phone video recording, one vigilante carrying a machete said, “If things are bad, you just slash [them],” a sentiment apparently shared by many.

Even though the woman confirmed that the six are not the same people who intimidated her son earlier, the mob seemed more determined to lynch them than to see justice served.

Mzee’s son and two local youths somehow managed to slip the six youth into the house and lock the doors. The mob started throwing stones at the roof and threatening to burn down the house.

Inside, Wycliffe, one of the youth, started to pray; the others joined him. Frida confessed that even though all hope was gone and she had no energy to press on, the prayer session renewed her strength. They all told God that if this was to be their last day, they would rest assured that they belonged to Him.

They sent messages to church leaders about the situation. They also sent messages through to the Bethlehem AYS WhatsApp group. Everyone prayed for them.

Enter the Police

Two police officers arrived a few minutes later. But overpowered by the mob, they retreated. They returned with four more colleagues in a Land Cruiser. The mob got more unreasonable at the sight of the police, who had no choice but to shoot in the air to disperse the crowd.

The crowd dispersed, but they still lurked, waiting for an opportunity to pounce. The police took advantage of this opportunity to slip the captives into the truck and drive them to a nearby construction yard, where they sorted out the issue.

It was now half past 5:00, and Mzee had not yet returned. The police decided to drive them to the Maseno police station for booking.

They had just boarded the truck when the old man appeared. Approaching the truck, he observed the captives. “I don’t know these people,” he said.

Suddenly it became obvious why the old man was kept away the whole day. If he had made that statement in the presence of the mob, the youth would have been killed.

The police drove them to the Maseno police station, where they were booked. They got out on bail, but had to be at the police station the following day to record their statements.

When they arrived to record their statements, the police let them go. None of the villagers appeared to press charges, so their case could not proceed.

Exactly one week after the incident, a mob lynched a couple in Kisian, a small center near the Kisumu International Airport and a few miles from Ojala, on grounds of child trafficking.

The six youth are convinced that had it not been for divine intervention, their story would have been tragically different.


Kevine Otieno writes from Kisumu, Kenya.

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