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Benson and Emmanuel Ndwiga were last seen alive on Aug. 1, 2021. Their deaths while in police custody sparked demonstrations and protests in Embu County that resulted in additional violence
Benson and Emmanuel Ndwiga were last seen alive on Aug. 1, 2021. Their deaths while in police custody sparked demonstrations and protests in Embu County that resulted in violence | Photo courtesy of Catherine Wawira

Kenyan mother remembers ‘Kianjokoma brothers,’ killed in police custody

Wherever we looked, we turned up nothing. The hours stretched on, and my anxiety and fear grew. I just kept wishing over and over they would appear or that we would get through to them by phone. We didn't search for them in a morgue, as I could not imagine or think of their death.

Catherine Wawira
Interview Subject
Catherine Wawira is the mother of deceased brothers Emmanuel and Benson Ndwiga. She and her husband, John Ndwiga, reside in Kianjokoma, Embu County in Kenya.
Background Information
Kenyan Police arrested Kianjokoma residents Benson Njiru Ndwiga, 22, and Emmanuel Mutura Ndwiga, 19, on Aug. 1, 20201 for violating Kenya’s curfew, which at the time was part of the government’s efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19.

It was the last time anyone saw the pair, dubbed the “Kianjokoma brothers” by some media and protesters, alive.

The police claimed that the two brothers jumped out of the vehicle after their arrest. However an autopsy found the two died as a result of multiple head and rib injuries.

The deaths prompted public calls for accountability and sparked demonstrations in Embu County, during which anti-riot show and killed one person, and protesters torched a police vehicle.  

Following an investigation by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, six police officers from the Manyatta police station were arrested for the brothers’ murders, and the trial is set for Jan. 25, 2022.

The officers were jailed for three months, but in November the court released them on a cash bail of 300,000 Kenya shillings ($3,000 USD), prompting worries about witness interference or intimidation from the prosecution. 

EMBU. KENYA—I mourn the loss of my sons every day. We buried them months ago, but they are still alive in me. I await the trial of their alleged killers with despair in my heart.

A day of tragedy begins as any other

My boys died on Aug. 1, 2021. It was the very day they opened their own business, something they had longed for and worked for.

Benson was a student at Don Bosco Technical Training Institute and Emmanuel was studying law at Kabarak University. They were both on holiday since COVID-19 had affected the school calendar.

They didn’t like staying at home doing nothing. Even while at home, Emmanuel and Benson always found something to keep them busy. They came up with an idea to start selling pork in Kianjokoma town before schools re-opened.

On Aug. 1, full of excitement, they set out for their first day selling pork in Kianjokoma. At around 4 p.m., I called Emmanuel to see how business was doing. He told me sales had picked up and they were making good money. I called them again later and they said they were almost closing down for the day. I had nothing to panic about; both of my boys were disciplined and educated. If they were to be late, there was a very good reason behind it.

However, this was no ordinary Sunday. It reached 10 p.m. and they had still not arrived home. This was unusual, and my instincts told me something wasn’t right. I consoled myself, rationalizing that they could have visited nearby friends after a busy day. Emmanuel and Benson were outgoing, lively and always had time for their friends.

Worry turns to fear

However, the boys weren’t picking up their phones, and that enough was reason to pique my worry.

Their father and I called and called until the phones went dead at almost midnight. We had no option but to wait for daybreak and try to find them then. I didn’t sleep, wondering all night what could have happened.

The next day, we went searching for them in several police stations in Embu. We even went to Manyatta police station—though it turns out police officers from this station were involved in Emmanuel and Benson’s deaths, they did not inform us of anything.  

Wherever we looked, we turned up nothing. The hours stretched on, and my anxiety and fear grew. I just kept wishing over and over they would appear or that we would get through to them by phone. We didn’t search for them in a morgue, as I could not imagine or think of their death.

Discovering the truth, mourning her sons

The following day, Aug. 3, escorted by our close friends, my husband and I filled a missing person’s report at Manyatta police station. Another station had referred us there.

After we filed the report, the station’s head asked to see us. They finally informed us that Benson and Emmanuel had died after jumping from a moving police vehicle. Their bodies lay at the morgue of the Embu Level V Hospital.

I felt utterly empty when I heard the news. I cried and cried, eventually losing consciousness. I can’t believe I will never see my sons again.

I recently visited the university to pick up Emmanuel’s clothes and neatly arranged them in his wardrobe at home. He had reared chickens, which I still feed every morning. I make their beds every day to keep feeling connected with them.

I always feel the connection when I see the things they loved. It’s inconceivable that they, in contrast, are gone forever.

Since their death, I have drifted from other people. I no longer attend local women’s meetings, and I feel bad whenever in public. This home was full of life, but now everything feels empty.

Lawyers have offered their services to seek justice. I hope I see it one day. I just pray no other mother undergoes the pain I have.

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Chriskelvin is a Kenyan freelancer and journalism student at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, Nairobi.

Beyond journalism, he has a writing passion to inform, educate, entertain and enlighten others.