Editor’s Note: In our November “Got Power?” Issue, we profiled activist Okoiti Omtatah and his struggles to fight against injustice and corruption in Kenya. It was with shock that we received the news that he had been attacked on the night of November 8th with reports indicating that the attack had political undertones. Our writer Mark Namaswa went to visit Omtatah in hospital and filed the following report.
It is Saturday evening, two days after civil rights activist Okoiti Omtatah was attacked along Kenyatta Avenue at 8:00 p.m. A large crowd throngs the entrance of Mater Hospital waiting to be vetted in order to make the trip to the activist’s room on the 3rd floor. Hospital security frisk guests and only letting through those who’d booked an appointment to see Omtatah. And even then, the guests make visits in shifts of four. Lying on his hospital bed, Omatata narrates his ordeal for what must have been the umpteenth time.
Two thugs accosted him after he’d alighted a matatu on Kenyatta Avenue. They attacked him with a blunt object, inflicting serious head injuries. He alleges that the two thugs (who didn’t rob him of a single cent) had a clear agenda. One asked, “Utaondoa ile kesi ya BVR kotini?” (Will you withdraw the BVR (Biometric Voter Registration) case in court?) Seemingly, his negative response spurred the first attacker into action. Omtata alleges that the first man took out a weapon concealed in his coat and began to batter him. He supposes that the other man joined in, but he could not clearly tell due to the severity of the first attack. He did note that both men were smartly dressed in dark business suits. “[The attackers] must have trailed me from the NSSF building because they seemed to know the route I normally use.
When I alighted near the I&M building, they also alighted and one of them called out my name. I waved and they hurried to catch up with me,” he recounts. Testament to Omtatah’s will to live, despite bleeding profusely, after the attackers had fled, Omtatah picked himself up and made his way to Nairobi Outpatient Hospital located close to I&M building. He was later admitted at Mater Hospital where he is still convalescing with a largely swollen face, stitches on his forehead and four teeth missing teeth. Despite this, Omtatah remains undaunted. “I will not withdraw the BVR case,” he says. He has been in and out of court for the past two months calling for the suspension of the BVR kits citing integrity issues with the Canadian firm importing them. He argues that the firm, Safran Morpho (then operating under the name of Sagem S A) had previously been involved in corrupt practices in Nigeria. In 2003, the firm was penalised for allegedly bribing a former Nigerian Labour minister, among others, to secure a tender to supply the country with identity cards.
Omtatah’s petition was filed against the Kenyan Attorney General and the Independent Election and Boundary Commission (IEBC). Dated September 26th 2012, it reads in part; “Mr Okoiti Omtata is a citizen driven by public interest to do ensure that the government lives up to the Constitution. He comes before this court for a second time to seek this court’s intervention to stop the procurement of Biometric Voter registration (BVR) kits intended for the registration of voters by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC)...” He also questions the whereabouts of approximately KES 4 billion that was allegedly previously set aside for IEBC’s purchase of the BVR kits. This is despite a KES 7.3 billion loan that had supposedly been secured from the Canadian government for the same purpose. Omtatah was recently quoted in the local press stating that, “The [KES 4 billion] has not been accounted for.” Judging from the dozens of well-wishers and heavy presence of hospital security at the hospital, it would seem that this one-many army has earned himself strong supporters on one hand and powerful enemies on the other.