The courtroom was empty. Gleaming wood-panelled walls, a black leather seat on the bench and a door leading to the judge’s chamber stared back at me.
I stepped out to check if I was in the right courtroom; the second one after the Constitutional Registry on the first floor of the imposing Milimani Law Courts building. Then I checked my watch; 9.36 AM, 23 January 2023. The trial of a police officer charged with the murder of Yassin Moyo, the 13-year-old boy who was shot dead on his parent’s balcony during the enforcement of Coronavirus-mitigating curfew on 30 March 2020 was set to start today, after four previous adjournments.
I sat on the last row of the gallery and took out my phone to call Hussein Moyo, Yassin’s father. He had been fretfully waiting for the case to commence and would not have missed the session for anything. The last we spoke, Hussein had called to inform me that the hearing dates had been confirmed, starting on 23 January and running for four consecutive days. The prosecution had lined up all of 19 witnesses.
“Are you in court?” Hussein asked after the first ring.
“Yes I am, but…,” I stuttered.
“The case was postponed. The notice said Justice Justus Bwonwong’a took out all the murder cases scheduled for this week as he will be engaged in a different lengthy matter,” he interjected in a succinct but forlorn tone, before quickly moving on to tell me how he had been robbed while on a business trip in Narok, where he had gone to source for Merino sheep for sale.
“I got out of the bathroom and was shocked to find my room empty,’’ the older Moyo said, laughing. ‘‘I stood there in a pair of shorts wondering if I had missed my room. For a few minutes, I was so confused. I checked under the bed and went back to the bathroom to see if I took the bag with me into the shower.’’
He couldn’t stop laughing.
“I ran to the reception, still in my shorts, and the receptionist told me that a friend we had over the previous day had left with the bags. I was with my business partner who had also been robbed. I stopped at the hotel entrance hoping I could see him, but I ran back inside when I saw the stares I was getting. When a madman takes your clothes and you chase after them, you are the madman,” Hussein narrated amidst a peal of laughter.
I walked down the narrow court hallway laughing at the comical tale, while at the same time sad about his ordeal. Down a corridor, I swallowed back laughter to avoid distracting the court that was in session. Hussein was still on the call, moving from one story to another, laughing hysterically all the time. I followed through, knowing it was his way of covering his pain. In humour, Hussein scaffolded painful memories of his first son’s brutal murder and the thin hope of ever getting justice.
When I visited Yassin’s father in his house late last year, a young boy sat on the flight of stairs with a vacant look. Yassin’s sister sat further up the stairway, reading. I first thought the boy was Yassin’s brother before Hussein explained that the lad was one of Yassin’s friends who would routinely come by just to sit at what was Yassin’s favourite spot on the staircase. Hussein said the visits had become less frequent and in between but still evoked the same pain as when Yassin’s schoolmates arrived at the house shortly after his death. The teenage boy left not too long after my arrival without a word, as Hussein and I settled into the large living room.
‘‘I cannot help but wonder what goes on in his young mind and I do not know what to say to him. Like him, Yassin would be 15 today, going to form three,” Hussein said, balancing tears in both eyes. The memory clouded his face with a tired helplessness which he parried away in a blank stare at the walls.
Yassin Moyo’s friends still keep vigil at the three-storey house in the heart of Kiamaiko in Nairobi, two years after the 13-year-old was killed by a policeman’s bullet. Whenever they visit, the friends come, sit, sob then leave without a word.
After a long awkward silence, Hussein, a short dark-skinned man with a greying beard, suggested that he show me the balcony where Yassin was shot. However, as we approached the staircase, Hussein paused for some time as he recalled how his son loved to sit on the staircase when studying. He said Yassin had made it his spot and often invited friends to join him. The spot gave Yassin a vantage point where he would occasionally peep through the hollow clay blocks built like louvres into the wall facing the staircase. Hussein invited me to sit next to him as he demonstrated how Yassin would sit watching children jump over a tiny stream behind their house.
Yassin probably saw more than the father assumed through the hollow blocks. He probably giggled watching pedestrians and motorists scramble for the tiny road to the right that led to the infamous Kiamaiko abattoirs, and the butcher flipping goat meat over the open grill, occasionally shaking their fingers to cool off a burn. Or to the left, he probably sympathised with the half-clothed children who were fighting over what looked like a stuffed doll outside their corrugated iron sheet shacks, their mother, donning a hijab, yelling threats at them while serving an astounded customer at her kibanda. There was a lot for a 13 year old, who lived in a three-storey house in the ghetto to see through the hollow blocks, but much more was hidden outside their gated compound and tall flats surrounding their house.
As we finished the second flight of stairs, Hussein suddenly stopped. The sad look on his face was quickly replaced with dread as if he was entering a space in his mind that he had kept hidden away. He leaned against the handrail. He looked at me pleadingly as though to speak but his lips barely moved. I stood tensed behind him, aware of what had deflated Hussein’s energy. Ever since his son was killed, Hussein shuns his balcony. He has forbidden the entire family from going there, especially after dusk. Now he carried the memory of the night, late March 2020 into the balcony and I could scarcely imagine all the emotions he was going through. It took a slight touch from his younger son, Ali Moyo, who swiftly ran up the staircase to jerk Hussein back to the moment. Slowly and silently, he trudged on and we approached the narrow balcony. The laundry hanging on the lines tied to the grills danced to the tune of the cool breeze. A wooden study desk was covered in a layer of dust. Hussein inspected the abandoned furniture pensively and buffed the green grills before ushering me on. He dragged the chair, stood on top of it, and leaned against the grill.
“This is how Yassin was standing when the cop shot him. I was not home. I was visiting a friend a few blocks away,” he said, pointing to a flat across the street.
As usual, when the nationwide curfew commenced at 7.00 PM following the Covid 19 outbreak, the police would make a ruckus to scare people into their homes, sometimes violently. The cops would arrive in Huruma shouting while running after locals who were caught outside. Residents would stand on their balconies watching the spectacle of running battles between the police and those who had not made it indoors before curfew time.
On 31 March 2020, the noises were a little more dramatic. Yassin and his siblings could not wait to finish their dinner of matoke. They all ran to the dimly lit balcony on the first floor. Yassin was the first to get there. He dragged the chair and stood on it, leaning on the grills to get a good view of the happenings outside. Directly opposite was a floodlight mounted on a tall mast, which Hussein explained lights up the entire place at night. Next to Yassin was his favourite sister Aisha and his mother, carrying the younger brother. Their eyes were fixated on a group of cops; some blowing whistles, some screaming.
“He fell off the chair and said ‘‘Mama, I have been shot,”’’ Hussein recounted his wife’s narration of the incident. “She cautioned him to stop jesting on such matters but in a frail voice, Yassin responded, ‘‘Wallahi Billahi.”
Still, in doubt, Hussein said his wife, Khadija Moyo, asked Aisha to lift Yassin’s T-shirt, only to be shocked by the gruesome view of intestines pouring out from a gaping wound in Yasmin’s stomach. Then she felt warm fluid on her fingers and when she raised her palm up and took a look, it was all red.
“She started screaming, and the neighbours rushed to help,’’ Hussein recounted. ‘‘All this while, Yassin kept saying he was in pain, not breathing, and asking to be prayed for.”
Before his son’s death, Hussein Moyo lived a quiet life, his family only known to those he worked or interacted with. However, after the killing of his son, Yassin’s name became a household name in Kiamaiko, their home known to most locals.
When directing my colleague and I to the house from downtown Nairobi, Hussein had asked us to look out for Al-Aqsa Mosque, named after the mosque in the old city of Jerusalem. It is one of the three mosques in the area and is easy to locate. There, he said we could ask anyone to point us to Yassin’s home.
“Ule aliyeangushwa na makarao?” questioned the man whom we sought direction from at the mosque. The suspicious look in his eyes interrogated why we were seeking out the family and we quickly assured him we are journalists. He was glad to point us in the right direction and give us his opinion about the tragic incident, asking us how far Yassin’s case had gone, and if the family will get justice in the end.
“Justice against the police is a tough call, but that was a good kid (Yassin),’’ the man said as he pointed us to the house. ‘‘He came to the mosque very early to clean with other boys. He always brought incense.”
Hussein Moyo’s house is tucked around a right turn just after the mosque. We hopped over stagnant rainwater on the muddy road, before a black gate ushered us into a cream-and-maroon house with green grills on the balcony. There was a soot-covered shack just outside Hussein’s three-storey house, where two buibui-clad women emerged and stared at us as we exchanged pleasantries with Hussein. He made small talk telling us that Al-Aqsa Mosque, which helped us find our way, used to be a market. There were no mosques in Kiamaiko when his family moved there in the 1970s.
“We had to go to neighbouring Eastleigh for the Friday salat,” said Hussein as he ushered us home.
Colourful stickers haphazardly glued on one wall welcomes you to the living room. Though visibly incomplete, the art, in colour and deck is an eerie reminder of a premature end. Yassin did these pieces before a single 9mm bullet from an Israeli Pistol serial number 44338354 cut his life short. The bullet penetrated the right side of his stomach, destroying everything in its way; the art, the dreams, and eventually Yassin’s life. Oblivious of what it had done, the bullet lodged near Yassin’s left hip bone.
“There is death, and then there is a terrible death. A death that you can’t comprehend or get over. I have lost people close to me before, even children, but Yassin’s…” Hussein’s voice faltered.
Hussein tells me Yassin took after his short stature but had a lighter complexion and a different temperament. He was always happy, extremely empathetic, and loved to dance.
“He would have finished form two today and probably have gained a few more inches,’’ Hussein reminisced. ‘‘I named him after my father and my boy took after the old man’s soul. Very religious, witty and so kind. In Islam, when someone dies, we believe he’s still with us, but this house is so empty.”
Hussein fidgeted with his brown taqiyah as he talked, his gaze straying to his checked short-sleeved purple shirt, unable to maintain his poise. A tear dropped, then another, giving way to a gush that poured out like he had held back for so long. He grabbed a dera on a chair across the room and sank his face in it. When he lifted his head, the tears had dried but his eyes were bloodshot.
“Everywhere I go I still receive condolences,’’ he said. ‘‘Strangers wishing my family healing. They always ask how far the case has gone and pray that justice is served.”
A long silence ensued.
When the three children who were at home saw us standing on the balcony, they curiously joined us, taking advantage of their father’s tour. There is an unwritten rule at Moyo’s house against talking about Yassin, especially in the presence of their father. No one enforces the law but no one breaks it either.
“Outside the house, Hussein is a lion, but here, we see his weakness when someone talks about Yassin, so we avoid it,” Yassin’s sister Yusra says while cooking ‘mabuyu’ in the kitchen. “I cry myself to sleep when I miss him, and many nights, I see my elder sister Aisha, who was so close to him cry, but we don’t talk about him”.
Yassin’s items remain intact in a room he shared with his younger brother, Ali, who occupied the top deck of the bunk bed. Yassin’s clothes and shoes mark the places he had claimed as his own but are slowly being inherited by younger siblings who can fit into them. Ali says during Yassin’s birthdays, family and friends gather to recite verses from the Quran and then disperse quietly. For the family, celebratory times are the hardest. Bare walls, empty spaces, loud silence, and questions about Yassin’s absence all conspire to remind them of him.
“Yassin was the decorator. He sprayed the walls with colourful paintings and filled the house with decor pieces. He would also put on music and lead the family in dancing during celebrations,” recounted the father, showing me videos of Yassin entertaining his siblings with dance as they sang along to a Somali beat on YouTube.
Though Hussein tells me he knew how religious his son was, he was shocked when after his death, elders from the mosque narrated how Yassin would teach them authoritatively, quoting the Quran.
“He used to teach me a lot of things about religion, but I did not think he taught elders too. He would go to the mosque very early to clean and when he stayed late, I assumed he was playing with his peers,” Hussein remembered.
Hussein knows too well that Yassin is never coming back, but to help them cope, Hussein told me he told Yassin’s younger siblings that their brother had travelled and would be back. “Some days, they wake up early to ask when Yassin would return. My heart breaks and I go mum.”
But that’s not the worst of it.
For Hussein, if the hand of time were to go back and he was asked to change the series of events leading to Yassin’s death, he would have wished that his son hadn’t been shot, but in the worst case scenario that Yassin was to be shot anyway, Hussein’s wish would be that he be home on that night, when his son is shot.
‘‘When my phone rang that night, the caller went straight to the point, “Yasin has been shot”, Hussein told me. Amidst loud screams from his house, gunshot sounds punctured the air and a cloud of tear gas fumes fogged the night. Hussein, oblivious to the danger, braved it all and rushed for his house. “When I got here, Yassin had already been taken to a nearby dispensary. I took off, in the company of a few friends, and found that they had already gone to Mama Lucy Hospital where they had been referred.’’
Hussein just barely got the chance to say goodbye to his son. “Baba, niombee, naskia uchungu, sipumui,” Yassin said in a frail voice. Father, pray for me. I am in a lot of pain. I can’t breathe. Hussein watched helplessly as his son was carted away into the theatre after he had hurriedly signed the consent forms.
A few hours later, at 3.30 A.M. Yasin took his last breath.
“I was called in to see him on the theatre bed. His face shone as usual and a mild smile hovered on his lips. Pipes ran in and out of his nose and a thick bandage had now been plastered to plug the wound on his stomach. He looked so alive. On his chest was a paper placard inscribed ‘RIP Yassin Moyo’,” Hussein recollects.
Hussein stepped out of the hospital, not certain how he would break the news to his wife. The doctors had warned that nobody would be allowed in if they were crying loudly. He did not need to inform Khadija that their son had died.
“I just remember hearing her scream as I walked down the corridor to talk to journalists who had been calling me continuously,” Hussein told me.
When the news of Yassin’s shooting and subsequent death broke, Kenya was once again jolted back into the stark reality of violations by the police while enforcing the curfew. It sparked outrage and protests nationally and internationally, leading to the eventual arrest and charging of Duncan Ndiema, a police officer who was executing a night-time curfew that left scores dead. During a bail hearing in June 2020, the Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA) investigator Benedict Otieno informed Justice Luka Kimaru that Ndiema was issued with an Israeli pistol on March 30. The gun’s serial number was 44338354, and it was loaded with 10 bullets.
“As stated in the postmortem examination report, the manner in which the child succumbed to the fatal injuries inflicted on him by a gunshot, which gun was in possession of the accused, was one of premeditated intention to kill him and clearly indicates a guilty mind, one of the elements of murder,” Otieno told the court. Ndiema pleaded not guilty and was granted a KSh 1 million cash bail pending hearing, a hearing that had been postponed yet again.
A gust of warm air hit me as I stepped out of the courthouse. The court building is as intimidating as it is cold. I scrutinised the grand building with large pillars in the front. Etched high above on the front wall of the wide four-storey building in Upperhill are the words ‘Milimani Law Courts’. What is uphill, the location or getting justice?