Forced to flee false perceptions, ICC, and Kenyan press

By Omwa Ombara/CPJ Guest Blogger on March 6, 2014 5:17 PM ET

EDITOR'S NOTE: February 15, 2014 marked one year since Omwa Ombara arrived in the U.S. to seek political asylum after attempts on her life in Kenya between May and December 2012. She fled her native land after being contacted by International Criminal Court (ICC) investigators probing the violence that followed the Kenyan elections in 2007-2008, in which more than 1,000 people were killed, according to news reports. Ombara was never a witness, nor did she ever meet any ICC investigators, but the mere suspicion that she was participating in the ICC process prompted a spate of threats. She describes her own ordeal and the culture of silence that has settled over most of the Kenyan media. CPJ's Journalist Assistance program supported Ombara throughout her ordeal.

As the world watches the efforts of the ICC to prosecute Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto, and journalist Joshua Sang for post-election violence in Kenya, few realize the repercussions for those of us perceived to have been witnesses. Nowadays in Kenya, even the word "witness" has been tagged with such a hostile connotation that one had rather not use it.

Anyone who attempts to say anything they know about the infamous post-election violence in Kenya in 2007-2008 risks being branded an "unpatriotic traitor," whistleblowers who want to reveal Kenyan society's "dirty secrets"--they can lose their lives at any time.

Many Kenyans do not want to believe that among prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's list of Kenyan witnesses, some could be real and deserve a chance to be heard. It is as if a political spell has been cast on the Kenyan people. Some Kenyan journalists too have caught the conspiracy bug, while some have been bewitched into emotional propaganda reporting, or dazed into silence.  Most have lost their tongues and pens.

Indeed post-election violence did take place and those of us who were reporters in the field covered both the election campaign and the violence. The lack of balanced reporting is a big failure in the journalism fraternity. Political wolves hound those who will testify as well as those they think might enter the witness box, ready to dismiss any account that could put the politicians they support on the spot. And while this happens, the Kenyan media continue to run with the crowd. There is hardly any analytical reporting on The Hague trials, merely a regurgitation of a dangerous public chorus. Instead, the Kenyan media focus on the apparent failures of witnesses and the prosecution.

I arrived in the U.S. a year ago to seek political asylum after attempts on my life in Kenya between May and December 2012.

A mere phone call in May 2012 from an investigator from the International Criminal Court (ICC) changed my life and put me in danger. I was never a witness nor did I ever meet any Hague investigators but some people somewhere in government perceived that I was one and from there the intimidation started. People I believe to be state agents not only followed my every move, but also tried to abduct me twice--in the capital, Nairobi, and the western city of Kisumu. Some men in plainclothes went to homes of my relatives demanding to know my whereabouts. They hacked my e-mails and blocked my phones. I immediately went into witness protection and contacted the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Hague investigator wanted to discuss an interview I had done in 2008 with an investigative journalist regarding corruption by both media and politicians. The story was later published in a local magazine called Expression Today under the title "Dirty Hands" by Otsieno Namwaya. They were interested in candid comments I made about corruption in the media while I was the Standard's bureau chief in the coastal city of Mombasa. Corruption in the media involved incidences where individual reporters and editors accepted bribes either in kind, cash, or gifts from certain politicians to have their stories captured favorably. This practice is common among journalists and politicians in East Africa. This interview was about some media coverage in 2007, prior to the Kenya's chaotic elections, and touched on some politicians who the ICC later had an interest in prosecuting.

Being perceived to be a witness put my life in danger. In an effort to escape from my pursuers I fled from one part of the country to another. I tried to hide. Walking in the streets, in dark shadows waiting for a shot in my back any moment was one of the scariest experiences I have ever had.

With the help of the Committee to Protect Journalists' Nairobi and New York offices, and witness protection agencies, I escaped by the skin of my teeth. A driver in an unmarked car not only tried to knock me down as I waited for a taxi in Kisumu, but just moments after I had served dinner and sat to eat in Nairobi, a white unmarked car with four men tried to abduct me from my house. I jumped out of my back window and fled. Being under protection meant a humble monthly allowance of 20,000 Kenyan shillings (US$231) a month, far below my monthly income of 120, 000 to 150,000 shillings (US$1,300-$1,700) that I made while working.

But today is an exciting day for me. As I sit in my room, awaiting my asylum interview, I toast to my freedom. I live in the inner city. I have moved from a shelter where I lived for the past six months. The winter chill is biting and everyone is in a hoodie. I watch the fierce winter snowstorm through my window. But I am not afraid of it. I do not even feel the cold weather everyone is complaining about. The warmth of safety emanating from my heart keeps me warm and safe and that is all I feel now. Living in a small neighborhood in the city is a unique experience, something akin to living in the rural villages of Kenya, where everyone knows everyone's business and is always friendly and ready to assist.

I miss home--no Kenyan should feel more entitled to citizenship than another. Those who cast the stones at real and perceived witnesses have never had a phone call from The Hague asking them to be a witness. They have never worn the shoes of being in the middle of a bloodthirsty emotive crowd and Hague investigators. Like mourners at a funeral who cry louder than the bereaved and eat the chunkiest meat, they are nothing but actors who feel nothing for the dead or the bereaved. If they truly loved Kenya they would have come up with the truth by now.

I am a product, or should that be a casualty, of investigative journalism; that secretive world of bringing things that happen in darkness to light. A world that is often wrought with danger, something akin to being on the war front, and few journalists opt for this dangerous and narrow road. Some are shot dead after exposing crime, corruption, and other evils in society. Some are declared enemies of the state, while some become enemies of the very society they are trying to protect. It is a risky job and definitely not for the fainthearted.

Freedom of expression still remains elusive in Kenya as real witnesses are denied a chance to give evidence in court through threats and intimidation. Kenyan media need to support the work of investigative journalists--to nurture society's watchdog and restore its image as the Fourth Estate. With investigative journalists who do not fear exposing the truth, the circus going on at The Hague now would long have been put to rest.


"Silence is death. If you are silent you are dead. If you speak you are dead. So speak and die. - Assassinated Algerian writer Tahar Djaot.

Omwa Ombara thanks for your courage. Journalists who made sacrifices and exposed injustice in the past gave us the Freedom of expression we enjoy in society today. Take heart. Your suffering will not have been in vain.

God Bless CPJ for the good work. This is a powerful blog. Very touching. Shame on Kenya. Sorry Ms Ombara. Keep shining.

Very unfortunate. Why kill witnesses? This is crazy! Why make this poor journalist suffer like this for speaking the truth? I fail to understand. This country - Kenya - needs repentance. What they are doing is wrong before God!!!

Veronica Brown March 7, 2014 12:28:11 PM ET

Jesus died becos of truth.y is you running.DONT mislead have a big name

Joshua Tekwenyi March 7, 2014 1:02:08 PM ET

Joshua Tekwenyi. Are you one of the mourners who are crying louder er than the bereaved at a funeral cited on this blog?. The journalist Omwa talks about people like you who are hostile to anyone with [email protected] on ICC. Please address the issues of witnaess intimidation addressed here.Also Freedom of expresdion. Not personalities insults.

Am sorry for yesterday comment.I have now got the point.sorry Ombwa.may GOD be with you for your truth 4 Kenya

A strange story indeed.The current leaders uhuru and Ruto were ordinary citizens in 2012 and extremely busy campaigning.The outgoing kibaki government was almost in different to icc as they were on their way who were these state agents claimed to be following icc witnesses?The West already had their man ready to take over after elections .
This story would be more credible if the dates were 2013 , not 2012.
This kind of reports confirm the conspiracy of the West on icc.its pure lies.

This story cannot be 2012 uhuru ,ruto were private citizens very busy campaigning. Icc process is so full of lies, there id no hope

Omwa Ombara raises serious issues of self denial that has plagued Kenya over the post election violence of 2007. It is almost as if the whole country is in denial that PEV ever occurred. They say the suspects at The Hague are not the right candidates yet they are not ready or willing to expose the "right people". They say they know who committed the crimes that killed over 1000 people yet they will not name or shame them. Kenya is a stranger than fiction country where criminals walk free and witnesses are in safe houses or running away. What irony! What a shame! What a disrespect for people's lives! Banana republic you!

Peter Tosh, Ghana March 8, 2014 9:39:24 AM ET

Oh what rubbish.
All Omwa is a clever Journalist that saw a chance to get political asylum.
Anyone of you posting here in support of Omwa should first read the 'candid' report (it is not journalism) in the cited second rate paper. Then, compare that piece of writing to others in the mainstream media in Kenya as regards the ICC.
Omwa, we are both Kenyan (well, I obviously more than you) and know that if the state wanted you dead, you would be. No one was interested in killing you. Of course most here would not know that.
Why would anyone want to abduct you? For what gain? Ransom? Would it not be easier to just put a bullet in your head on the street?
Well, get the asylum, call it political while knowing that you have managed to hoodwink 'some' people. Nothing more.

Pole Boss. We are praying for you. May God the Almighty protect you till you come back. We miss you!

Omwa you are such an inspiration to so many. With all that you have obviously endured your spirit and your love for your country has not been tainted and that says a lot about the strength of an African woman. Keep pushing!

The International Criminal Court should continue fighting impunity against Freedom of Expression. They ought to protect real witnesses and ensure justice for both suspects and victims. I think Kenya has done quite poorly on Freedom of Expression especially with regard to The Hague cases. It is ironic that they have used Freedom of Expression liberties to mobilise hatred against the ICC but will not allow the ICC to use the same. As for this journalist Omwa Ombara congratulations - you are truly couragious.The kind of journalists the world truly needs to be safe.

Andrew, I am curious of your statement. "If the state wanted you dead, you would be". Can you explain how your state kill people dead if they want them dead? This chills my blood oga!
Thank you!

Mike Idowu, Abuja. March 10, 2014 12:05:01 PM ET

Heho. As per my understandings, the editor's note say the ICC conducted investigations in 2012 but reporter cover elections in 2007 and 2008. So if you turn it to my understanding, story is credible.
On my understanding again, do you really think state can admit they wanted to kill witness? This journalist I can only but say was clever enough to escape before she be killed.
So if you are not reporter in 2007 and you don't know what reporter Ombwara know, then how can you say she not be creDible and you dint go through what she experience?

James Mokaya Junior March 10, 2014 12:14:47 PM ET

Andrew. I respect your opinion but why would a journalist of such repute flee her country and end up in a shelter in the US. If you google Omwa Ombara's works, she seems to be a serious journalist. She exposed cheating in Kenya National Exam Council. She refused to take bribe and returned shillings 50,000 she found on her desk. She refused to take William Ruto's agent's offer of land and his money. She returned 5000 shillings both hers an a colleagues to the Sports council.If we go with your logic, she would be a very comfortable an rich journalist in your country eating with other corrupt journalists and politicians. I have read this story very carefully several times and the "Dirty Hands" story but unlike you I believe her. She is a rare breed of journalists. Just a difference in opinion.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is a credible organisation that verify facts before helping move an endangered journalist to safety. They must have verified and corroborated this story before giving Omwa protection. Great journalist. You deserve an award for your daring courage for the truth. The world must help ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and the ICC to attain justice. Constructive criticism and comfort with the truth will see justice not just done but seen to be one! So why won't the real witnesses speak? Will Kenya smother the voice of conscience?

Hey Boss. We miss your love, mentorship and guidance and of course t. he weekly lunches and coffee. You taught us to always tell truth and be professional. Though you are gone you have left behind a legacy. God Blesss. We know you will succeed wherever you are. May the ICC monster be slain. May. the truth set us free. Hugs.

Hey Boss! You accepted this knickname with grace. We knew this story before you told it because we were with you when it happened. We watched it happen and we were very afraid. We know you as a staunch believer, a staunch Catholic. Boss may the Blessed Virgin protect you. We are sad but we are glad you are safe. Thank you CPJ for being there for us investigative journalists.

"Anyone who attempts to say anything they know about the infamous post-election violence in Kenya in 2007-2008 risks being branded an "unpatriotic traitor," whistleblowers who want to reveal Kenyan society's "dirty secrets"--they can lose their lives at any time."
Andrew your comments only seem to verify this paragraph from the story. What did you use to measer that you are more patriotic than this MOmwa Ombara?

I am in London. I am surprised to read this. Miss Omwa taught me English and Catholic Pastoral when I was in Form Two at Loreto Convent Msongari, Nairobi. She was a humble, polite teacher. I am sorry this has happened to her! Gosh!

Miss Omwa. We all love you and miss you soooo much! You helped me to get an attachment and a job in the Media. Now I have money but I cannot buy you a gift. Stay safe Boss. We are proud of you!

"Freedom of expression still remains elusive in Kenya as real witnesses are denied a chance to give evidence in court through threats and intimidation. Kenyan media need to support the work of investigative journalists--to nurture society's watchdog and restore its image as the Fourth Estate. With investigative journalists who do not fear exposing the truth, the circus going on at The Hague now would long have been put to rest."

For me, this is the greatest statement in this story. This article says "Most" not "all" journalists have gone into conspiracy with the Hague suspects or they are afraid. There are great reporters like Moha of "Jicho Pevu" who are doing a great great job. KTN's investigative journalism is superb. I do agree with Omwa that with committed investigative journalists in Kenya, the circus going on at the ICC with Kenyan trials would be dead. Dead.The Committee to Protect Journalists has done the world a great justice to publish Omwa Ombara's story. Students of journalism should read this and have CPJ's contact. It never happens until it happens.

Hey Boss. Caro here sending you my love
Thanks for the mentorship. Thanks for being. a role mode for women journalists..

Miss Omwa Ombara taught me English Language and Literature in Form 4 at Maasai Girls High School Ngong. She had a high sense of humour and hammered "Romeo and Juliet" by William Shakespeare into our heads. I didn't know she changed her career to Meia. What has happened to her is sad and after reading this story I don't want to be a journalist at all. I am fascinated by Miss Omwa's mastery of language an writing skills. I shed tears as I read this article.Goo luck Miss Omwa.

I seriously advise every journalist not just in Kenya but the world over to get hold of CPJ's "Security Guide". Read what has happened to other journalists so that when it happens to you, you know what to do. Get hold of CPJ'S LATEST SURVEY BOOK, "Attacks on The Press".Read cases of journalists who have been killed, tortured, threatened and intimidated. Information is power. Do not wait to be killed. Watch your backs, reporters. Its a dangerous world for reporters out there.

Tobias Kerry, Belgium March 10, 2014 8:22:55 PM ET

I fail to understond man how Kenyans can live with dis guilt since 2007 as as if noting happon. You cannot just sweep one thousand deaths of humans in your country under da carpet and pretend noting happon. Blood is bad you know. It will haunt you for long long time. Why has no people been prosocuted for last 7 years? Are you waiting till Jesus come? I beg you my brodders and sistahs do someting now. Tell truth now.Be kind to witniss. Blood of dead man very bad.I know dis.

Adu Adebayo, Lagos March 10, 2014 10:00:11 PM ET

I think Kenya's Chief Justice Willy Mutunga needs to liaise with Kenya Witness Protection Agencies to organise outreach workshops to the public. It appears ftom this article that many Kenyans are ignorant of the role of witnesses. It seems that in Kenyans witnessesvare treated as criminals. This need not be the case. Ignorance kills. Education reenlighte

Greg Anderson, Italy March 11, 2014 7:54:40 AM ET

Somebody in the Kenyan blogs always writes about the picture of that little girl in a small sparsely furnished room in Naivasha during Post Election Violence. Sitting on an old wooden armchair, shivering, sobbing uncontrollable\y, all alone, the body of her mother lying in cold blood on the cold hard concrete floor. It is obvious that the cause of death is a violent hard blow to the head with a blunt object. The country is Kenya. That girl and her mother will never get justice. Very unfortunate.

"Why would anyone want to abduct you? For what gain?Ransom!"

Andrew. let me educate you a little for your lack of information. Anyone who is or is perceived to be a witness is a gold mine to the court. Witnesses and potential witnesses are worth millions of shillings because lawyers depend on them to make their case successful. If you are closely following the Kenyan Hague trials some witnesses have confessed to being paid over half a million shillings in two days while in witness protection. Many witnesses in the Kenyan ICC trials were paid a lot of money but they later redacted their evidences. Yet news reports indicate some are very rich now and are driving expensive cars and living luxurious lives - a far cry from what they were before. So if Omwa Ombara was perceived to be an ICC witness, anyone who knew the information Omwa had would abduct her to ensure she does not become a witness.No they would not demand ransom. They would kill her and ump her where they dumped late Nyandarua MP J.M. Kariuki and late Foreign Affairs minister Robert Ouko. The state agents you are defending may tell you more about these cases.Also please note that all the 13 witnesses in the Ouko death probe have died mysteriously except one or two.

Anyone read this? - africa 21382339. Jane Warugu an ICC Mungiki witness' wife tells how her husband disappeared. Diambo was later shot dead on the streets of Nairobi, Luthuli Avenue.
The story by BBC is titled "Claims of Witnesses in Kenya ICC trials disappearing". I quote."It is hard to independently verify Jane's extraordinary claims,but she is among dozens of women whose husbands have just vanished!" First person account though often powerful is hard to verify no matter how true it is. This lives the culprit vulnerable. If Jane had started recording her husband's behaviour and the stacks of money he was bringing home she would not have lived to tell her story. A journalist covering such a story would not be safe either!

Omwa my friend! I warned you not to join the School of Journalism. But you were too excited, you wanted to become a journalist. I knew that your nature of being honest and forthright would put you in serious trouble with that profession. Did you listen, no! Now look what has happened to you. What will happen to your beautiful house and all the nice things inside? Anyway, sorry my friend. I miss you.

Hey Omwa. All who know you can be witnesses that you are a kind soul that would not hurt a fly. I am so glad you did not get involved in this dirty Hague business. Stand firm and focused and God will protect ypu as He has done. My prayers that you keep strong. NB. Please stay as far away from Bensoudas and the Rutos as possible. God Bless you gal.

I love the conversation goibg on on this blog. it is positive, msture and addresses issues. It breaks the ice on freedom of expression

Tihihihihihi! Apart from covering sensitive news journalists on the field must also be extra careful as "political wolvves are out to hound them" into oblivion or make them history. Good observation Omwa.

Boss Omwa. You came to my house in 2007 and found we had a Black and White TV. When you left Mombasa you gave us your coloured TV as a gift. My wife was so happy and my children danced all over the house. They had not seen a coloured TV before.Thanks for highlighting your story. I will take more care when covering riots and elections in the future. Pole Boss. May God keep you safe.

CPJ. Are there any established organisations/institutions where journalists suffering trauma can go for a sabbatical leave? Your stories show many journalists who have been physically assaulted. Some have covered wars and other deadly scenes? Are they counselled, advised? People like this Omwa Ombara and other journalists who covered war in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Congo and rest of the world need therapy/counselling. CPJ it would be nice if you gave us a list of such facilities. Thank you much for listening.

Tekele Reheimar, Ethiopia March 11, 2014 7:00:59 PM ET

Dear Tekele Reheimar,
Thank you for your comment. CPJ does not provide counseling, but our Journalist Security Guide lists resources where journalists can seek this type of help. Please see the guide's Appendix D ( and Appendix F ( At the bottom of the security guide pages you will also see links to the guide in several languages.
Best regards,
Elana Beiser
CPJ Editorial Director

CPJ Journalist assistance programme is superb. It is not bureaucratic and has helped many stranded journalists and their families. The staff are warm,receptive and understanding. They treat journalists with lot of respect. Thank you CPJ.

Mohamed, Ethiopia March 11, 2014 7:13:22 PM ET

Boss dear!Mamaaaa! I am shocked to read about you.You were one tough journalist, one of the few women journalists who covered riots and post election violence without fear. We ate tear gas together. I remember this day in Changamwe when people were rioting and burning tyres on the road, chasing Kikuyus from their shops. We were walking behind police and General Service Unit officers mama. Then this GSU officer just turned and hit my head with the butt of his gun. You rushed me to hospital and paid for my treatment with your own money. As a correspondent I had no money and no medical cover. Mama Omwa, this job of ours is tough! But I know you are tough. I pray for you sana mama. May Mola protect you. I will not forget what you did for me. CPJ THANK YOU FOR PROTECTING MAMA!

What kind of a country is this Kenya, where 1000 people can be killed by their own brothers and sisters and they are so happy going about their business like nothing happened? They are also very happy trying to kill journalists and witnesses? Mysterious behaviour!Wait until the dead start haunting them. Then they will start walking in the streets naked and talking to themselves. God does not sleep. Has the country been cleansed? Disgusting!

Beatrice Kabagala, Burundi March 11, 2014 8:00:23 PM ET

I commend CPJ for opening a discussion on this blog where people can talk to each other instead of at each other. The post election violence in Kenya remains Kenya's curse. And until the Kenya government addresses the issue, nothing will work in Kenya. The people of Kenya are responsible for over 1300 deaths of its citizens. Kenyans burnt over 30 women and children who sought protection in a church in Kiamba. How do Kenyans manage to eat and sleep with such heavy guilt on their heads? How do they make love to their women with blood on their hands? How to the women who committed atrocities suckle their children with murder in their chests? Oh Kenya. I weep for you? No wonder some of your journalists have turned into zombies. It is a curse I tell you. I shout for the truth. I shout for freedom. I shout for justice. I demand for the prosecution of criminals of post election violence. Thumbs up to brave Kenyan journalists who are reporting The Hague trials without fear. But you can do more. Investigate!

Fatou Bensouda is a staunch Muslim woman who prays five times a day. God should guide her so she finds a way to solve this Kenyan crisis.God will not let her down. Inshallah!

Wake up Kenya and mourn your dead. Remove your clothes and wear sack clothes. Call the nation to repentance. The people you killed are God's children. 1300 if not more. Close your offices and pubs. Fast and pray. Declare a public holiday. Go down on your knees. The Lord God is waiting. It's never too late for God to intervene. He will forgive you your sins.God's justice is supreme. Amen.

Pastor Fred Ojigbo, Lagos March 11, 2014 11:02:53 PM ET

Indeed I do agree with Omwa Ombara that "a political spell has been cast on Kenyan people". According to Kenyan newspapers, 4000 suspects who allegedly killed 1000 people in 2007 post election violence are walking free due to lack of evidence. How insecure can a country be? The women who were raped and the men who were sodomised are yet to receive justice. The rapists are on the loose. And no one is allowed to say anything about it. What a shame for Freedom of expression? What a threat to peace and stability in the region? What is the president going to do about it, yet he is also suspect a without evidence? That adds up to 4001. A circus.

Truth Magnet 360 degrees March 11, 2014 11:26:01 PM ET

To all who cherish Freedom of Expression, let us all rally behind Omwa Ombara's call to Kenyans to respect freedom of expression and allow The Hague witnesses to have their say. Omwa says; "Many Kenyans do not want to believe that among prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's list of witnesses, some could be real and deserve a chance to be heard." Witnesses must be allowed to give their evidence in court without fear of intimidation, threats or attempted murder. Freedom of Expression should not be abused. Neither should it be smothered by a hostile public and/or government. Let the witnesses be heard.

Interesting conversation on this blog.
Read The Star Newspaper, Kenya of March 10, 2014; Dolan Asks Tobiko to resign over PEV cases - www.the 158328. "Catholic priest and human rights activist Father Gabriel Dolan has asked Director of Public Prosecution to resign for failing to prosecute 4,000 cases of the 2007 - 08 post election violence..."

Yes, the innocent are in exile and the criminals are walking free. Such are the facts.

Kenya is a factory of rumours. Rumours caused post election violence and if not contained rumours will beget yet another post another election violence. The Kenya Government should find a way of holding the gutter press accountable for abuse of Freedom of expression. Unverified rumours by the gutter press whips emotions and hatred and incite people to violence. Read the Kenya Daily Post and note the rumours it publishes to whip tribal sentiments.

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre. The falcon cannot hear the falconer. Things fall apart. The centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world." T.S. Elliot.

Turning and turning in guilt and fear, Kenyans cannot hear the truth about the post election violence. The suspects pledge innocence.The victims are abandoned. Those who speak the truth are branded liars. Those who lie are praised and worshipped. The prosecutor is left confused. Witnesses are hunted like common thieves.

Turning and turning in the widening tribal circle of Kenya, 1300 citizens of the world lie dead. Hacked to death for freedom of expression, for freedom to chose leaders they prefer.

600,000 citizens of the world displaced from their homes, not by storm Sandy or an angry volcano, but hacked to death by their own brothers and sisters. My pen drops.

Turning and turning in the circle of fear, journalists get sucked in. Who dares write, that the president and his deputy are naked?

I like your poem poet Dijoo. It resonates with my spirit, Correction - 1300 died from hacking and gun shots. 600,000 were displaced. I was displaced from my home in the rift valley and they killed my dog. But I escaped with my family. It is painful that nobody cares.

If this is what can happen to someone merely perceived or believed to be a witness then I shudder to imagine what can happen to the real witnesses. I really wonder, who started the rumour that Omwa was a witness when she was not? Was it someone she confided in about the phone call from The Hague? Or was it the government surveillance listening on the lines? Why do people like rumour mongering so much? Is it lack of jobs or loneliness?

Paul Mtongosa, Tanzania March 13, 2014 7:27:10 AM ET

The Hague issue is not as simple as you may think. It is not going to be possible to prosecute 4000 peoples. Just imachine going to a police station to report that you were raped in post election only for you to found that the police on the booking desk is just the very one the one who raped you. That is what I read in a Kenya newspaper. That it happened in Kenya somewhere called Makongeni.

I once met Omwa Ombara at the University of Nairobi's school of journalism. She came to give a talk to our journalism class on how to write Features. Omwa Ombara's powerful features were a great source of inspiration for journalism students. We discussed them in class and admired her writings. We all wanted to write like Omwa. Her most memorable feature was about a woman from Kisumu called Dr Adhiambo who claimed she treated hernia using chameleons. This story was just hilarious. Omwa, I wish you had stuck with the softer field of features and not ventured into the dangerous world of news an investigative journalism. Wish you well. Faith.

Dear CPJ. As a student of journalism, I read with great interest and deep concern Omwa Ombara's story. I have been following this conversation keenly the whole week. The conversation raises serious issues of safety for journalists. It has made me reflect deeply on whether I want to be a news reporter or features writer or maybe a sports writer. Or I could simply write about beauty. These dangers for journalists are not taught in class. Nobody talks about them, we just follow curricula on Media Theory and Ethics. Is it worth making such a sacrifice for society? Should one tell the truth, expose corruption and then end up poor in a shelter in a foreign country? I am going through deep soul searching and this conversation will determine what decision I make. For now, I think I may go into Public Relations. I love being at home rather than being a refugee. Thank you

Bertha K., Uganda. March 13, 2014 8:27:49 AM ET


Stephen, Sweden. March 13, 2014 8:31:01 AM ET

Following more and more attacks on journalists recently, journalists need to invest more in their personal safety. Media houses should invest in bullet proof jackets before sending their reporters to danger zones. Freelance journalists especially cameramen should even use their personal money to invest in bullet proof jackets and medical insurance. A case in point is the recent Westgate attack (see story by Victor Bwire on CPJ BLOG) where reporters were sent to cover Westgate terrorist attack in Kenya without bullet proof vests. One reporter said his editor told him to take enough care so he could live to tell the story.

I would also like to advise Omwa Ombara and other journalists that when you get a call from the ICC, immediately alert the Media Council of Kenya. Call as many media houses as possible for a Press Conference immediately after the meeting - preferably in the same venue. Lastly do not meet any Hague investigators alone. I suggest that all investigative journalists and news reporters be given guns so they can protect themselves when confronted by armed gunmen!Journalists should know that their lives are more important than the news.

Peterson Brown, Rwanda March 13, 2014 9:01:13 AM ET

You people,let us call a spade a spade and not a big spoon. Fact is Omwa Ombara exposed William Ruto as a corrupt politician in an interview by Otsieno Namwaya, an investigative journalist. I am not surprised that The Hague called her. It would help prove to Bensouda that Ruto was capable of buying off her witnesses. But as far as the story goes, she did not meet The Hague investigators and she says she was never a witness. But like many whistle blowers, her fate was sealed. If she did not flee, I believe she would be dead. I wonder if this Otsieno Namwaya who interviewed her was also called by The Hague and if he is also in hiding.

DEar CPJ editors. I am a journalism lecturer aT West African University. First and foremost I wish to thank you for allowing such sober and intelligent conversations on our blog. It is so different from the hateful insults and tribalistic abuses going on in many Kenyan online newspapers. Your blog is professional, informative and looks at various aspects of Freedom of Expression. So how does one tell a real witness from a fake one? How does the court and not members of the public with vested interest? How can one put all witnesses in one basket - those who have testified and those yet to testify and tag them liars? How do you sit in a bar or a market place and start rumours that such and such a person is a liar? Just how far does Freedom of Expression go? I have alerted my students to this blog and I am sure we will have a very vibrant and useful discussion. I also want to urge journalists, especially the female ones not to run away from investigative journalism. It is quite fulfilling and often saves society from abuse. Investigative journalism s really the pulse of reporting and is what has kept society intact for eons. Omwa Ombara, I am proud of you, my sister.

I am journalism student in Zambia and this story has greatly traumatised me. Omwa, hang in there! God has great plans for you. And don't stop writing even in exile. Journalists, let us stick together.

Christopher Kaluma, Zambia March 13, 2014 11:29:52 AM ET

I have just finished to read this report callef dirty hands by Otdieno Namwaya. Allow me to join this conversation that has caught attention of the media fraternity's attention in several parts of the world. This report.says unlike other journalists who have had nasty experiences only Omwa Ombara agreed to go on the record.That wss a very nrave move Omwa but if I were you I would have packed my bags immediately. and fled immediately after the interview. You don't expose powerful. politicians and then hang atound snd expect to live a normal life. Omwa's works though mostly features geared towards a unique world of investigative Feature. Her unique feature which impredded me was her story on Kondele - the one strret where rediden residents are born go to school marry die and grt buried without leaving that street. It was well investigated. On that street children did not chant A for Apple or B for Ball. Instead they chanted A for Atoti and B for Beer. It was s morally decadent society where children had no future. I recall that after the story was published bt the Nation. Kondele residents rioted and banned Omwa from visiting Kidumu. Today Kondele is very much developed with good schools.

Dear CPJ editors. Allow me space to join this important conversation on yhe ICC trials and threats to petceived witnesses. It is true that the coverage by Kenya media has not been objective. They have been very unfair to Bensouda prosecutress as well as witnesses. First they brgan by mocking suspects then later switched to supporting them. The media should have investigated and told us why witness protection gavre witnsome witnesses such hefty allowances and whether the law allows. the Court to use civil society to help them access witnesses. How did ICC get phone numbers of people like Omwa. Who gave it to them. This whe reporting of Hague trials went wrong from the start. Still it is not to let to urge real witnesses to voluntary come out and say who tbey saw doing what. If the tear gas blocked their vision they should just shut up and not name wrong people.

I dedicate this blog to all journalists who have lost their lives in the course of duty. I dedicate one minute silence to my deceased colleagues in Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, and Central Asia. I pray for reporters in Ukraine, Syria, South Sudan. May God keep you safe. Omwa Ombara thank your God that you are alive.Amen.

The Journalist Security Guide Chapter 5 on Organized Crime and Corruption says; "Crime and Corruption are extremely dangerous beats, CPJ research shows. Thirty Five per cent of journalists killed worldwide since 1992 covered these two topics... Local reporters pay the highest price. Nearly 9 out of 10 journalists killed world wide are journalists reporting on issues in their own community." Self censorship - the bug that has caught Kenyan Media is common because of extreme risks. Journalist beware!

Simon G. Netherlands. March 13, 2014 2:34:29 PM ET

I admire your courage Omwa. Keep fighting the good fight till the truth comes out.

Omwa Ombara now us here in Mambasa we know you too much. Hiyo story you write juu ya confessions of a witch doctor was very good mama wa bara. We still talk talk it to this day. Even now we were talking talking about it. God to protest you about Hague to America ngambo.

CPJ. I have learnt a lot from this blog than could ever learn from any School of Journalism. What cracked me up the most was that "Bensouda is a staunch Muslim who prays five times a day". I respect the Muslim faith and all other religions but with all due respect I find this very funny.

Omwa Ombara take heart. A writer never goes into exile. Your skills remain stored in your archive, which is your creative mind. Your tools remain stored in your hands, your feet and your mouth. Your camera may be smashed but your memories remain intact.Your mind visualizes this and puts it on paper. Physically you may be away from your country. You are where fate has placed you. But I count you lucky, that as a writer no one can steal your precious tools away from you; your writing. Keep writing.

Loretta Brown Scott, Canada March 13, 2014 6:32:17 PM ET

This CPJ blog is trending in Pittsburg,US. Awesome. Just awesome. Amazing.I believe it should be a great inspiration to all writers in exile.

CPJ Journalist Assistance program, you rock. CPJ continues watching over journalists in exile until they settle. CPJ also offeRS financial and moral support to journalists who land in exile in any other country and don't know where to start from. This is good. Thank you.

A political spell has surely been cast on the Kenyan people. An important conversation regarding Kenya is on cue but very few are participating. They are afraid. I find this conversation respectful. When professionals discuss an issue, one can only marvel at the diversity of opinions, brilliance and thoughtfulness and what role logic plays in the wider picture. A wonderful blog, I must say. Stimulating. Intelligent people are humbled by how little they know.

Prof. Pete, South England March 13, 2014 7:05:20 PM ET

Journalism is a risky job. Yet someone must do it. It is a call really, not a job. Why would you sacrifice your life for the truth? Unless you've been called?

CPJ. Omwa Ombara. Fellow writers. I salute you! The world is just but one small village. Only light and dark separates us. The sun leaves room for the moon to shine, no matter how dim its light. The moon gives room for the sun to shine, no matter how scorching it burns. Tolerance, acceptance of each other. Respect is the name of the game. Freedom of Expression is the game. CPJ. Omwa Ombara. My fellow writers. I salute you.

Journalism and politics are married to each other. Sometimes they love each other. Sometimes they hate each other. But they need each other.

CPJ we feel safe knowing you are watching our backs as we watch our backs!!! This gives us confidence in the field. The Kenyan The Hague trials is a mess. But all witnesses ought to be allowed to state their evidence whether they are lying or not. They should not be denied the freedom to lie or speak the truth. Intimidation and threats is primitive and uncivilised. Let them all appear in court. Thank you for all the information.

"The King is naked. The king is naked. Look the King is naked!" The children jumped and laughed and pointed at the King as they played out in the yard. But the King's advisers insisted that the King was well dressed in a beautiful gown. The Kenyan ICC story.

Thank you CPJ editorial director for the useful links. I am happy.

Tekele Reheimar March 13, 2014 11:18:49 PM ET

I wish to dedicate India Arie song to Omwa Ombara and all journalists in exile all over the world. I want you all to be proud of what you have done for your country. Amandla! EXCERPTS:

"Somewhere there's a girl who's in the danger zone. Trying to ensure her father's safely home.
Somewhere there's a mother crying in the hills. Praying for the son who's fighting in the sand.
Somewhere there's a boy who's in a danger zone. Fighting to ensure his mother's safe at home
Somewhere there's a father thinking of his child.
He couldn't be more proud but afraid of the wild.

And all said and you see, That all Freedom isn't free.
We Thank you doing what you do to make sure we have the right to live the way we should
Someone had to sacrifice, Risk their own to save a life
Thank you doing what you do, what you do
We Thank you for being one of the few who go through what you go through walking your shoes
Know that we are praying
Praying for you everyday
Know that we are waiting
And we are so proud to say
We thank you, doing what you do.
To make sure we have the right to live the way we should."

Tiffany Brown, Cape Town, SA. March 14, 2014 7:25:01 AM ET

Omwa Ombara journalist, you have a positive spirit. Thank you for reminding us that happiness comes from within and not from a physical place somewhere or from somebody. The Winter storm outside your window is a sign from God that harsh times will come and go. Soon Spring will be here and you won't be stuck indoors no more. I toast with you!

Serena Johns, US. March 14, 2014 7:52:57 AM ET

Omwa Ombara. May Mafiba's courage and suffering inspire you.Amandla!7

BikoT. Durban South Afria March 14, 2014 10:53:48 AM ET

Omwa Ombara. I spit my blessings on your forehead. May Mandela's courageous blood flow in your veins. Amandla!

Xuma U. Johanesberg March 14, 2014 11:04:10 AM ET

Omws Ombara. First I respect you for using your African name. The white man usez his. I admire your courage. You speak for 1300 murdered and 600,000. displaced as 4000 criminals walk free. I see Madiba's courageous in your veins. May Madiba's spirit protect you. Amandla!

Nkosi L. Soweto S A. March 14, 2014 11:14:08 AM ET

Omws Ombara The ancestors are pleased with you. They send you greetings. May Madiba's spirit protect you. May your pursuers have dltssleeless nigjtsh Africa prays for you. Amandla!

Sarah N. Soweto March 14, 2014 11:27:39 AM ET

Omws Ombara The ancestors are pleased with you. They send you greetings. May Madiba's spirit protect you. May your pursuers have dltssleeless nigjtsh Africa prays for you. Amandla!

Sarah N. Soweto March 14, 2014 11:29:09 AM ET

Journalist Omwa. You should not have picked that phone calls from the Hague. Phone calls are bad news. As for me my friends complain that I don't pick their calls. But I know what I am doing. I warn people. Don't pick. a no you don't know. That's it. Wish you well. Good job CPJ.

Peninah Akumu Kisumu Kenya March 14, 2014 11:48:22 AM ET

Dear CPJ. How do I make sure my camera is safe when covering riots? Should I carry two or three camerad? What if I lose them all?

John Kennedy Moshi March 14, 2014 11:55:57 AM ET

Omwa Ombara. I remember now that you are the one who broke the story of how First Lady Lucy Kibaki slapped very hardest a government official who introduced her as "Lucy Wambui" in State House Mombasa. It was a public function attended by VIPS. President Kibaki watched helplessly as this happened. According to your story, the security detail confiscated all pressmen cameras and forced them to delete all the pictures. But you still told the story without the pictures. I think this was in The Standard newspaper. She slapped the MC man very hardest.

It is interesting to compare notes on two extremely different characters of two journalists - Omwa Ombara and Walter Barasa. While Barasa is said to have met ICC investigators, eaten their money and interfered with some witnesses, Omwa Ombara on the other hand says she never met any investigators and never took any of Prosecutor Bensouda's money. Neither did she participate in the Hague process. She was never a witness An interesting scenario. Barasa has been summoned to The Hague to explain his conduct. Bensouda accuses him of criminal charges of trying to bribe prosecution witnesses. Omwa on the other hand had to flee after some people imagined that she was a witness and tried to kill her. A good case study. Integrity versus greed?

ICC prosecutor is stonch muslim who pray 5 Times a day facing Mecca.

John Kennedy. I think you are in the wrong profession. Journalists. ask intelligent questions.

You may silence journalists,intimidate witnesses,disorganize the ICC but for how long? You can't outrun the long arm of the Law. You cannot outsmart justice. That's why it's called the long arm. Kenyans who committed PEV. You can run but you cannot hide. The Hague trials will catch up with you.

Some people have made it a hobby to comment on a blog they have not even read. SHAME ON YOU.

Wow. So truth finally comes out. It was not shoddy investigation of witnesses but shoddy persecution and eliminating. of credible witnesses

"KIN"S AGONY AS EX. ICC WITNESS DISAPPEARS" Read This witness who redacted his evidence and retued home has now this week been abducted by strangers who introduced themselves as policemen. Well this person did not have a chance to escape like. you Omwa. Ypu really need to thank your God and dedicate your life to him. Kenya is a dangerous country for witnesses.

Kenya suffered during the 2007-2008 Post Election violence with reported deaths of over 1000 people & displacement of hundreds of thousands. Property was destroyed, livelihoods ruined and indeed, remains Kenya's darkest moment.

However, this unfortunate events have given rise to: and I want to quote the "boss" OO " Well, the prosecution promised the world
“crucial” witnesses. But so far, the court has
been kept waiting, Godot-like. In the
meantime, some “expert witnesses” mixed up
their facts, much to the glee of witness
Farmers would agree with the adage that one
bad apple spoils the whole barrel. One little
harmless looking weevil can destroy a whole
plantation of wheat or maize harvest. And
some witnesses have behaved very badly,
quashing hope for genuine witnesses wishing
to speak the truth. But some Kenyans – who
are neither witnesses nor victims of the PEV –
are behaving even worse than the very devil
they condemn. It is now difficult to know who
is telling the truth, and to know truth from
Some Kenyans have indeed capitalized on
The Hague investigations to make quick
bucks. Some politicians exploited mischievous
witness confessions to brainwash their
followers into baying for all witnesses’ blood.
But it was not all fun for those who ended up
in Europe. They could not bear the loneliness
and harsh winter chills. Homesick, they turned
into drunkards. The men missed nyama
choma, cold beer, barmaids and their
mistresses. They could not stand the cold
bread and cheese sandwiches. Children
missed their cucus , aunties and playmates.
Some beat up witness protection officers and
were deported.
On 16 October 2013, Nairobi Exposed
reported that a witness confessed to lying
after being promised money, a safe house
and relocation to a country of his choice. He
said it was the “opportunity of a lifetime”.
Another witness led the media to his luxurious
safe house apartment with a monthly rent of
KSh 120,000. In a live interview on Kenyan
TV, he claimed being paid KSh 60,000 a
month by KNHCR and another KSh 45,000 by
USAID. He further alleged he was offered to
live in the European country of his choice.
And then came the stories of witness fixing,
trickling into the already murky waters.
These ill-begotten witnesses created a germ
of doubt, which formed the seeds of discord
now growing in Kenya. Today, they are the
reason for hatred of witnesses.
The ICC’s inconsistencies only made matters
worse. After an alleged “unnamed source
close to the ICC” leaked reports to the media
that 80 witnesses and their families were in
safe houses in Europe, the prosecutor
complained that her witnesses in Kenya were
being intimidated, threatened and eliminated.
Everyone got confused because she first led
people to believe all witnesses were in Europe.
Credibility of the ICC, the prosecutor and
witnesses plummeted substantially."

I find it unfair to blame Kenyans for speaking the truth and rightfully branding witnesses as liars.... Their conduct as well as that of the prosecution has vindicated most of us rational Kenyans who want the truth and nothing but the truth.

Anonymous. It is a fact that "Boss" OO as you call her argues that the reason Kenyans hate witnesses is because some of them confessed that they were lying. If Bensouda's office was conducting investigations and they called you to be a witness, should you be called a liar or be lynched on behalf of others who lied ahead of you. Something is wrong here and Omwa Ombara calls it mob justice. If for example your brother lies or steals is it fair to call you or your whole family liars or thieves? Surely those who lied to the ICC cannot be allowed to stop the process. Maybe there are one or two honest witnesses left in the pack. Let them as Omwa suggests be allowed to speak their truth before you call them liars or intimidate them from taking the witness stand.How can you call someone a liar when they have not taken the syand? This stereotyping of witnesses should be stopped.

Anonymous. I like your argument and it reflects exactly what Omwa says.It is unfair to blame Kenyans for calling witnesses liars. You are mixing two different articles. In this article on CPJ website Omwa suggests that among some.of Bensouda's witnesses there are some who may be speaking the truth and they deserve to be heard. In her other article which you copy pasted from The Hague Trials Kenya Omwa does an investigative piece on the Kenyan psyche and why tbey hate witnesses so much. Maybe you are one of the people she directs the question- "will Kenya even acknowledge the existence of genuine witnessed?"

You can't rule out the fact that some witneses who confess lying maybe they were paid by some rich suspects to say they were lying. Maybe suspect agent paid them double witness allowance. These politicians use millions so to bribe voters in election time. People want truth at end of day so how are we getting truth if some people can't be allowed to speak even at all?

So what is the truth? Hiding the killers in your midst and refusing to give evidence even in your own courts? If you take your husband to court for murdering your daughter and then you forgive her, the law demands that the case continue. Even if you reconcile and forgive her.


I believe this is a very important debate in the healing process for all Kenyans. Many are still haunted by what they did in 2007. Its not a matter of who is right or wrong. What is the way forward? Can the gava guarantee the safety of all its citizens, both witnesses and liars? At least The Hague's doing something about it no matter how much we hate their approach and lack of professionalism. But what are we Kenyans doing about it? Kenya is part of the global community. You cannot kill 1300 people, rape 3000 women and have no one charged, period!Let the debate continue - on the way forward, pleaaaaze.

This Kenyan case requires divine intervention. Only God can solve it.

Churches in Kenya are packed every Sunday with worshippers who chopped off people's heads in 2007. In Rwanda, a woman who hid in a Church saw a priest handing over his flock to killers. This world, my brother! Eish!

Everyone has an opinion. That is what Freedom of Expression is all about. Let us respect everyone's opinion. My opinion now; it is unfair to blame Kenyans for hating all witnesses and calling them liars. It is also unfair to call all witnesses liars.

Those in the legal fraternity know that there are people who commit to having committed a crime when in fact they did not. Some people have confessed to murder only to recant their statements and say they lied. This is either to protect somebody, under coercion or fear. Maybe, just maybe the Kenyan witnesses in ICC could be lying that they are lying!

Despite some witnesses' and the prosecutor's poor conduct, fact remains some other witnesses/perceived witnesses were intimidated, persecuted, threatened while some disappeared mysteriously or were shot dead. Who was threatening/killing these witnesses and why? Let us address that. There was serious abuse of Freedom of Expression and Association in Kenya over PEV. Anyone can write opinion behind their computer but you cannot experience what Omwa Ombara experienced for her. She is "Mother Courage".

Anon 11.21. I agree with you but only to some extend . Ombara's opinion peace, "why Kenyans call all icc witnesses liars" https :/ she gives a bacground on why Kenyans. don't trust both witnesses and the court. But she also raises the. fundamental question of mob lynching. Witnesses who are yet to take.the stand are getting intimidated. by being [email protected]@...liars. How. can you determine their credibility yet you have not heard their. story? What of baseless rumours that some people are meeting the prosecutor in New York when in fact they are in Nairobi? Why lie just because other witnesses have lied? So what happens to those who are ready to. speak the truth for all that its worth? They must be quite terrified!

Kenyans tu tell us. Which is the more seriusz crime? Telling lies or choping off heads for peoples of not belonging your tribe? Bush and Tony blea yu blame them so but they atack Iran Afgaganstan not thea peoples but you chop off your brother and sisters heads. Shame tu yu Kenya again again. Shame tu yu africa leadars

Anonymous 9.13. Why do you refer to someones husband as "her"? Are you talking for gay couples with a dead daughter? Point taken though!

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