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Credit: SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images

Dennis Otieno

For him, the major demonstration by Kenyan journalists came one day too late. More precisely, just a few hours too late. Photographer Dennis Otieno was shot at his home in front of his wife, shortly before a protest rally against the ongoing threat to media representatives. Otieno was 26 years old, and was killed by a bullet from an AK-47. He didn’t have a chance.

Two bullets missed him, his wife remembers, but the third struck him fatally. The murderers came on a motorbike at eleven o'clock at night. Otieno’s wife was standing in front of the house and was about to fetch water when she saw the men, who forced her into the house with them. “They said to me that I mustn’t scream when we were in the house”, his wife remembers. “They wanted to force him to give them a specific photo.” He refused and tried to defend himself, she says, but to no avail. The murderers also attacked Otieno’s wife, but she survived. She is convinced that the perpetrators wanted to have this photo, but she didn’t know what it showed.

Perhaps Otieno, the freelance photographer, had seen something he shouldn’t have.

There were reports that Otieno had photographed members of the police who had shot a motorbike taxi driver at a bus stop, but these haven’t been proven. Yet time and again, Kenyan security forces are involved in attacks on journalists.

In the end, the crime against Otieno became both murder and robbery, since the perpetrators stole mobile phones, a television, a camera and cash from Otieno’s house. However, there is still a suspicion that these thefts, the robbery, were simply staged to divert attention from the real reason for the attack – the search for the photo. Kenyan photographers had long since become fair game for politicians’ security forces. Many of them have been beaten up by security men merely for doing their jobs and taking photos of politicians in the country.

Dennis Otieno, who died far too young, became a symbolic figure for the violence against journalists in Kenya in the years 2015 and 2016, violence that is all too rarely atoned for.

This too was the aim of the major demonstration in Nairobi on the day after Otieno’s death: drawing attention to the fact that most of these cases of violence against journalists are never solved. “The attacks on journalists need to stop. We have to make it clear that nobody who attacks a journalist will get away with it”, said one of the organisers of the demonstration, David Owina, in an interview with Kenyan newspapers. Time and again, the Kenyan journalists’ unions have called for these unresolved cases to be explained. Unesco has compiled shocking figures on this topic: just five of the 131 cases of journalists murdered in Africa between 2005 and 2016 have been solved.

Dennis Otieno can no longer show us how he saw Kenya through his camera, but his name lives on, including on social networks like Twitter, where the hashtag #DennisOtieno was still trending weeks after his death, as was #JournalistsUnderSiege, with which the Kenyan journalists shared their experiences after the big demonstration. Even today you can tell from Twitter what a dangerous year 2016 was for Dennis Otieno and his colleagues. And things haven’t improved.


written by Jochen Arntz; editor-in-Chief, Berliner Zeitung

  • Dennis Otieno

    The 59-year-old Marcel Lubala worked for the state radio and TV station RTNC in Mbuji Mayi, the third largest city of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Lubala was killed brutally in front of his wife and children. Civil rights activists condemn this crime fiercely as it happened during the curfew – a time where security personnel should keep the streets safe. The murder was never fully solved.