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Price of press freedom: Journalist’s Widow Opens Up on Struggles to Raise Sons

In Kenya, some journalists have met tragic ends. The motives behind these murders are no mystery. But hidden in shadows is the silent pain, the deep sorrow, and the relentless struggle of their shattered families.

For a decade and a half, Josephine Kwamboka has carried the burden of widowhood, maneuvering through challenging circumstances to raise her two sons on her own. As the spouse of a silenced journalist who dared to expose the truth, Kwamboka’s journey unfolds as a heart-rending story of emotional anguish, resilience, and an unwavering pursuit of justice that remains elusive.

She expresses the stark contrast between the murderers of her husband, whom she says continue to roam freely, possibly providing well for their families with pride and enjoying a good life, while hers has descended into a state of misery and hopelessness.

Nyaruri’s son in uniform at Kisii high school with his classmate and a KTN journalist


In describing the overwhelming pain and the void in her enduring struggle, Kwamboka shares: “Losing someone, particularly a husband and the sole breadwinner, is akin to the world collapsing under you, leaving you alone in a vast void. The emptiness is so deep that you wonder if you will ever feel complete again.”


In the painful account of Kwamboka’s life, she has intimately experienced a somber struggle and reflection over a fifteen-year passage defined by the absence of her cherished husband, Francis Nyaruri – the father figure to their two sons.

Before his tragic death, Nyaruri, a journalist for the privately owned Weekly Citizen newspaper who wrote under the pseudonym Mong’are Mokua, went missing on January 15, 2009.  His decapitated body, bearing the grim evidence of a brutal fate, was discovered two weeks later on January 29 in the ominous Kodera forest, Homa Bay County, with his hands bound behind, and with wounds on his back.

The locals refer to this forest as a “cemetery without graves” because it’s notorious for being a dumping ground for bodies of people killed from far and wide. The presence of a river and a road passing through the forest makes it easier and safer for killers and murderers to carry out their monstrous acts.

Nyaruri allegedly wrote a story accusing the then Nyamira Officer Commanding Police Division (OCPD), Lawrence Njoroge Mwaura, of using substandard roofing material in constructing the Nyamira police station. Before his disappearance, Nyaruri allegedly mentioned OCPD Mwaura adversely, claiming he had been threatened by him.  Currently, Mwaura serves as the Chief Instructor at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) Training School in Nairobi.

In the banana and tea-dotted expansive Nyamira county, Kwamboka’s world crumbled into darkness, leaving behind the shattered fragments of life once bathed in love. The memory of Nyaruri, her partner of 11 years and a father, lingers as an emotional story of a normal day turned tragic.

On that seemingly ordinary morning, Nyaruri, a loving husband and the pillar of the family left their Nyamira home at around seven o’clock. His destination was Kisii, a distant town where he occasionally reported news for multiple media outlets, including the Citizen Weekly. A routine that had played out countless times before suddenly transformed into the prologue of a nightmare.

On that fateful day, Nyaruri had also taken approximately 30,000 shillings from the house, which he intended to purchase building materials for a home he was putting up on a piece of land they had acquired upon his return later that evening.

At 11 am, the last fragments of normalcy slipped through Kwamboka’s fingers as she spoke to her husband for the final time. Unbeknownst to her, the echoes of those parting words would mark the start of a life marred by unanswered questions, grief, and the unending silence of loss.

The harrowing experience began when Kwamboka, overwhelmed by fear and anxiety after three days of futile waiting and countless inquiries about her husband’s whereabouts from friends and relatives, stepped into Nyamira police station on January 19 to report him missing. Instead of being comforted, she was met with callous indifference.

The authorities’ flippant quips, implying that Nyaruri was simply having an extended weekend of fun elsewhere with someone other than his wife, wounded the woman’s heart like a dagger. It was a rough start to the emotional and agonising road that lay ahead, she recalls.

Nyaruri’s widow, Josephine Kwamboka

“After two weeks of emotional search, I was called to identify my husband’s body at the Oyugi’s police station. I could only recognize his decomposed body through the remnants of his clothing—the dark belt, white shirt (stained), grey socks, and a black trouser he wore on the day he went missing,” Kwamboka reveals with a heavy pause.

Her husband’s murder was so devastating that she admits she momentarily lost the ability to feel. She literally fled the scene and was only dragged back by journalists who had called her for help after an unidentified body was retrieved from the forest.

Her husband, a devoted father, provided for their family and even shouldered the responsibilities of caring for his aging parents. It happened so quickly, at a time when everything seemed perfect, and their two sons were reveling in the warmth of a flourishing life. The comfort they once enjoyed vanished and was replaced by the harsh reality of adversity.

Nyaruri and his son Picture family album


“Life pushed us onto the ground so abruptly. Our son, who had shown exceptional promise in his primary school exams, had to leave boarding school at Utawala Academy in Nairobi for a day school,” she says.

After her husband’s funeral, pledges of support from politicians, government officials, and media organizations faded into silence. Her phone calls to some of the people who had promised help went unanswered.

Some people in positions to help or support her sought sexual favors instead, taking advantage of her vulnerable situation. Those familiar with her situation, well aware of the challenges she faced, requested compromising arrangements, with some insisting on meetings in questionable places far from her home or town.

Others, out of caution, especially women friends, distanced themselves, with some even insinuating that because she was merely 25 then, and pretty, their men might fall for her.

“Friends, once a source of solace, began distancing themselves from me due to fear surrounding my husband’s tragic end, while others acted out of their own insecurities. Some hesitated to associate with me, fearing they too could become targets,” she says

Yet, in moments of this isolation and when surrender felt like the only option, the weight of caring for her two young children –  aged nine-years-old and one-year-old at the time, and her husband’s aging parents –  solely on her shoulders, became the anchor that kept her from sinking.

As weeks stretched into months and years, the now 41-year-old, a graduate in secretarial studies, slowly started to piece together the fragments of her life. She established a small kiosk selling water, soft drinks, and household items to her low-income neighbors. This small kiosk became the backbone that carried her two sons through primary school, with the meager earnings serving as a lifeline for her children’s education and the daily survival of her family.

Despite earning a scholarship for high school and excelling academically, the dream of her firstborn son pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business economics crumbled abruptly only after finishing his first year at Nairobi’s Multimedia University due to a lack of fees. His dreams of breaking free from the clutches of poverty and, one day, rescue his mother and younger sibling, now lie shattered, perhaps forever.

The youngest, currently in Form three, is teetering on the edge of dropping out of school as she can’t afford his fees anymore.

“The weight of our shattered dreams is heavy on me, and the prospect of a brighter future for my sons seems to slip away with each passing day. I yearn for someone, anyone, to reach out with a helping hand and empower these boys through education so that they can pursue their life dreams,” she pleads

Clutching onto hope, she prays that the recent visit by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) to her home signals a potential breakthrough in Nyaruri’s case review. IPOA has since taken her statement, the fourth time such statement since her husband’s murder, she adds.

The slain journalist, Francis Nyaruri filing a story in a telephone both


The renewed push to reopen Nyaruri’s case stems from a damning revelation involving a taxi driver Evans Mose Bosire, who reportedly transported the alleged killers on the day Nyaruri went missing. Initially believed to have never provided a statement to the police, it was recently revealed that Bosire did, in fact, give a statement in the presence of Chief Inspector Peter Mwangi on March 12, 2009, at Kisii Police Station. Read more on the new evidence here

In this statement, Bosire incriminated several individuals, including senior police officials. The alleged confession by Bosire is disturbing and raises serious questions about why this piece of crucial evidence was kept away from the court, leading to a miscarriage of justice. Strangely, Bosire was subsequently released from police custody without explanation and has been missing ever since.

In November 2022, Nyaruri’s family wrote to IPOA, the Inspector General of Police, and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), seeking a comprehensive review of both the police and prosecution files after Bosire’s revelation.

“The journey has been an emotional rollercoaster, and all we seek as a family is closure to my husband’s murder. The truth of who killed him and why is all we need,” she insists

Kwamboka’s relentless pursuit of justice for her husband stands as a brave testament to the enduring shadows cast by love lost and promises shattered. As she tirelessly battles for the truth behind her husband’s cruel murder, her pursuit extends beyond the courtroom to the delicate balance between sustaining her family’s immediate needs and nurturing the educational dreams of her sons.

Within the emotions of Kwamboka’s journey through the shadows of widowhood, a collective lament echoes for other widows and orphaned children of journalists whose lives have been tragically cut short in line with their public duty of informing the world on Kenya’s events, with justice eluded them as well.

Her story reveals a piercing account of a justice system that has callously turned a blind eye, leaving behind silent cries and shattered families. Yet, it remains a heart-wrenching cry for the numerous lives forgotten, silenced voices, and a societal failure to protect those who dared to speak truth to power. In her ongoing battle, Josephine Kwamboka symbolizes resilience beyond grief, echoing the unyielding spirit of those who seek justice in the face of profound loss.

This article was first published by the Standard here 

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