On June 20 this year, a Tuesday, Fredrick Odhiambo Owino was going about his work as a construction engineer in Mogadishu, Somalia. Then a bullet was fired from a pistol below. He fell, dead.
The events leading to the incident had not been discussed in public, until this past Tuesday when witnesses poured into the Armed Forces Court to testify.
On that afternoon, Hassan Abdurahman Indhoyare, a security guard, was perched on a stool at a nearby gate. A soldier, Hassan was one of the many guarding the high-end Halane area, often known as the Green Zone for hosting diplomatic missions and UN offices.
On that day, the bullet fired from Hassan’s pistol was the culmination of a simmering altercation that did not even involve Fredrick, according to an investigation report tabled in court.
Below, where other workers worked on a building, Hassan was embroiled in a quarrel over the flow of waste water from their construction works. He wanted the workers to seal it as it was flowing to his shade, where he sat. After failing to have his orders obeyed, Hassan cocked his gun and fired. The bullet hit Fredrick above the group.
On Tuesday, several of his colleagues, many of who were Kenyans, spoke in court demanding justice.
“Somalis and Kenyans are brothers. We have stayed here very peacefully in the past and we have been friends,” said one of the Kenyans before a bench of the Armed Forces Court. “We have trust in the courts. All we want is justice.”
Witnesses said Fred, 30, was the sole bread winner of his family. He was raised by a single mother. Getting a job in Mogadishu would have been a risk, but not so much for a soldier. The only danger he knew he faced was an attack from al-Shabaab, the Somali militant group. He has left behind a young wife and a child, they said.
The judges of the court are supposed to hear the case over several days after which they will issue a verdict. If found guilty of murder, Hassan could face up to a death penalty. He denies the charges.
But beyond the courtroom, the case may also demonstrate Somalia’s rebuilding justice system. Over the last three weeks, high-profile cases of murder and terrorism have been filmed on tape and livestreamed on YouTube. Suspects arraigned in court have had to take plea in the open and they have had to defend their cases before a uniformed panel of judges often scribbling away narrations by suspects and witnesses.
The justice system is one of the areas that donors have targeted for reform, according to a programme known as the Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative (HIPC) by the World Bank and IMF.
In the meantime, both Kenya and Somalia will be waiting for a spinning coin in court, to see if Hassan or Fredrick gets the justice they each deserve.