Every time Kenya’s security forces launch an operation in the bandit-ravaged arid north, they leave behind broken limbs and raped women. That has been the story since the colonial days. And no one has been held to account for the horrendous human rights violations. In Isiolo, the victims of state terror cry for justice.
David Njagi, 2014-03-06, Pambazuka News, Issue 668
MUGURU NA NYORI, KENYA: They all refuse to forget the scars – the abuses. And the longer they grieve, the wider the rift of distrust widens. For all are confused about whom to fear: the loose bandits who terrorise Northern Kenya, or the government-made ‘bad boy’ General Service Unit (GSU) personnel who came here and tortured, murdered, raped and stole with impunity. Despite replete and carefully collected evidence of the extent of the GSU’s wanton violence under the guise of ‘security’, the perpetrators go free and unpunished, still employed by the Government of Kenya which abrogates the rights of its citizens to freedom from rape, murder and torture at the hands of state personnel.
The men gather under acacia trees away from the searing sun to grope for answers – and hopefully some justice. But the psychological scars of the 2008 disarmament exercise by the GSU at Muguru na Nyori, a village on the fringes of Isiolo County, refuse to go away, as do the physical wounds, with survivors facing ongoing challenges through paralysis, broken limbs and battered genitals.
The women on the other hand can only cling to the hope that the occasional visit by human rights groups will spin the wheel of justice to a village that continues to be troubled by the three threats of hunger, banditry and torture by government employees on ‘security sweeps’.
‘It was just before dawn when we heard gunshots outside,’ recalls 46-year-old Miriam Ndekiodo. ‘We thought it was a raid by the loose militia group commonly known as shifta. But an order was shouted that we should get out of our houses. That is when we knew it was government officers.’
According to Ndekiodo, the GSU officers surrounded the village and ordered everyone to surrender the guns that they were allegedly hiding in their houses – an order that threw the village into confusion and panic.
‘That is when the stampede started as people tried to run away to the safety of the bushes,’ recalls Ndekiodo. ‘But the GSU officers opened fire. People were injured and intimidated into lying on the ground, which was in some areas covered by thorns.’
Like many who have lived to tell the sad story of this dark day, Ndekiodo says what followed was an aggressive exercise that has remained etched in the minds of many villagers here, leaving a trail of self-hate in its wake.
‘Even breast feeding mothers were beaten mercilessly while the officers led young girls away into the dark and raped them,’ recounts 32-year-old Josephine Pakla. ‘They told us we must give away the guns that we were hiding in the village.’
The few who have lived to share the events of that day like Pakla and Ndekiodo count themselves lucky. But some like Kikit Danait can only be remembered by the mound of stones at the far end of the village – her grave.
Her three year old son cannot understand why he has no one to call ‘mother’. But the gentle ones like Pakla know it is too early to let the lad know that his mother was shot dead while he was breast feeding.
‘It was one of the GSU officers who called us to take away the baby who was left clinging to his mother’s breast,’ says Pakla. ‘The mother’s brains had spilled all over the baby.’
Village elders like 80-year-old Akai Alai wish for an early death when memories of that day flood back into their sunset years. This would spare them the humiliation that has stripped them of their dignity and purpose in life.
‘A lot of our young men cannot perform their paternal duties,’ says Alai. ‘Most of them were abused in their private parts. Some have become sterile. Others are paralysed and so they cannot be able to work to provide for their families.’
According to him, no help has come from the government. The injured, he says, were taken to hospital but their families had to struggle to settle the hospital bills. Those who had started small businesses lost property to looting, he says.
Kenya’s Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) report has listed atrocities committed against civilians since the pre–independence days, before 1963. The Muguru na Nyori incident is not among this tally.
Some security officers from Northern Kenya agree that some of the aggression committed against civilians in the region may have been excessive. But none is willing to take responsibility.
According to them, regular security sweeps in the region are necessary to restore order in a region that continues to be plagued by cattle raids, banditry and lately, infiltration by the Somali militia group, Al Shabaab.
In the Muguru na Nyori incident, efforts to seek justice for the victims have to date not yielded any results.
However, County Representative, Paul Mello, says more than 99 statements detailing the extent of the torture by the victims were collected and tabled as evidence to the Ministry of Internal Security, but no action was taken.
Local leaders also recorded a statement with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) at the provincial headquarters but no action was ever taken as redress to affected villagers, he says.
‘The issue was also raised in Parliament but no follow up was done after that,’ says Mello. ‘To date, nobody has been compensated and the government has not owned up to the responsibility.’
Tabitha Owiya the Senior Assistant in the office of Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) and the head of the sexual and gender based violence unit says the office does not have a structure to deal with historical injustices because they go beyond criminal justice.
‘When you have historical injustices, there are people seeking compensation and this is another realm of justice,’ says Owiya. ‘It is outside criminal justice and goes to civil justice where the government has to step in. The office of the Attorney General needs to be given a full account of what happened and then advise the government on that.’
However, Betty Murungi, a gender and human rights consultant in Nairobi, says that it is unfortunate that women are considered as collateral damage where there are security operations.
‘We know women are subjected to rape and sexual violence,’ argues Murungi. ‘Most of them do not obtain justice because investigations are never done. The first thing that needs to be done is investigations and then prosecutions can follow.’
According to her, there needs to be a national reparations framework to serve justice for the crimes committed against women in Kenya.
It is also important to implement the recommendations of the TJRC report because it has made very detailed recommendations about how to offer reparations to women victims of sexual violence in security operations, she says.
‘It also offers guidance on prevention of future commission of such crimes,’ says Murungi.
For now, it is the hope that human rights champions like Murungi will see justice served that keeps Muguru na Nyori village, and many others in Northern Kenya, alive.
But some, like Pastor Christopher Lomwa, argue that the village first needs counseling before any stride in search of justice is made.
‘When the people see a government officer they run and hide,’ says Lomwa, who is also a member of the community development committee in Muguru na Nyori. ‘They have lost trust and confidence in the government.’
They have also lost men, women, mothers, fathers and the prospects of future children. The Government of Kenya should be ashamed of its inaction in punishing the perpetrators.
* Research for this article was supported by the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR).