For many Kenyans, the post-election violence of 2007/2008 that brought the International Criminal Court to their doorstep and shattered their country’s vaunted image as an island of peace and democracy is a distant memory that belongs in the past.
This is not the case for the thousands of victims and their families who suffered the brunt of the violence, murder, and rape.
And as Kenya prepares for yet another general election slated for slightly more than a year away, in August 2022, the people who suffered the most cannot help but feel anxious about what the future holds for them.
They live with daily reminders of that horrific time when their lives changed forever as violence and death raged around them. For some, that frightful period is embodied in their innocent teenage children, conceived as a result of the rape they suffered as madness engulfed their homes.
“I was a 16-year-old girl. I was gang-raped on December 31, 2007. I got pregnant… That night I died a thousand times… I thought abortion would be an option for me but it was not possible. I lost myself. I had drowned in these waters that I did not know how to get myself out of… I had no education. I dropped out in Form Three. I have no education… It was too much for me to handle because of the neglect and stigma. I have not recovered. I tried to, but I am not yet there. It has not been an easy thing for my family too,” Elizabeth Atieno, volunteer and advocate against sexual gender-based violence, told participants at an event in Nairobi to commemorate the 7th International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, marked on June 19.
Sheila Wangui, another survivor, narrated how she was raped and when she went to report the attack, police officers mocked her, saying, “You must have enjoyed it.” For over a decade she has struggled to raise the child on her own. Her requests for assistance from the government have not yielded any tangible results.
Sharon Adhiambo could not report her rape because she was attacked by a policeman, who later killed her son.
Similar heart-rending stories came from survivors from Nairobi, Nakuru, Naivasha, Migori, Mombasa, Kisumu, and Kisii who participated in the event.
Those who were infected with HIV bear the additional burden of the daily dose of antiretrovirals they need to keep them alive. Hundreds were disabled and many have had to live with the psychological trauma of that horrific period in Kenya’s history. More than 1,000 lives were lost, almost the same number of women and men were sexually violated, and more than half a million people were displaced from their homes. Businesses and livelihoods were destroyed.
The survivors have had to cope on their own, with minimal or no assistance from public institutions. They struggle to send their children to school, some have no home or source of income, and many live from hand to mouth.
When they hear the word “reparations’, they know what it means to them. “Kurudisha”. “Kurekebisha”. “Losho”. “Ulaulishia”. “Doko”. “Kucokia”. These are words in Kiswahili and their local languages that make sense to them, and all end up expressing their sentiment: “It is a form of forgiveness; it is about assistance; it is about support; it is about acknowledgment of pain, acknowledgement of suffering.” And finally, “It is a right.” “And for them that right is important,” said Betty Okero, coordinator and team leader at Civil Society Organisations Network (CSO-Network) for Western and Nyanza region.
The government’s promise to pay reparations to those most affected by the violence, at first welcomed with joy, has turned into yet another disappointment as the authorities have yet to honour the pledge. Victims poured out their frustrations during the commemoration.
According to Okero, only 15 survivors of sexual violence in the 2007/2008 post-election period have received reparations.
Six years ago, on March 26, 2015, the hopes of the survivors were raised when President Uhuru Kenyatta publicly apologised to victims of historical injustices, as one of the recommendations put forward by the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. The injustices include the Malka Mari massacre in 1982 in Mandera, the Wagalla massacre in 1984 in Wajir, Operation Nyundo in 1984 in Pokot, the mistreatment of political prisoners in the Nyayo House torture chambers, and the December 2007 post-election violence.
“I stand before you today on my own behalf and that of my government and past governments, all past governments, to offer the sincere apology of the government of the Republic of Kenya to all our compatriots for all past wrongs… I seek your forgiveness and may God give us the grace to draw on the lessons of this history to unite as a people and together embrace our future as one people and one nation,” the president said.
He instructed the national treasury to establish a KSh10 billion (about $90 million) restorative justice fund to compensate post-election violence victims and as part of efforts to ensure that the injustices did not recur.
“We must indeed recall retributive justice. There also exists the promise of restorative justice. An approach that is deeply rooted in our cultural and historical realities. Particularly when such conflicts have a communal and political dimension. Many thousands of Kenyans have reached out to reconcile with one another. My administration was forged from this reconciliation and is building on the efforts of the last government to advance the resettlement, reconciliation, and relief to internally displaced persons and I am committed to continuing these efforts as necessary.”
Years have since passed and many survivors now feel that their hopes were misplaced. Joseph Mutiso is one survivor whose hope and patience have been steadily dwindling. He had hoped that the promised restorative fund would help him and other survivors to restart their lives. He is disappointed.
He participated in the event virtually and poured out his heart: “There is this kind of anger that has been bottled up inside us, which has never been let out in order for us to heal, and this is hurting us very much. This anger, coupled with the suffering that we have never been able to recover from, will be dangerous to the peace and stability of the country and therefore we are praying and asking that something be done by the government to at least try to address what we have gone through.”
He further warned that the victims’ long suffering and frustration did not augur well for peace in the country. “We are praying and asking that we be helped because if this does not happen you might find that some of the survivors, and right now that we are headed to another election, something might erupt like what happened about 13 years ago, and the first people who might stand up and try to retaliate or revenge would be the survivors because that pain which was inflicted upon them has never been addressed. It will trigger them into doing something that is not good or turn them into attackers instead of being people that will promote peace.”
The survivors’ concerns are not misplaced. In November last year, Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti called a news conference to announce that investigators were taking statements from scores of victims of the 2007/2008 post-election violence (PEV) who had reported receiving threats.
The victims were in for more disappointment when, two days later, the president strongly opposed any efforts to “dig up graves that had been forgotten”. Although President Kenyatta did not mention Kinoti’s name and did not directly refer to the events of 2007/2008, his statement was understood to mean that he did not approve of the detective’s announcement and that there would be no investigation.
Two months earlier, Kinoti had announced that PEV survivors had reported that the rhetoric that usually preceded election violence in certain areas had started. They complained that they were being referred to as “watu wengine”, “watu fulani” (Kiswahili for “outsiders”). Many were feeling apprehensive about remaining in their homes for fear of being targeted. Similar talk had been common just before the 2007/2008 violence, and certain communities were profiled as outsiders and labelled “madoadoa”, “kwekwe”, and “sangari” because of their ethnicity and perceived political affiliation.
The report of the Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence, chaired by appellate judge Philip Waki in 2008 said 405 people died from gunshot wounds, mostly in the back, and estimated that 900 women suffered sexual violence.
It has been a matter of concern that the Kenyan government has failed to act on the recommendations of the Waki report, which documented the horrors of the 2007/2008 post-election violence. The report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission has also been left to gather dust on government shelves as fears of violence continue to stalk Kenyans every five years during the election cycle.
To watch the whole session and the survivors stories: https://www.pscp.tv/w/1vAxRwrAOqqKl?s=03#
The names of the sexual violence survivors have been changed to protect their identity. The only exception is Elizabeth Atieno, who has previously waived privacy considerations.