Petrol bombs went off and teargas canisters exploded creating a smell of death in Kibera. Nostrils did not need to train hard to catch the acrid smell of burning bodies
By Joyce J Wangui
For two days, Kibera’s 12 villages had descended into an orgy of bloodletting pitting supporters of Opposition leader Raila Odinga against incumbent President Mwai Kibaki’s followers after both claimed victory in the 2007 presidential election.
“After Kibaki was sworn in, people started screaming and throwing stones. They were chanting: ‘No Raila, No Peace’ and ‘Wakikuyu wezi wa kura’, [‘You Kikuyus have stolen the votes’].
People were hacked to death and bodies left rotting in the hot sun; houses went up in flames and angry mobs of youth — high on drugs and alcohol — started looting and raping women.
Lina leads the way as we canvas through open sewers and neglected garbage, face to face with realities of living in a slum. The pathways are narrow and many people zip past each other rushing to accomplish urgent errands. The air is stifling. The noise, deafening.
Hop-step-and jump over manholes, puddles of dirty water and human waste with the help of my mobile phone light and we finally, just before 7 pm, we get to her house nestled in a cluster of mud-walled, tin-roofed structures cheek-and-jowl with each other.
Inside villages such as Siranga, Gatwekera, Sarang’ombe, Olympic, Lindi, Mashimoni and Laini Saba, people could not venture outside their houses.
“My family had abandoned me. I will never forgive them for that,” says Lina, a 41-year-old widow living in the Kikuyu dominated village of Gatwekera.
When police arrived on January 2, 2008, the violence escalated. Lina remained indoors hiding under her bed, curled between ducks.
She continued to lie under her bed, hoping that when the police came to her area, they would save her.
“I heard a loud bang on the door. I couldn’t open. Before I could silence the ducks, four armed policemen broke the door down and budged into my tiny room. One said, “Hapa iko mtu (There is somebody inside),” she speaks slowly, articulating her words clearly.
She pauses, her eyes glistening with tears. When they saw the ducks, they beat them making them scamper for safety. Then they found her.
They roughed her up, and ordered her to undress.
“The first one was very rough. It is as if he was performing some form of revenge. The second one was verbally abusive, telling me, ‘Malaya wewe, waizi wa kura! [You whore; vote thieves]’. The third one did not really want to rape me and his colleagues threatened to shoot him. He forced me to perform oral sex on him.”
Lina says the fourth policeman did not physically harm her, but pleaded with the rest to stop tormenting her. “They asked him to shoot me but he said he would shoot them first before turning the gun on himself.”
Still, he stood by and watched his colleagues gang rape her – one was in her vagina, another in her anus and the third in her mouth.
“If I had my way,” she continues, “I would take the heaviest revenge on the policeman who forced me to suck him. That was so humiliating. He infected me with funny diseases, including a severe rush.
“Then he forced me to swallow his ejaculate,” she adds quickly, hiding her face.
A long moment of silence passes, then her body contorts. Her forehead is sweaty. And next, she is retching and throwing up everything in her gut.
On a table behind her are two medicine bottles with Septrin and TDF, drugs for managing HIV.
Lina has been living with virus that causes Aids since 2004. It is what led to her husband’s death, leaving her to fend for their two children – now aged 21 and 15.
Lina believes that her HIV status was the cause of problems for her. Her mother and siblings isolated her openly because they did not want to be associated with a ‘dying’ person.
“They even shunned my children. I became the black sheep of the family,” she says.
Her mother, who owned several rental houses in Gatwekera, had given one to Lina but repossessed it after she revealed her health status.
They made her life unbearable, telling her to go and die in her husband’s village in Machakos. During the post-election violence, they did the unexpected.
“My mother assembled all of her children and fled Nairobi, saying that my condition could not allow her to take me along with them.”
She is struggling to keep calm, she adds: “It is because of them that I was raped. Had they taken me along, I would be singing a different tune.”
Her HIV status did not deter the rapists. “They did it anyway, even after I disclosed to them that I was sick. I begged and begged but they just laughed it off.”
She tells me while they were at it; they hurled unprintable insults at her but one keeps ringing in her memory: “Nyinyi Wakikuyu mnajifanyanga sana. Mnaiba kura na mnathani tumezubaa, tutawafunza adabu, wezi nyinyi [You Kikuyus feel too good. Do you think you can steal votes believing we are not alert? We will teach you a lesson, you thieves.]”
After finishing with her, they changed positions. “They toyed with my body like an object.” The third one hit her so hard on the head and ordered her to “kalisha miguu vizuri, malaya hii” [Place your legs properly, you prostitute.]
Before they could finish, she started becoming unconscious, but in her dizziness, she heard them debating whether to kill her let her live.
“The one officer who did not rape me pleaded with his colleagues to save my life.”
Lina wished they had killed her, for she couldn’t fathom living with the thought of what had just happened.
Looking back again, she is glad she lived to tell the story.
“Many women died after the gang rapes. Some committed suicide. They died with their stories. I am lucky that my story didn’t end there.”
She was infected with gonorrhea, and vaginal ruptures, bruises and a severe mouth rush.
Lina continued to hide under her bed, not knowing what to do with the discharge from her private parts.
“I was so stressed, my heart kept pounding.” She says the shame of being raped was taking a toll on her mind, and she started having constant headaches.
At worst, she could vomit bile. She had not eaten for days. She sought help at the Médecins Sans Frontières clinics in the slum area where she was treated with the help of her friend’s money. She was immediately put on Septrin, a drug that prevents opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis, meningitis and hepatitis. In the weeks that followed, her viral load soared.
“My CD4 count hit a record low,” she says, referring to the count of white blood cells in an HIV-infected person’s body. I was so thin because of the stress emanating from the rape. I was not eating.”
After the gang rape, Lina feared she would become the object of ridicule. She didn’t know how to deal with a fractured pelvis, bruises and other forms injuries inflicted on her body. Her lower abdomen ached, so did her stomach.
“We could not even think of going to any police station to report or to seek medical assistance. There were roadblocks all over.”
She had never imagined security personnel could harm anyone, let alone commit inhuman acts such as rape. “I knew they had come to protect me. That is what we know the police for.”
The Commission of Inquiry into the Post- Election Violence (CIPEV) report in 2008 found that rape was used to pressurise people to leave their homes, to retaliate against them for voting for the ‘wrong’ candidate, tribe or party and consequently degrade them and their communities. Even as the commission tried to confront the silence that surrounds sexual crimes when it was investigating the violence, commissioners would admit that it was daunting, as many victims did not come out while those who did, came in so late.
Patricia Nyaundi, former executive director of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), says a number of factors inhibit victims from reporting to the police, particularly in a conflict situation.
“First, there is the fear of reprisals from the perpetrators. Failure to identify the oppressor is also another reason.”
She adds that the stigma and embarrassment associated with rape deters many victims from reporting the crime, let alone telling anybody. Additionally, she says that ignorance on the reporting procedures and the apathy in achieving justice prevents women from disclosing when rape occurs.
“This is because sexual violence has been normalised. It is almost becoming a socially acceptable norm, more so in the slum areas where it is prevalent.”
When she was executive director at the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (Fida), Nyaundi received distress calls from women in Kibera who had been raped, but due to the precarious condition, could not seek immediate medical intervention.
“That alone kills them. Knowing that you are sitting with water-tight evidence but can’t do anything about it is so frustrating.”
Several testimonies included accusations against the General Service Unit, a special paramilitary detachment of the Kenyan police, for perpetrating gross human rights violations, including rapes and gang rapes.
A Fida official in charge of public litigation confirmed that about 30 women reported to have been raped by the police and GSU officers in Kibera and Mathare.
“When I remember what those policemen did to me, I could not believe my ears that the DPP had closed these files, many of which involve the police.”
Some women can still identify their attackers because they cross paths every day, but Lina says she cannot recall the identity of the policemen who raped her. Earlier, in January 2012, the judges at the International Criminal Court declined to confirm charges against former police commissioner Hussein Ali for sexual violence perpetrated by the police in Naivasha and Kibera even though they found that there were reasonable grounds to conclude that these crimes occurred.
Fergal Gaynor, the legal representative of victims in the ICC case for crimes committed in Nakuru and Naivasha, says the total impunity of the police for the hundreds of killings and rapes committed by their officers during the PEV is a continuing disgrace.
“Non-prosecution of the police for serious crimes committed during the PEV has inevitably reinforced the culture of impunity for serious crimes — including extrajudicial killings and rapes — committed by police officers, with the knowledge of their superiors.”
Lina still asks questions about why the country’s top prosecutor cannot order fresh investigations into sexual crimes.
“All we hear is that there was no evidence,” but quips scornfully: “Do we expect the same police who raped us to investigate themselves?”
Unlike many women who are not conversant with how to use the justice system in dealing with sexual violence, Lina is part of a public interest litigation case filed at the High Court against the Government of Kenya in March 2014.
Lina is one of eight survivors who have filed suit at the High Court of Kenya – with help from the Coalition on Violence against Women, the Independent Medico-Legal Unit, the Kenyan section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ-Kenya), and Physicians for Human Rights.
They have sued the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the police service and its oversight mechanism, and the public health authorities for failing to protect civilians and failing to prosecute the perpetrators of sexual attacks during the violence. Christine Alai of Physicians for Human Rights said the plaintiffs sought to compel the Kenyan authorities to reinvestigate sexual and gender-based violence that occurred during the conflict as well as demand that the government pays compensation and foots the bill for comprehensive medical and psycho-social support for victims.
“Furthermore, even as the director of public prosecutions insists that there is no evidence to prosecute PEV cases, the survivors will demonstrate that the police refused to document their claims and that the government’s continued inaction represents persistent and willful neglect to codify effective measures to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators,” says Alai.
When Lina and the seven other survivors of sexual violence testified last year in a landmark case at the High Court, she felt empowered.
“I felt like a huge rock had been lifted off my shoulders.”
The Sexual Offenses Act, 2006, provides for a jail term of not less than 15 years for anybody who commits gang rape, but the sentence may be enhanced to imprisonment for life. The same law stipulates that offences committed by persons in authority or positions of trust should be treated more seriously, but still Lina fears that nothing will be done, because the authorities do not take sexual offenses seriously.
Millicent Obaso, program officer at Care International, praises women who testified before the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission saying that by their very act, they empowered survivors of gender violence to take on the role of activists in promoting better treatment of women.
For rape survivors, physical wounds and scars may disappear, but the stigma of losing one’s dignity stays on, according to Teresa Omondi of the Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC) at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital. The emotional trauma and the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and, in many cases, the complication of pregnancy destroy lives forever. Nairobi-based obstetrician-gynecologist Jean Kagia says rape disempowers its victims. “Someone else takes control over your body and hurts you in the most intimate way. A stranger exercises his power on your body.”
Lina is only one of hundreds of women who were sexually assaulted in Kibera. Sexualised violence was so prevalent in the sprawling slum that it was not seen as out of the ordinary.
She estimates that nine in 10 women she encounters daily were victims of rape or gang rape, mainly perpetrated by the police or hired goons.
The road to justice has been long and winding.
“Judges are ordinary men and women like me; they may fail us but God never will,” Lina observes.
She has been throwing herself into community work that restores the dignity of women who have been sexually violated.
Since 2009, she has taken part in many training programmes on psycho social support for post rape care, women living with HIV and those dealing with the loss of their spouses.
“We started an initiative in the slum known as ‘Mbona Tusibonge’ ahead of the 2013 elections, aimed at bringing peace and reconciliation among all the tribes living in Kibera,” she says.
Lina speaks so passionately about a support centre within the Kenyatta National Hospital that has been instrumental in giving therapeutic care to post rape survivors.
“It is where I learnt the ropes of survival. They took me in when I was destitute and hopeless. I was so thin. I hated myself as I had lost faith in everything.”
At KNH, she joined a support group of like-minded women and would soon be appointed a peer educator on the intricacies of HIV/Aids. Women cried a lot here as they relived the rapes they went through.
“It was like a ventilating centre for us.”
The hospital also provided them with food and cash twice a month. The knowledge Lina got at KNH gave her the impetus to study more about dealing with rape and the trauma that follows. She has traversed Kibera teaching women how to preserve evidence after a rape ordeal, when to report to the police and seek medical help.
Lina says the gang rape and the entire post election crisis was a wake up call to her to be her sister’s keeper. She rallied women in the slum ahead of the 2013 elections to start a campaign where they would protect themselves.
“In Kibera women used to walk around wearing female condoms ahead of the elections, in case of a repeat of the 2007 elections. This time we were prepared.”
Her work in the community has not gone unnoticed. Women put in a good word for her when her services were sought by the Sex Worker Programme (Swop) clinic. She was hired as a peer educator and quickly rose to Outreach Health Worker.
Lina has been training women living with HIV on the need to adhere to ARV treatment.
“During the crisis, most women could not adhere to drugs because their sickness was not the first priority, security was.
“I reflected back to PEV and remembered how so many women who were HIV positive died.”
She says due to illiteracy levels, coupled by ignorance, many women in the slums do not know the ARV drugs by name.
“I have been teaching them to memorise the names, dosage and date and times of usage.”
During the 2013 elections, she used her personal phone to send all these details through short text messages. Women still knock at her door for help. Her own adherence to the ARV treatment saw doctors recently tell her that her viral load is undetectable.
This is good news to her but as there is no cure for HIV/Aids, Lina says she will continue taking drugs. She says all these things have helped her recover, because she knows she is not alone. Living positively is one of the means she devised, first as a person living with HIV and secondly, as a survivor of rape.
“Denial leads to self stigma, and this is what I teach women like me.”
She draws a lot of inspiration from her children, who like her, have survived against great odds.
“When the world turned against me, including my own mother and siblings, my two children never left my side. They are the reason I am living.”
Music soothes her soul. On this particular day, the entire interview is conducted slightly above the strains of Kikuyu songs playing on her stereo.
The music also provides cover from eavesdroppers next door. She likes to observe confidentiality in her life and work, knowing the scars stigma can cause. After seven years of waiting for elusive justice, Lina hopes measures will put in place for victims to receive compensation. The government needs to urgently help victims realise some measure of justice, she says, adding that the administration was selective in compensating only those people who were living in the camps for the displaced.
“Are we not victims, too?”
Lina is not keen on compensation from the ICC Trust Fund for Victims because she fears that it might take too long. “Some of the survivors could be dead by then.”
Monetary compensation would be welcome but Lina needs a job to cater for her family. Three huge pictures hung on the walls of her house are adorned with pictures — a lion, birds feeding with their mother and a painting of Jesus and a portrait of the President.
She points at each photo, telling me the significance of each, in her life: “Jesus is my friend, when life is tough I turn to him.
The lion reminds me to remain strong. The birds are a reminder that as a mother, you have to always be there for your children. As for the president’s photo, he is my president.”
She, too, has political ambitions. She hopes to vie for a leadership position in order to protect women’s rights especially in the slum area.