By Joyce J Wangui
A look of deep embarrassment washes over the 42-year-old widow’s face as she stares at the empty kerosene stove in the corner of her rented single-room tin shack at City Cotton slums in Nairobi. She is unable to offer visitors any food or drink as is customary for households in Kenya.
“Today I am not eating. This week, I have eaten only thrice,” says Jaber*.
Even with the hunger, life at City Cotton is way better than where she lived before in Kiambio slums. It is clean and organised, with her house one of just six fenced in by corrugated iron sheets with a shared toilet. Eight years ago,something happened that forced her to demand that her husband moves them out of Kosovo, the part of Kiambio largely inhabited by members of her Luo community.
“It was like a wake-up call to move away from that filthy place,” says Jaber.
Here, people refer to her as the woman who walks with the P3 form – the formal police document for reporting physical assault and rape that must be completed by a government doctor or clinical officer.
Jaber doesn’t really walk, she limps. A partial stroke brought on by post-traumatic stress disorder has paralysed her left arm and leg, but it is the only visible sign of deeper injuries she still bears.
“People make fun when they see me with the police form but i only know too well the meaning of this crucial document. It is as important as my heart,” she says. The document is hard to come by and sometimes victims are forced to pay for it, so she is ready with hers. It is a good scare tactic in any slum area where any woman is a likely victim.
Her slow and laboured limping is in sharp contrast to the bubbly and energetic fishmonger of seven years ago.
“People see my disability before they see me. They forget that I am human first before I am a woman living with disability,” she explains.
At first, she is hesitant, but we are together the whole afternoon and she eventually opens up. Even then, she gropes for the right words to describe what she endured, breaking into tears and shoving me away with her only functioning hand as a plaintive appeal not to reawaken her painful memories.I let her be.
Speaking about the past only reopens old wounds. After thinking through, she decides to open up further.
“It was bad, very bad It was very painful. When you have forced into sex, more so with strangers, it is so humiliating,” she says.
She was hiding in their one-roomed house when violence broke out on the evening of December 30, 2007.Even before Mwai Kibaki was sworn in as President for a second term following disputed elections, violence had erupted in Kiambio as well as in other informal settlements around Nairobi such as Mathare, Kariobangi and Kibera.
Even in peace time, Kiambio — one of the smallest and least recognisable informal settlements in Nairobi – is one of the most violent. Named from the Kiswahili word mbio, meaning to be on the run, it is squeezed between the Moi Airbase in Eastleigh to the left and Nairobi River to the right and is home to between 40,000 and 50,000 residents [mainly from the Luo and Kikuyu ethnic communities but with a sprinkling of others. At the crack of dawn, the slum is abuzz with the activities of shopkeepers, food sellers, cart wheelers and car wash services on the Nairobi River which meanders through the settlement.
Men and women distill and trade in illicit liquor chang’aa, and the slum is the breeding ground for some of the city’s girls who have dropped out of school due to early pregnancies; teenage boys already hooked onto drugs and already in training to become killers, thieves and carjackers. Vice is commonplace and it is not uncommon for people to take the law into their own hands. Rape is an every-minute thing in Kiambio, says Jaber. She remembers four male strangers breaking into her house. Even before she could scream for help, the panga was on her neck. She froze.
“One covered my mouth, another one my eyes. The other one was threatening to slash my body to shreds if I dared to shout. The fourth man threw me down, tore my inner garments and raped me,” she says.
They raped her in turns.
“As they did that thing they also called me names.They raped and raped and left me for dead,” she says.
The rapists told her they would ensure they ruptured her private parts, so that no man could ever have her again.
Although she could not see their faces as they were all covered up in masks, she could hear them speaking in Kikuyu as they argued among themselves. Because she does not understand Kikuyu, she could not make sense of what they were saying.Jaber says she suspects the rapists knew her. “Why would they cover their faces? She recalled hearing them laugh scornfully afterwards.
She recalls the insults they hurled at her. “They told me, ‘You prostitute, today we are going to show you Luos a lesson you will never forget.’”
The men beat her up and kept shoving the machete on her neck. Then they left her for dead. All the while, Jaber prayed that her husband should not show up because she was sure they would kill him.
“I lost touch with reality. All I could see was their ejaculate oozing from my private parts,” she says. Sperms from different people.She faced two immediate challenges – first was making a report and receiving treatment.
“There was war all over, she says. “I had to choose between keeping quiet and risking my life,” she adds.
Her second worry was how to tell her husband what had happened to her.
“How could I tell him I was raped? How could I even start narrating to him? Would he believe me?” she recalls.
Out in the streets, people were going on each other with machetes. Stories abounded of heads being chopped off and stuck on stakes in the streets.
“Kiambio had become a no-go zone. Luos were fighting with Kikuyus,” she says. The Luo were angered by what they saw as the theft of their kinsman Raila Odinga’s votes by Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu. The election conflict only renewed hostilities between the Luo and Kikuyu in the area. While Kikuyu are the majority landlords, the Luo are tenants. Many Kikuyu were evicted from their homes, which were forcefully occupied by the Luo.
At 8 pm for a small bag which is tucked between a pile of clothes, for her dosage of antiretroviral drugs. “ARVs have their own regime, like the government of Kenya. You have to follow their rules to the letter.” She previously used to get drugs at no cost from the SOS hospital in Nairobi’s Buruburu area but since it changed focus to awareness on HIV/Aids in schools, churches and the community, she now has to pay for them. She would rather skip a meal than her daily dosage. The money she made from selling dry fish was spent on the drugs she relies on to survive.
“Sometimes I wake up to their faces. They still haunt me to date,” she says before letting out a wail.
“They were four of them. Two were wearing masks. One had his eyes covered; the other one was wielding a newly sharpened panga (machete).”
When her husband returned home, himself looking disheveled but lucky to be alive, Jaber told her what had happened.
“His first reaction was verbal abuse.” He insulted her for days on end but he never threatened to leave.
“It was his way of coming to terms with my fate,” she says.
Soon, he resorted to excessive drinking, and would sometimes not return home.
When she discovered that she was infected with HIV, although not pregnant, she told her husband and again, he was emotionally torn. “He cried like a baby. He blamed himself.”
Seeking help, particularly for a crime as intimate and intrusive as sexual assault can be overwhelming. Ironically, it was her husband who provided her the initial support she needed.
“He was my rock. When it finally hit him that I had been raped, he never left my side. He looked after me like a child,” she says.
Jaber says her husband was her first source of support. The recurrence of these memories is what made her to ask her husband that they move out of Kiambio.
Their only daughter had a terminal illness and died because she could no longer take care of her. Although the couple was advised to only have protected sex, her husband would hear none of it.
“He said, ‘if it’s my wife’s vagina that will cause me death, so be it.”‘ He felt that if the rapists had invaded his intimacy with his wife and he would not allow them to win by using condoms.
He would soon contract HIV, decline to be put on antiretroviral drugs, and die in 2010. Jaber has spent the past seven years entangled in her own emotional battles.
Today she is a lonely woman. She lost everything, including her dignity.
She is shocked that sexual offences could be so relegated, despite their gravity, by the same authorities that she blames for instigating them.
“We have been reduced to numbers, percentages and codes,” she says bitterly.
Every survivor has a harrowing story of abuse and humiliation. So far, she has three wet handkerchiefs by her side as she recalls what happened. She has contemplated suicide times without number.
“Sometimes I just lock myself in the house for a whole week,” she says.
Her health issues keep her from working for weeks, thus denying her income. This often means that she does not have food. Taking antiretroviral drugs with no proper nutrition produces adverse effects on one’s health.
For Jaber, justice has been elusive, at best. Hopes that the International Criminal Court (ICC) would deliver victim’s justice have faded, but she clings
The Director of Public Prosecutions admitted to facing problems in prosecuting cases because the evidence was inadequate, or perpetrators could not be identified, or witnesses feared reprisals.
Although there are no convictions in rape and sexual assault cases because of lack of evidence, she says most women who made police reports on rape cases and gave their evidence were ignored.
Jaber is equally unhappy with investigators from the International Criminal Court, who were sent to Kenya. “We heard they only went to the PEV ‘hotpots’ of Naivasha, Eldoret and Nakuru, but they ignored Nairobi.”
“When people say that there was no post-election violence in Nairobi, I feel so bad because I witnessed it firsthand.” She says it is in the slums where the worst atrocities happened.
“Here we were raped like dogs,” she recounts, amid tears. Hundreds of women endured rapes, gang rapes and other forms of sexual assault. “at some point, i thought i could smell the rape.”
Jaber knows only too well that prosecutions for those who raped her will be next to impossible.
“Prosecution is good because it can lead to conviction of perpetrators but how would that translate to my everyday needs?”
No one has been convicted for sexual crimes arising from the post-election crisis, despite the Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence (CIPEV) finding that rape was used as a weapon of violence. Jaber relies on people to do tasks for her, including fetching water, washing clothes and other household chores. She feels terrible to have to depend on others so much.
Her disability requires constant physiotherapy sessions to improve on the limbs.
“This causes me a lot of pain and anger. I cry a lot because I can’t afford to go for these exercises.” With a meager income, or no money at all, she skips sessions.
“The best this government can do is to repair our lives. I am a Kenyan and I know how things are in this country,” she says matter-of-fact.
During his State of the Nation Address in 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the establishment of a Sh10 billion Restorative Justice Fund to assist victims of various human rights violations in the country. However, that is yet to be realised.
“Most of the survivors have died waiting. The sooner this money is out the better,” Jaber says.
Most importantly, the money would go to her health needs, which she says are urgent. “It will cater for my therapies, ARV drugs and other infections I get from time to time.”
She will also use the money to repair her husband’s and daughter’s graves and give them a befitting send off.
Edigah Kavulavu, a transitional justice expert at the International Commission of Jurists, Kenya Chapter and who has worked with post conflict sexual violence survivors says that medical, psycho-social support and compensation to victims are critical because they go a long way in addressing the victims’ urgent needs.
Unfortunately, he says, Kenya has no framework for reparations, making it impossible to institute restorative justice.
“Only one percent of my life is positive, 99 per cent is negative. First I was raped, then I contracted HIV, next I lost my daughter, next thing I became a widow. Before I could digest these adversities, I became paralysed, all because I cast my vote in 2007,” she cries these words out.
Jaber is sure those who raped her were from the Kikuyu tribe retaliating the killing of their kinsmen in Kiambio. Today, she says if she were to meet the rapists, she would forgive them.
Though she is yet to heal from the events of 2008, she insists that her ordeal did not change how she interacts with Kikuyus.
“Kikuyus are the majority here. In fact, most of my friends are Kikuyus.”
Her faith has taught her to “let go”. She is a prayerful woman. Through the SOS Village support group, Jaber has been able to speak about her experiences and emotions. “This is where as women who are HIV positive and endured rape to take comfort and find strength in one another’s company.”
The hospital offers survivors space and support. “Here, we meet very compassionate counselors who take us through the trauma, healing and finding ourselves.”
Grace Agenda, a community-based organisation, supports women and girls who survive sexual violence in Kenya. Its founder, Jacqueline Mutere, a PEV rape survivor herself, ensures that women like Jaber stay informed on any discussions surrounding post rape care. Jaber shelters women who have been battered and thrown out by their spouses. She describes her house as a safe place.
“Today you will find a rape victim, tomorrow you will find a woman who has been thoroughly beaten up. I house them all.” This, she says, has helped in her own recovery because as she counsels these women, she also counsels herself.
Jaber tries as much as possible to lead a normal life. She likes doing manicures and pedicures to look beautiful like before. She says she has almost resigned to her fate. She says the government has abandoned women who were raped. She has a strong resolve to live. She doesn’t want to go to an early grave.
*The victim’s name has been changed to protect her identity.