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Pain beyond tears for widows and babies as terrorists hit families

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Originally Published July 20th.
(Photo courtesy of AP)
By Daniel Wesangula and Kipchumba Some.

After successive waves of orgies of violence, calm may have returned to the volatile Tana Delta and the Wajir- Mandera border flashpoints. But it is only after the fires die out and the mud walls rebuilt, that the real battle begins for the survivors. These battles are fought by society’s most vulnerable lot – women and children. The death toll is deceiving. Verified data shows only one child and one woman perished in the Mpeketoni attacks. However, behind these solitary figures, the suffering continues. Women and children who survived the ordeal wage a thousand little battles every day they wake up to their new realities; battles of loss, grief, denial and accepting their changed lives… forever.

The look on Daisy Mbinya’s eye is forlorn and lost. She is contemplating life without a man she was planning to spend the rest of her life with. On the evening of June 15, her boyfriend Geoffrey Chepkwony was shot dead by al-Shabaab militants at Kibaoni shopping centre. Geoffrey, who operated a boda boda business, was stopped by the attackers at Kibaoni on his way home from seeing a friend at Majembeni. After a brief conversation – it is believed they asked him what religion he was – the attackers shot him off his motorbike, making him one of the 60 people slaughtered on that night of pain and bloodshed.

Daisy is five months pregnant. The two were planning a wedding later this year. She turned from fiancee to widow in the batting of an eyelid. Her painful story resonates with several other women, among them 32-year-old Agnes Dzai. Painful memories Agnes and her family were just about to sit down for dinner when gunmen struck what used to be her home in Mpeketoni. The macabre details of what happened next have been documented several times.

But each time the question of that night’s events is asked, a flood of tears escape her eyes and her face contorts in pain. She did not see how her husband died, but she imagines that with one slit of the throat, life slowly ebbed out of his body, leaving her and her three children with no one to look up to. Destitute. “Lakini najua hii uchungu yangu siwezi linganisha na ule wa watoto wangu. Wanaweza kua wanacheza saa hii, lakini najua mawazo yanawazingira (I cannot compare what I feel with what my children go through. They may be playing out there now, but they are a disturbed lot),” she says.

Official records put the death toll in Mpeketoni and parts of Tana River after the recent spate of violence at more than 80. All, except one, were men, the heads of households.

Witness accounts say a majority of them were dragged from their houses in full view of their families and led to their deaths, leaving behind nervous, scared and resigned individuals left to pick up the pieces after the massacres. Evil hand As Agnes’ husband was led out, a neighbour refused to open his door for the attackers. They did not let up. As they walked away, they left behind a burning house. In it, a 12-year-old boy was burnt to ashes.

The walls of his house offered little resistance to the ravenous petrol-fueled flames started by the attackers. Perhaps at his death, he looked at his father, his protector, who died next to him, and wondered why he was not in a position to shield him from the impending evil.

“At the time of the attacks, darkness shielded the children somewhat from the barbarity of it all. But at dawn, the sun exposed all evil. The children and their mothers saw their fathers, brothers or uncles lying dead. Shot or slaughtered. Some stripped almost naked,” Caleb Kilunde, a Red Cross officer based in Mpeketoni told The Standard on Sunday. “You could see the shock and the confusion on their faces.” On June 24, another attack occurred, this time in Maleli, a village near Witu.

The attackers, clad in Army fatigues, ransacked houses, picked their male victims, tied their hands behind their backs and walked them into the forest where they slaughtered five in cold blood. One of the five killed was Neema Beja’s husband. “She lost it a bit after her son stumbled upon his father’s body and led her to it. She disappeared for a day, leaving her four children behind. The youngest is 10-months-old.

The family finally found her near Witu town. She was talking to herself,” Zara, a neighbour and relative to the Bejas said. “After the burial she left with whatever she could carry. I haven’t seen her since.” Currently, more than 500 families remain displaced from their homes over fears of reemergence of the violence. Possibly, up to 1,000 children have had untold violence meted out upon them by an evil hand. Of these, up to 100 were present as their fathers were killed, like little calves unknowingly accompanying their mothers to the slaughterhouse.

“Children and women have always been the significant members of the family. If anything happens to either, then the stability of the family unit is threatened, and to some extent, the stability of a region and a nation. For those that suffered the inhumanity of these heinous acts, their families have been dramatically impacted,” Dr Catherine wa Gachutha, a family therapist, told The Standard on Sunday. Dr Wa Gachutha says counselling is a must in such situations. Its absence results in dramatic consequences.
“The victims will become angry at everyone. At God, authority and even themselves, creating a poisonous environment around them,” she said.

This could possibly lead to other conditions such as depression and schizophrenia, textbook post-traumatic stress disorders. For Agnes and her family, there is nothing academic about Dr Wa Gachutha’s theory. The anger they experience as a family is real and personal. Her son no longer plays with some of his former friends. See Also: It was horror as gunfire rent the highway “He says one of the people who took his father out of the house that night spoke Somali. His friend is Somali. They have literally grown up together. They even share a birthday. But he no longer plays with him,” Agnes says.

Her son has become withdrawn and moody. “At times he screams at night…scaring everyone at the camp,” she says. Internalised hate “If a child is grieving because he has lost a father, friend, mentor… and these core people in his life have not been replaced or he has not coped with their loss, he becomes withdrawn. His ability to connect with life is compromised and he has a change in personality,” Dr Wa Gachutha says.

The therapist says an extroverted child will become an introvert and may resort to doing drugs. The hate becomes internalised and he becomes resentful. Any perception of injustice leads him to become extremely violent. This, she says, is how in essence the world creates pyschos out of normal human beings. The Dzais are among the tens of families seeking refuge and security in numbers at Mavuno IDP camp. They go to their farms during the day and congregate at night.

A month after the devastating attack, they remain pessimistic on rebuilding and going back home. At Mavuno, it is hard to see from which direction the phoenix will rise and in the hearts of the widows, fear triumphs over courage. But anger triumphs over everything else. At the height of the attacks, the Kenya Red Cross Society provided some counselling services in Mpeketoni. Little was done to survivors in the more remote areas of Gamba, Kibiboni, Poromoko, Maleli Kati and Hindi, all which witnessed varying levels of violence. “At times we are helpless since most would-be clients cannot pay for these services, so counselling is rarely part of the healing process,” Dr Wa Gachutha says. “Many times, even for us as practitioners, getting to the most desperate cases is impossible.”

It seldom gets more desperate than Priscilla and Beatrice’s case. When attackers got to Priscilla’s house in Malamande, Hindi, her husband Gichohi alias Simba declined to open. They forced themselves in. “They tried to pull him out of the house, but he refused. They then shot him three times in the chest, killing him,” said Priscilla. See Also: It was horror as gunfire rent the highway The enraged attackers then went outside and drained petrol from a motorbike, doused the house and set it ablaze.

This forced their son, Ken Mangara, a 12-year-old pupil at Kibiboni Primary School to bolt out of the house. The child had hidden in the house when the attackers came calling and when he rushed out when the house was set on fire, one of the attackers shot him twice in the back. The attackers then turned their attention to their young daughter, who was bawling loudly. “They asked what gender my baby was and I told them she is a girl. They lifted her clothes to confirm it,” she said. Priscilla has three kids, and her income is meager.

Revenge mission Until recently, Beatrice prided herself in being Jairo Kipkemboi’s wife. Jairo was a police officer. But he, too, was killed by the attackers in Mpeketoni. Her pride has now turned to worry, as she contemplates raising their three children without the family’s bread winner. “I don’t know how I will make it. The kids are too young… I am just a housewife,” she said. Their eldest son is in Standard Five while the second born is a Standard Four. The youngest is in nursery school. Kipkemboi was stationed at Lamu police station and had just visited a friend in Mpeketoni. He joined the police force in 1996 and was posted to Lamu in 2012. At the time of the incident, he was having a meal at Capital Café when he heard some commotion outside.

He got out to see what was going on. The attackers were clad in jungle green, a fact that misled Jairo to think they, too, were in the disciplined forces. He called out to notify them that he, too, was a policeman. Their reply was curt: multiple shots at him. He died instantly. Wanjiru Njuguna and Mary Njeri have five children between them. They would have been strangers were it not for one person – Peter Muchina Njuguna, their deceased husband and a Kenya Police Reservist. He, too, fell to the bullets of the attackers.

The recent violence may be fresh in the mind, but a journey two years back leads you to an older but equally painful memory among Mpeketoni residents. Different cast similar script, the only variant being the statistics. Back then, at least nine children were hacked to death by attackers on a revenge mission in Kilelengwani village. Fathers, mothers, sons and daughters lost their lives – violently. Survivors were left to trudge on with their grief. The burden of loss might have lessened for some.

It may have become heavier for others. For others still, the grief from then may be festering in their two-year-old wounds. See Also: It was horror as gunfire rent the highway The dead tell no tales, but more often than not, those who live through such violence see enough to make conversations that can last several life times. When the guns went silent after another bloody attack at a church in Kenya’s resort city of Mombasa on March 23, dozens lay in pools of blood. Some face up, looking towards heaven for salvation, others face down, angry at the hell that had visited their place of worship.

From where he was seated, the 13-year old Gift Osinya instinctively rushed to his mother, who had collapsed in a heap. Gift knew something was wrong. “When he reached his mother he calledout her name several times while trying to lift her up to a sitting position. When he realised she was not waking up, he grabbed his younger brother, Satrin, who had a bullet lodged in his head, then ran out of the church, onto a tuktuk and to safety,” Benson Osinya, Gift’s father, told The Standard on Sunday. Benson says of the three of them, Gift was the most affected.

Your are here » Home » Coast Pain beyond tears for widows and babies as terrorists hit families By Daniel Wesangula and Kipchumba Some Updated Saturday, July 19th 2014 at 23:35 GMT +3 Share this story: “At least he received some counselling from the Kenya Red Cross and is improving every day,” says Benson. “But we had to change his school. He is now at a boarding school in Ruiru, where he continues to recover.” Sadly, statistics show that the deserving attention Gift received for his psychological well-being is an isolated case.

Shattered pieces After the horror witnessed by children who have experienced the worst kind of violence first hand, is it even possible to move on? How does a mother pick up the shattered pieces of a previous life and glue them together into a new one? Can a child forgive his father’s killers? Is healing even possible? “Yes and no,” says Dr Wa Gachutha. “Moving on is mandatory because life happens. The challenge remains moving on in the right direction.

Counseling must be done for healing to take place. After sufficient healing, a mother can pick up the pieces and begin a new life, so will a child. Healing will occur in time and under the right circumstances, but forgiveness… forgiveness is complex. Only the survivor knows whether he or she has truly forgiven.” After staring death in the face and living to tell, the hardest task of all awaits the Bejas, Dzais, Osinyas and the hundreds of families who have undergone similar trauma. They all survived the war, but will they survive the peace?

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