Thanks to the reminders of the violence that was meted on thousands of innocent Kenyans in the period that is now known as Post Election Violence I am unlikely to sleep tonight. Two years ago seated in my Minnesota living room I listened in horror (emails and phone calls) to stories about women being raped. The reports on rape first started with the attacks that followed soon after the election results were announced — and continued as displaced women moved into camps away from their homes.
I was thousands of miles away, but so grossly affected by the unnecessary violence that that year I did not celebrate New Year’s Day. In fact, I was very angry with Kenyans who went out to celebrate the New Year that night.
A high school friend had just graduated from medical school and was now a doctor in a Kenyan hospital. Her voice broke every time she told me of the people she saw at the local hospitals. Thus began my email conversations with the wonderful women at the Gender Violence Recovery Centre of the Nairobi Women’s Hospital. I learned that in just a little over two weeks (December 27th 2007 to 13th January 2008) the hospital had seen 100 victims of sexual violence: 40 of them were under 18. Children. The youngest of these was only four. A baby.
It is these true stories that inspired me to write about this violence that was largely unspoken off: to give a voice in these women’s words. This violence against women that is time and time again used in time of conflict.
So it is with renewed horror that I read in yesterday’s Daily Nation about Ruth Njeri whose husband was killed during the PEV. What’s more, she was raped several times, scalded with hot water and left for dead. As if this defilement of her person were not enough, Njeri discovered she was pregnant. That her counselors kept her pregnancy a secret from her is a subject for a different discussion:
She was tested, but the medical staff were evasive about the results although they continued counselling her. After six months, Njeri wanted to terminate the pregnancy but was not allowed to.
Before all that Njeri and her husband were working-class Kenyans: business people
Here she describes how they raided her home. From her account it is obvious that their only interest was to kill her and her family; adding to the growing evidence that most of the PEV incidents were planned. It is also curious that they were all dressed similarly.
“They were howling like dogs and were dressed in white T-shirts and red shorts,” she recalls. “I stood rooted to the ground with fear, knowing that these were the men my husband had referred to earlier. About seven of the men entered the compound and began kicking and pushing me into the house while the rest went away.”
Once inside the house, they took the little boy from Njeri’s husband and flung him against the wall. They then attacked her husband. “They were prepared and well-armed,” recalls Njeri. “They had machetes, rungus, arrows and whips. I cried for mercy, then pleaded, but they would not listen. I ran to the bedroom and got them Sh40,000. I begged them to take the money and leave us but they just laughed.
“One of them snatched the money from me, smelt it and threw it in my face. He reached into his pockets and pulled out many Sh1,000 notes, ‘We don’t need your money, we have been paid well to do our job,’” he said.
And then like savages her attackers molested her. In turns.
Njeri was barely conscious when they began raping her in turns. But she remembers that each one would finish with her then help himself to some of the food she had cooked. Her last memory of that night is of the men pouring hot water on her naked body before leaving her for dead.
Perhaps, at the end of the day when we are done debating politics and laughing at the idiocy of the political elite, perhaps then we will think of Njeri and thousands of internally displaced persons whose only wish is that their lives might return to some normalcy and that those who masterminded the PEV would pay.
And for Njeri and her children the struggle continues.
Njeri finds herself swinging between depression and the will to rebuild her life. “At times I look at our condition and wonder whether it will ever end, or what kind of punishment this is,” she cries. “Then I look at others who are worse off… for women who were raped and contracted Aids, it is a sure death sentence. Then I count my blessings and console myself that although I lost my husband and my property, I still have the son of the man I loved, and I consider Wanjiru a blessing and another reason for me to live.”
Nekessa Opoti is the Group Publisher of the Imagine Company, the parent company of Kenya Imagine: http://www.kenyaimagine.com/ . This post appeared originally at Kenya Imagine: http://www.kenyaimagine.com/23-Fresh-Content/Politics-and-Governance/Why-Justice-Must-Be-Served.html/