As Mt Elgon residents celebrate the return of peace and subsequent revival of the economy following a joint military operation to dismantle a militia group, others are mourning atrocities meted against them by some of the security personnel.
Thousands of the displaced families are engaged in meaningful economic activities back on their farms—thanks to joint military operation “Okoa Maisha” that led to dismantling of Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) after two years of terror amongst the area residents.
Many of those who fled the area due to fear of the outlawed militia group have returned as the military and police continue to keep vigil and ensure that law and order is maintained in the area.
But for Grace (not her real name), she has no reason to rejoice due to the suffering she underwent during the operation to flush out members of the outlawed militia group.
Her tribulations started when she was rendered landless after several families were evicted from the controversial Chebyuk settlement scheme.
The eviction led to emergence of the militia group that was targeted by the joint security team for various offences ranging from murder to robbery with violence.
However, a double tragedy hit Grace, after she was allegedly tortured and raped by some police officers on patrol. They accosted her as she came from the controversial scheme where she had gone to harvest vegetables in the company of other women.
Her situation has since turned from bad to worse as misfortunes continue to haunt her.
“I had to go back and harvest some of the vegetables that I had planted in the scheme after obtaining permission from the local provincial administration. Little did I know that fate was against me,” said the distraught mother.
When the Daily Nation visited her at their Masahek village home in Kopsiro division, her face told it all. The anguish she has suffered in the past two years is immense but she is not about to give up. Her stomach is swollen and she looks like a woman who is in final stages of pregnancy.
According to Grace, she was raped by two policemen for trespassing on the controversial land.
“My health has continued to deteriorate following the rape ordeal. I have been in and out of hospital but the situation seems not to improve,” narrated Grace, one of her hands massaging the protruding stomach.
She disclosed that the incident occurred on June 26, 2008 during the height of the military operation.
Her plight was brought to the limelight by Rural Women Peace Link, a non-governmental organisation, following outcry by local residents over mistreatment by security personnel during the operation.
“Several rape cases by either the militia or security personnel took place during the operation period. It is unfortunate that some of the victims have not received treatment,” said Ms Mary Chepkwony, the Chairperson of the organisation in charge of the North Rift and Mt Elgon area.
Moved by the woman’s suffering, the NGO, with assistance from Urgent Action Fund based in Nairobi, organised for her treatment at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, Eldoret, alongside other women tortured during the operation.
“The victim was referred for specialised treatment when the stomach kept on swelling even after receiving treatment from local health clinics,” said Ms Chepkwony.
Medical reports say she developed heart problems due to the rape trauma. She also had fluid in her abdomen which caused the swelling and had to be drained.
“I have developed persistent pain on the right part of the abdomen,” said Grace.
Although her condition improved following two months of treatment, the situation deteriorated again last week and she had to be rushed back to hospital.
She was, however, discharged after her condition improved but she is required to undergo regular medical check-ups.
“The swelling has extended to my feet and I breath with a lot of difficulty,” explained Grace who spends Sh1,200 to travel from Kopsiro to Eldoret at least once a week for the check-up.
The sickness has immobilised her and she has to rely on her nine-year-old daughter to do family chores.
She said the situation was complicated further following the arrest of her husband on suspicion that he belonged SLDF.
He is among other SLDF suspects held at Bungoma GK prison facing trial.
She appeals to the Government to release her husband to take care of her and the family. “The situation could have been better if my husband was here. At least he could take care of the family,” she said.
Relatives and other well-wishers have been assisting her cultivate an half an acre of land where she has planted onions.
Despite the pains she is undergoing, Grace cannot afford to take legal action against the government.
“Just see the level of poverty staring at us. I have surrendered to fate since I do not have money to hire a lawyer leave alone feed the family,” she said. However, she says she will appreciate any help to seek justice.
Like other local residents, she was reluctant to openly talk about the violence committed by either the militia or security until her health deteriorated.
“Every one in the area knows what took place but none is willing to speak out because of fear. There are a lot of women who were raped while others lost their next of kin or property yet they are suffering in silence,” said Violet Chesang who was arrested alongside Grace.
She said the mistreatment by the policemen has continued to haunt her and will take long to shake off.
“Although peace has returned in the area, the healing process will take long considering what some of us went through at the hands of the security personnel and the militia groups,” said Mrs Chesang.
A relative who now takes care of Grace confesses that meeting the daily needs of the extended family is an up-hill task.
“We have no otherwise but to assist her despite the high level of poverty affecting us,” she said.
Claims of torture by the security personnel during operation in the district were raised by Prime Minister Raila Odinga and legislator Fred Kapondi who demanded action against those behind the atrocities.
The militia group was also accused of torturing the locals by chopping off their ears. Some of the victims especially in Chebyuk, Kaptakweny and Emia locations are still nursing the wounds but are afraid to skeak out due to fears of attack by remnants of the militia group.
But as other community members rejoice the return of peace, Grace is optimistic of regaining her health and the rapists made to face the law.