The grim TV footage shows Nancy Wanjiru, 37, knee-deep in the murky waters of the Nairobi River at Bondeni village in Huruma slums, begging reluctant neighbours and police to help save her husband.
Early that morning of January 3, 2008, at around 9.30 am, a group of marauding youths had stormed their house, disrupted their breakfast and dragged her husband George Gachie out, viciously attacking him with machetes and finally dumping him in the river, perhaps thinking he was dead.
As he was being bundled into a Red Cross ambulance, Mrs Gachie fell to her knees, and a sympathetic crowd gathered around her. She raised her hands, cast her gaze to the sky and wept: “God, what did I do to deserve this?”
It was the fifth day since the presidential results of the December 27, 2007 General Election had unleashed unprecedented violence around the country, and it was spreading like bushfire.
Ethnic-based madness reigned. Neighbours turned against one another; husbands deserted their wives for belonging to the “wrong” tribe, and law keepers turned violators.
That morning, Mrs Gachie, a mother of three, remembers her family’s breakfast being rudely interrupted by a group of rowdy youths she knew well. They warned the family to vacate the area before the day’s end.
“I opened the door because I knew these young men very well. Most of them were my sons’ friends, and I never guessed they had bad motives,” she recounted to the Sunday Nation events of that fateful day.
But the gods of madness that had taken over the youths could not be appeased by appeals of friendship. They attacked Nancy Wanjiru, and when her husband rose to her defence, they turned their anger on him.
He ran out, hotly pursued by the bloodthirsty youths. They attacked him savagely with machetes before dumping him in the dirty waters of the Nairobi River, most likely believing they had killed him.
Meanwhile, a badly shaken Mrs Gachie slipped out of the house with her children and was given refuge by a neighbour. All the while, her husband was being attacked in the distance.
After a while, the youths moved on to other targets and a neighbour ventured out of her house to inform Mrs Gachie that her husband had been killed. She decided to venture out to look for help.
Miraculously, the man survived the assault despite extensive injuries, perhaps a testament to his incredible fighting spirit that even allows him to laugh about the incident today.
“I know the people who attacked me very well. In fact I can almost remember very clearly the one who landed the last cut on my head that knocked me out. I re-live that image every time I close my eyes to sleep,” he said.
Mr Gachie, who operated a small electronics repair shop in Huruma before the incident, says he has met his assailants many times since then, although they have never exchanged a word.
Two young men were arrested in connection with the attack but were released two days later without any charge.
“The OCS told us that he had been ordered to release them by people who were in a position to get him fired. He told us there was little he could do and urged us to wait for God’s justice,” he said.
The same youths, he said, looted goods worth Sh180,000 from their house and a small salon they operated. They have since learnt from friends that one of them still has their TV set and a mattress.
But had that been the end of the story, he reckons that they would have had an easier time coming to terms with the single incident. But the tale of multiple horrors that followed has been too much to bear.
His wife was raped early the next morning by a police officer who was also his friend. To compound her tribulations, Nancy Wanjiru was sexually assaulted the same day by the same youths who had struck the blow that knocked out her husband the previous day.
She said the first sexual assault occurred early in the morning. She said the officer met her in Pangani walking to Kenyatta National Hospital to visit her husband and offered her a lift.
However, the officer first took her to the Pangani police quarters where he stayed. “He offered me tea and bread. I had not eaten anything the previous day. I did not have shoes and he gave me slippers belonging to his wife who was away at the time,” she said.
But the acts of kindness masked an insidious motive. Her benefactor quickly turned into her tormentor. “He told me ‘you Kikuyus are very bad people,’” she recalled.
And, with that statement, the enforcer of the law turned its violater. As the officer forced himself on her, Mrs Gachie says he warned her against screaming for help, saying she would not get any because it was “my police station”.
A scar on her right thigh she said was inflicted on her by the officer is a constant physical reminder of the cruel act that she said has forever changed her perceptions of men.
“I was shocked by what he did. He was a friend and a police officer. He had betrayed both bonds by one cruel act. I went away without a word after he finished. I have never been comfortable around men since,” she said.
Both Mr Gachie and his wife said the officer was well known to them. “We were not close as such, but we interacted on a number of occasions as he made his rounds here. We were not strangers to one another,” Mr Gachie said.
His wife reported the incident at Pangani police station under OB48/10/1/8 and returned to a camp that had been set up for the internally displaced persons near Moi Airbase in Eastleigh for some quiet reflection.
It was while there that the second assault happened. She said that some time in the evening a group of armed youths descended on the IDPs.
People scattered in different directions, and a young man, who she said was among the group that had attacked her husband, pursed her back into the slums where she ran. He pinned her down and attempted to rape her. When she fought back, he pulled out a knife from his pocket and cut her private parts and left her bleeding. “This was a friend of my son doing this to me.”
Rape is often used as a weapon during conflict, and the post-election violence was no exception.
Nancy Wanjiru’s plight is easily the story of thousands of women abused during the post-election period.
The Commission of Inquiry on the Post-Election Violence (Cipev) headed by Justice Philip Waki put the number of sexual offences at over 3,000. However, various independent organisations contend that the figure could be much higher.
Only a handful of victims — 31 in all — were willing to share their experiences with the commission. Eighty-two per cent of victims never reported their ordeal to the police, the commission learnt.
The low turnout was attributed to a number of factors including fear of retaliation, fear of the police, failure to identify their tormentors and the believe that nothing would be done.
The Waki Commission heard that the worst cases of sexual abuse occurred in Nairobi’s Kibera and Mathare slums, where hundreds of women and young girls were gang-raped by marauding youths and law enforcers.
Ironically, when then Police Commissioner Brigadier Hussein Ali appeared before the commission, he stated that the police force had no statistics on sexual crimes because the force had not deemed it necessary to document them.
The Waki report concludes that this cavalier attitude towards sexual crimes by the police was due to the fact that its officers were perpetrators of some of the crimes.
“It is the commission’s view that the involvement of state security agents in the perpetration of sexual violence and the fear of incriminating themselves may partly explain why the police omitted data on sexual violence in the reports they presented to the commission,” the report says.
National outrage greeted the commission’s take on the police force’s apathy towards sexual crimes.
First Lady Lucy Kibaki intervened and called for an immediate investigation into the crimes.
Reluctantly, the police formed an all-female taskforce headed by then Eastern Provincial Criminal Investigations Department boss Lilian Kiamba soon after the scathing criticism. But three years down the line, the task force’s findings are yet to be made public, and not a single person has been convicted of a sex-related crime.
The 3,000 plus victims, like Nancy Wanjiru, are still awaiting elusive justice. “With the exception of State House and the Prime Minister’s office, there is no door I have not knocked on in this town,” Wanjiru told the Sunday Nation.
She has made several visits to Pangani police station to follow up on investigations into her case.
In 2010, a senior officer turned her away with a statement that has become a metaphor for the impunity in the post-election violence era and arguably the greatest stumbling block towards finding justice for victims.
“He told me that the post-election violence was over and people had moved on to other things. I got very demoralised and thought of giving up. But I have just found myself waking up and paying more visits to people who might help me.”
She said she has sought help from senior police officials and several human rights groups and non-governmental organisations. However, her case is yet to move forward.
In April, she paid a visit to police spokesman Eric Kiraithe accompanied by Mr Aloysius Njoroge Irubu of the St Teresa’s Peace Building Initiative, which has been working to bring peace in Mathare slums.
Mr Kiraithe promised to follow up on the case, but she has heard nothing from him.
Meanwhile, Nancy Wanjiru lives her live fearfully in the shadows of her tormentors. She says the officer who raped her has been using close family relatives to try to convince her to drop the matter.
In April, she said she ran into the officer at a public rally and an altercation ensued. “He grabbed me by the neck and told me to stop rejecting his overtures,” she said.
Inquiries by the Sunday Nation established that the officer who allegedly raped Nancy Wanjiru is still in service at a police station in Embakasi constituency, Nairobi.
Nancy Wanjiru speaks for many victims of the violence when she says that the pursuit of justice has been frustratingly slow and fruitless. “Some time I think the whole justice thing is just unattainable.”
Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere said on Saturday that while he was not aware of Nancy Wanjiru Gachie’s case, police had done their best to investigate the complaints brought before them.
“What I have discovered is that there is a lot of witchhunt behind these allegations, but we have done our best to investigate nonetheless. We have even held identification parades in police stations, but most people failed to pinpoint their attackers,” he said.
He said a number of people were prosecuted after the Waki task force completed its work although he could not give the exact figures at the time we called him because he was not in his office.
Commenting in In the Shadow of Death: My Trauma, my experience, a book documenting women’s experiences in the post-election violence, lawyer Moses Otsieno explains:
“The Sexual Offences Act, though fundamental, has major weaknesses in the sense that it leaves out some key offences. It neither recognises that sexual abuses performed during a period of political chaos are genocidal or war crimes which, therefore, means that cases of this nature cannot be tried under this Act.”
Legal experts say various avenues of seeking redress will need to be explored to assist survivors of sexual violence, who hold scant evidence against their perpetrators.
Mr Otsieno agrees: “The longer these cases take, the lesser the chances for justice to be done. With time, people forget details, memory fails, files and important documents may be misplaced.”