'Our wedding is on until I’m told he is dead'

Sunday January 24 2016

Rehema Auma (left) with Aska Adhiambo Owino, wife and mother to missing soldier Michael Okoth Owino, at their home in Homa bay County on January 23, 2016.  PHOTO | TOM OTIENO |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

Rehema Auma (left) with Aska Adhiambo Owino, wife and mother to missing soldier Michael Okoth Owino, at their home in Homa bay County on January 23, 2016. PHOTO | TOM OTIENO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Ms Gloria Kwatenje was looking forward to marrying her fiancée in a colourful wedding in July. 

Plans were at an advanced stage were at an advanced stage and her boyfriend Stephen Ngota was to visit her family next month to tighten loose ends on the preparations.

But she is no longer sure whether the wedding will ever be. Although she hangs on to hope.

This is because she has not heard from Ngota for a week now. The 29-year-old was among soldiers serving in the El Adde camp in Somalia that was ambushed by Al-Shabaab militants last week. His family in Kakamega has not heard from him ever since.

 “I do not know what I will do since we had started the wedding arrangements. I do not want to accept that he could be dead,” laments Kwatenje, knowing very well that dozens of her boyfriend’s colleagues were slaughtered in the raid. A few survived and were brought back. Ngota hasn’t.

“We spoke last on Friday and he was very cheerful. Who will I marry in July,” she wails, and struggles on: “I know something might have happened to him. The silence has been long but I am still hopeful that Stephen is alive and he will be back home.”

Ngota joined the KDF in 2010.

Ms Rehema Okoth from Homa Bay County is in a similar quandary.

“I am finished. Where will I start? Who will I run to?” asks Rehema as tears roll down her cheeks.

“I have refused to accept that my husband is dead. I know that my husband is not dead, but where is he?” she posed.

Rehema and Michael Okoth have been married for only three months.

The last time she communicated with him was on Thursday evening when they had a lovely chat on WhatsApp.

“He told me how much he missed and loved me... little did I know I was hearing from him for the last time.”

Okoth was the only son in a family of six and the bread winner.

“My husband is a generous man and whenever we lacked anything, he would console the family by saying that ‘God shall provide’,” she told Sunday Nation.

His phone has since gone off.

Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo has asked Kenyans to be patient and united and unbowed in the face of the attack, pledging that once information on the casualties has been fully gathered and verified, Kenyans would be updated.

She said support centres to help the families of the affected had been set up at the KDF barracks in Eldoret, Gilgil and at the Armed Forces Memorial Hospital in Nairobi.

“This attack will not rest unanswered and with the help of our allies, will be responded to decisively. The atrocious attack will not dampen the determination of our soldiers even in the face of terror and they will continue being in Somalia for the defence of our nation. We are proud of Kenyans for standing firm with them,” she said.

The Defence Ministry has only accounted for about 30 soldiers who were at the camp before the attack by Al-Shabaab.

The camp had a company size force at the time of the bloody attack. A military company usually has 80 to 200 soldiers.

The families who could not trace their sons and husbands are demanding to be provided with the information instead of being kept in the dark.

“We have been agonising for the last one week about the fate of our son. The government should open up and tell us whether our son is alive or dead,” said Mama Mwenesi of Kakamega.

Rehema has visited her husband’s Eldoret Barracks where she was counselled and advised to leave contacts, go home and wait for communication.

His name was not in the list of the soldiers who survived the attack.

“I believe that he is still alive until the day that I shall be informed that he is dead. I am waiting.

Just a few miles away, Ms Hellena Oguta is in tears recalling how she had suffered after the death of her husband raising Wycliffe Oguta, who was also fighting in Somalia.

“After the death of my husband, I refused to be inherited even though the villagers were against it just to give my children the best. I sold items like tomatoes and flour to educate my children.... God why,” she asked. 

Her younger son, Bernard Oguta, 25, recalls the last time they spoke to his brother and how he had plans of building a house for their mother.

“He was my confidant. He had very good plans for the family,” says Bernard.

The family is yet to obtain information about Wycliffe.

“When the names of the survivors were read. He was not among them. We have been kept in the dark. We are not sure whether he is dead or is in a bush somewhere,” he said.

Since the attack, his phone has been off and the family hopes that it ran out of power.

Wycliffe joined the military in 2001 when he was 25.