Losing one’s kin is painful, but not being able to get their body for burial leaves affected families with lifetime agony.
In African culture, it is better to get a kin dead and have the body for burial, than to live in uncertainty of a missing person.
No words can describe the anguish of two families who lost their kin in the El Adde terrorist attack in Somalia on January 15, 2016, having not heard of their whereabouts, two years down the line.
The mention of the El Adde attack pains them.
“Do not mention that incident near me again,” warns Mr Benson Anunda, father of one of the Kenyans who went missing after the attack which left many Kenyan soldiers dead.
The sight of journalists at their home at Kijauri in Nyamira County infuriates him.
He says the questions nag him and he would rather not talk about it.
“I do not want to be reminded of my son. I have even hidden his picture so that we do not have to see him and remember that he is still missing,” he says.
Mr Anunda says he is unhappy with the way military authorities have been quiet on the loss of his son who disappeared in a foreign land.
“Last year, we were invited for a commemoration service. This year, we have not received a word from the DOD headquarters of any planned service,” he said.
However, the government, and by extension the military, well aware that soldiers place their lives in line of fire to defend their country, has put in place regulations to ensure that the welfare of their families is not compromised.
MISSING IN ACTION
Military personnel who are not accounted for during war, because there is no evidence that they are dead, are usually listed as MIA (missing in action.)
Regulations dictate that the status of such soldiers remains so for a period of seven years.
During the seven years, the soldier’s next-of-kin receives his or her salary in full every month.
However, allowances that are usually payable when a soldier is in known active service are not paid.
Kenya Defence Forces spokesman David Obonyo explained: “At the lapse of seven years, the soldier’s commander, through a board of inquiry, declares him or her dead, after which the process to pay the benefits begins. Once the process is over, the appointed beneficiary receives the gratuity, usually a one-off payment.”
He added: “Then, the monthly salary is stopped and replaced by the pension payments which are also paid every month for the next five years. But in the event the fallen soldier had underage dependents, the pension payable to them continues beyond the five years, until they attain the age of 24 years.”
The pension payable is calculated on the soldier’s last amount earned per month and, in addition, the years of service.
A similar welfare situation applies to families of soldiers who are captured by enemies during war and held hostage.
Known as prisoners of war (POW), their dependents continue to receive their full salaries until they are released.
And, in the event of death, the gratuity and pension is also paid to the families.
“If someone is held at a certain place and it is not his or her wish to be there, the next-of-kin is paid the salary until he or she is back, because it’s not the hostage’s wish to be there. The salary payments stop immediately one is declared dead after which gratuity and pension are payable,” Colonel Obonyo said.
In taking care of the dependents, the military works in close consultation with the families.
“Even as the board of inquiry sits, the families also hold their own meetings so that they can agree on who among the relatives will administer the payments. Kenya Defence Forces respects the wishes of the families especially on how the money will be divided as per percentages recommended by the family,” Col Obonyo said.
He went on: “Problems that include delayed payments would only arise if there are disagreements among family members.”
As for Mr Anunda, he was apportioned half the salary of his son but says that it is not enough to make him forget that his son had disappeared.
He seems to have lost hope about his son coming back home and sat in a pensive mood when we arrived.
The Nation also visited the home of Corporal Justine Abuga in Magena, Kisii County.
Here, the reception was not good and it took a lot of patience to get a word from the family.
We found Abuga’s mother, but she kept mum and went about her business as if we did not exist.
She, however, told us: “When I see you, I get irritated a lot.”
She walked into her house, having left us stranded, before coming back while wiping tears from her eyes.
Her younger son, Peter Maoncha, said her mother had been weighed down by the fact that she did not know her son’s whereabouts.
“Most of the time, she is grief-stricken. It would have been better if we had found the body of my brother. For now, we are in the dark,” he said.
He explains that life has been very hard for them.
“His missing status is a constant reminder that something is amiss.”
“It never evades our mind that we are yet to find him,” he says, as he refuses to talk further and refers us to his father who is away.
“I advise that you talk to my father. He went to a nearby school. You can get him there,” he says as his mother stands at a distance.
He then walks away, leaving us with no option other than getting out of the homestead.
Kenya marks the second anniversary Monday since the El Adde attack and, to patriots, the soldiers will be remembered as the fallen heroes who put their lives in the line of fire to bring back stability in Somalia.
Kenya deployed troops there in October 2011 after the government invoked Article 51 of United Nations Charter that gives member states the authority to self-defence.
Before the deployment, terrorist groups in Somalia would cross to Kenya and carry out kidnappings and attacks targeted on the tourism industry.
Seven years later, Somalia has a functional central government with the support of regional authorities.
KDF has since joined the African Union Mission in Somalia and continued peace enforcement there.
And with renewed confidence in Somalia, heads of state have visited the country over the recent years.
The port-city of Kismayu, which was liberated by the KDF, is now one of the safest places in Somalia.
From its airport, aircraft take off and land on a regular basis and business is booming.
And, with the Amisom mandate coming to an end next year, the Somalia National Army is on course to taking charge of motherland.
“We shall always fulfil our mandate to protect the sovereignty and security of Kenya from any external threats,” said Col Obonyo.