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Kenya's election rape victims say they've been forgotten

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 6 Aug 2012 16:50 GMT
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NYAHURURU, Kenya (TrustLaw) – When Grace Wanjiku looks at her four-year-old son, Charles, she bitterly recalls the evening he was conceived.

“I wish he was dead,” she said. “I don’t feel any love for him.”

Wanjiku became pregnant after being gang-raped by five men during the chaos that followed Kenya’s disputed 2007 election in which over 1,200 people were killed and some 600,000 displaced.

Wanjiku, one of the many uprooted by the violence, also contracted HIV/AIDS and syphilis.

“It was very violent. They beat me. They were pulling my legs apart in opposite directions. It still hurts even now,” said the 32-year-old mother, rubbing her lower belly.

“When I think of the things those people did, I can’t think straight … I want to die and leave this world.”

Thousands of women were raped during the post-election violence. But rights activists say no one has ever been convicted. Nor have the victims received any compensation.

“There is clearly no political will to get anything done,” said Neela Ghoshal, a researcher with Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“The government has an obligation to try as hard as it can and not to abandon the victims. And right now, I think that is exactly what they have done – abandoned the victims.”

A 2011 report by the Department of  Public Prosecutions on post-election violence cases lists 49 rape and defilement convictions. But Ghoshal said none of these cases had led to convictions – the defendants were either acquitted, the cases dismissed or they were not related to post-election violence.

“Two of the alleged ‘convictions on gender-based post-election violence cases’ on the list involve men who ‘had carnal knowledge with a sheep’,” Ghoshal noted in a HRW report.


The 2007 violence between supporters of rival presidential contenders was fuelled by historical grievances between ethnic communities.

Wanjiku was living in Londiani in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province, with her husband and three children when the violence erupted.

Hundreds of Kalenjin men, armed with spears, started attacking ethnic Kikuyus, like Wanjiku, living in the town. The pro-opposition Kalenjin community believed that the incumbent President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, had rigged his re-election.

Wanjiku sought sanctuary in the police station with her children. When she ventured out to look for food, a group of Kalenjin men dragged her into the corridor of an abandoned house.

“I resisted a lot but all five men managed to rape me,” she said.

“I think they wanted revenge… They said we [Kikuyus] had grabbed their land.”

For the last two decades, members of the Kalenjin community in Rift Valley have evicted Kikuyus from their homes, farms and businesses during election periods. 

These ‘ethnic clashes’ have prevented their political opponents from voting and enabled the perpetrators to occupy what they claim as their ancestral land, seized first by the British colonialists as ‘White Highlands’ and then bought by other communities after independence.


Elsewhere in the country, women were also raped and men forcibly circumcised for belonging to the wrong ethnic group. In Nakuru and Naivasha, Luos and Luhyas were predominantly targeted by Kikuyus while much of the sexual violence in Nairobi slums was perpetrated by opportunistic state security agents or gangs.

In July, the United Nations called on Kenya to investigate fully all cases of violence after the 2007 elections and denounced a "climate of impunity" still shielding suspects. 

Next April, the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) plans to try four prominent Kenyans, including presidential hopefuls Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, for masterminding the 2007/2008 violence.

Almost 600 rape victims are represented. They hope the ICC will grant them the recognition and compensation they have not received at home.

The ICC trials are due to start a month after Kenya’s first national poll since the bloody 2007 vote.

Rights groups argue there is an urgent need for institutional reforms, as well as justice for victims, to reduce the likelihood of a fresh round of killing, looting and rape during and after the March 4 elections.

“We can’t afford to say it won’t happen. So, what if it happens? Are we ready? The answer is no,” said Saida Ali, executive director of the Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW), a local non-governmental organisation.

“We want to be assured of what specific actions are going to happen within the police force to make sure they respond to situations like this and they actually know it’s also their duty to protect.”


COVAW is planning to sue the government for failing to protect, respond to or compensate victims of post-election sexual violence.

“The government did nothing to stop the rape of women. Even when that was reported, there was no support,” said Ali.

“There is a very loud silence around reparations or seeking justice for victims.”

An international commission of inquiry set up by the government following the post-election violence heard that the majority of women raped in Nairobi slums were gang raped, sometimes by up to 20 men, in their homes in front of the children and husbands, who often later abandoned them.

Most women did not report these attacks. Almost a third said they had been raped by police officers, while others feared being targeted again or thought nothing would be done, the commission reported in 2008.

Those who went to the police were often received with hostility or turned away. One woman was even asked to pay a bribe.

After she was raped, Wanjiku fled southwards to stay in Nakuru with her cousin. Her husband said he didn’t want anything to do with a sick person.

She joined a group of almost 600 internally displaced families who clubbed together to buy a 68-acre plot in Nyahururu because they were too scared to return to their homes.

Wanjiku and her children still live in a temporary shelter made of grass and sticks. It is bitterly cold and leaks when it rains. She suffers from chest infections and often goes hungry, which makes it hard to stomach her HIV/AIDS antiretroviral drugs.

“Everyone has neglected me,” she said.


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