Attacks on Women on Mt. Elgon

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An angry mob in Kapkateny after lynching one of the suspected gang members.

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Timothy Kiptanui Kitai, the leader of the gang that in the last few months has killed thirty people on Mt. Elgon.

Background

Once the violence genie has escaped from the bottle, it is very difficult to get violence back in the bottle.

Perhaps you remember my 7th July 2017 report on the assassination of Robert Juma and two others on Mt. Elgon. (See  http://davidzarembka.com/2017/07/05/report-from-kenya-446-assassination-of-peacemaker-robert-juma-on-mt-elgon-july-7-2017/). The leader of the gang that killed Juma is named Timothy Kiptanui Kitai and the community responded by burning down his house. Subsequent to this, at an extremely tense meeting, Erastus Chesondi, Getry Agizah, and a relative of Robert Juma met with some of the gang members who had murdered Juma. They negotiated an understanding that Kiptanui would not retaliate against those who had burned down his house as he had threatened.

While this understanding held for a while, in the last few months, his gang has brutally killed 30 people on Mt. Elgon, raped 42 women, killed livestock, robbed, and destroyed property. On 25th February this led Deputy President William Ruto to visit the affected community. On 6th March the Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i also visited Mt. Elgon and imposed a ninety day curfew from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM Moreover he placed a 1 million shilling ($10,000) bounty on Kiptanui for information leading to his arrest. Seventeen men have been identified as members of this gang. One has been lynched by men in the community and two have already been captured, one in Uganda where it is easy to flee across the porous border. Naturally the community is terrified and 600 hundred families or about 5000 people have fled their homes, many taking sanctuary in schools.

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Erastus during a visitation to one of the houses where rape victims have moved with their families.

Getry Agizah has spent most of the last month on Mt. Elgon working with Erastus Chesondi, the Coordinator of the Peace Center, responding to the terror, chaos, and trauma of this situation. Here is her report on some of the work the team has been doing on Mt. Elgon, particularly with the women who have been raped. David Zarembka

ATTACKS ON WOMEN

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A funeral of one of the men killed last week.

Since 2006 the Sabaot Land Defense Force (SLDF) has attacked thousands of civilians, killing, raping, and mutilating in a complex mix of land disputes, criminality, and struggles for local power. The government’s security response, initially bland, was massively stepped up in early 2008 after Kenya’s disputed elections. In a joint army-police operation called Okoa Maisha (“Save Lives), the security forces conducted mass round-ups of thousands of men and boys, tortured hundreds if not thousands in detention, and unlawfully killed dozens of others. Residents were supportive of the action against the SLDF but had been horrified and traumatized by the way in which the operation was carried out.

Both the SLDF and the Kenyan security forces have been responsible for serious human rights abuses. To the extent that the fighting on Mt. Elgon rose to the level of an armed conflict, both sides have committed serious violations of international humanitarian law (the “laws of war”) that amounts to war crimes.

Despite all this, a lot of peace actors including churches have worked along with community members to ensure the peace that has been there after operation Okoa Maisha concluded. Transforming Community for Social Change together with the Friends Church Peace Teams have worked with the SLDF members including a few who had the courage to attend our Trauma Healing Trainings and thus moving towards community integration. Still we have lots of the militia members who had gone into hiding and have not yet received the training. Since we are in constant communication with the few that used to be in the leadership of SLDF, they have told us that they totally believe the new upcoming gang is not SLDF. And yes some members in the gang happened to have been with the militia group, but they have no power to reconvene and harm the Mt. Elgon people. While this happens there has been massive killings in various parts of the region and women have fallen victims of rape.

This conflict in Mt. Elgon has long been ignored by the Kenyan government and has escaped international attention. While the roots of the current conflict lie in an unknown reason, most community members think it’s a revenge mission. No one knows what the gang wants and what their main reason is. They have jumped in with various thoughts of revenge or political games. We have heard various militias’ existence since the early 1990s on Mt Elgon and no one knows who the key funders of the recent group are.

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One of the scars inflicted by the gang when they raped this 13 years old girl.

In the current crisis in Mt Elgon, the total numbers of people affected are 30 adult men have been killed, 42 female raped including 19 girls 11 to 14 years old and 23 women. Some of these women and girls were violently raped and left to not only nurse their heart ache, but also their physical wounds.

In the previous conflict with SLDF, women played various roles. Some actively took part as spies and informants and provided logistical support such as food or firewood. Other women, however, were unwillingly made participants as porters and even bush wives. Women were active players in that conflict. However some became victims, especially of sexual violence and its consequences.

Rape has also been a feature of the Mt. Elgon conflict. The gang members are the major perpetrators of sexual violence in the conflict. Once again the nature of the use of rape in the conflict causes us to raise questions.

Rape has become the ultimate weapon of terror and the gang has used it to their advantage. Rape when wielded as a weapon is often used to terrorize the masses and demoralize the enemy in a way only sexual violence can do. Rape is the violation of the woman. It signals the enemy’s failure as a man to protect his woman. It is an effective way to dishearten and break the enemy’s resistance. Physical weapons such as pangas (machetes)  and guns have been used also to kill cows, men, and kids, while also stealing money, but they were not as damaging as rape as a weapon. A broken leg heals faster than a broken heart or spirit, which is exactly why rape is used. This is because it has destructive effects. Rape is silently achieving what bullets and guns cannot — humiliation, abject fear, and total submission of the enemy.

When rape is being mentioned, it is not discussed as a weapon but as an opportunistic act. Thus there is no investigation into its effectiveness if used as a weapon. There is also no discussion on the specific impact of this sexual violence on the residents of Mt. Elgon. Various attacks have left women around the region crying and asking difficult questions like “Where is God?”  Given the context of the background of the culture, women are hiding in shame. We have tried to reach most of them and they are willing to talk and cry, but avoid issues of going to hospitals for checkup. The attacks at Masaek, Kikai, Kubura, Chepkurkur, Nomorio and Kaptama has been deeply wounding and hurting in the face of women’s dignity violation. This week in Nomorio, the gang attacked and raped four young girls. There was a woman, with whom we tried making follow up who refused to go to the hospital because she did not want anyone knowing about being raped.

On 6th of March, the region was visited by the Ministry of Internal Security. The main hope that the residents expected was a permanent solution to the issues surrounding them. By the end of the day, it was a clear decision to start a 6pm to 6am curfew for three months. The big question remain: What is the big issue in Mt Elgon? Why is the gang attacking?

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A family moving away from home for safe place to stay.

After doing listening session with victims, it is still a long way to reconciliation, but as peace actors serving in the ministry, we are having hope that one day this will be over and there will be triumph of rejoicing. As the situation is now, there are families that have moved out of the region for safety, and some families have formed internally displaced camps in schools.

PLANS

At this point we can’t talk with the perpetrators since they are at large – this is being taken care of by the security forces which are working hard, but this does not mean we ignore an opportunity to talk with them if it avails itself.

The first thing we are hoping to look at is a closed door forum for two days with all the 42 women who were raped. We will have them in a room for 2 days and allow them to talk and feel safe. This should work well if they are taken away from their home which acts as a place of trauma. Then we plan on having a one day meeting with the 20 husbands to the 23 women who were raped. Voicing out how they can face their fear and speak out. Voices of these vulnerable women have to be heard and they have to be defended.

We plan on carrying out more listening session with the victims of the attacks and families where husbands, sons, and fathers were killed. There is intense fear and trauma at the moment and they need to be given psychosocial support. These intense sessions should be done weekly and give space for the affected to work on a healing process.

There is a need for more trauma healing training as workshops help shape fears and give more space to grief and mourning.

Dialogue also is a plan of action. The community leaders, the administration, and the security personnel need to sit and hear out the community grievances so that together there can be a sustainable solution. The crimes happened in this community and the solution can come from the community.

TIME LINE: 6 Months

BUDGET LINE

  ACTIVITY NUMBER OF ACTIVITIES BUDGET AMOUNT OUTCOME
1. Women Forum 1 210,000/- By the end of the activity, women should be able to feel safe and empowered to defend each other in a conflict situation. Girls should have confidence and ready to defend the young girls in the society.
2. Listening Sessions 12 sessions 120,000/- These forums are for the affected and the neighborhood. This is the beginning of creating safe space, and available space to talk about hard topics. Secondly accepting to be a shoulder to lean on.
3. HROC workshops 25 875,000/- HROC training is needed in the most regions affected. And find healing companions to work with the community in trauma issues. This indicator shows trauma does not go away in a day or two, it’s a long process.
4. Dialogues 12 225,000/- As much as we talk about rape and killings, it’s usually believed that the answer to communities challenges can best get solution from the community. People coming together different stake holders to talk about hard topics, will encourage a positive way forward. Since this gang comes from the same communities, they are children whose brothers and parents are in this community.

 

Total: 1,430,000/- (US$14,300)

CONCLUSSION

It’s hard to do work while this situation seems not to be resolved. The important thing with the peace on Mt. Elgon is that the conflict context has changed. Although most media are talking about SLDF doing the killings, we have worked with the former SLDF leaders and they try to help to negotiate for peace and point out the criminals. It’s just sad that some of them are threatened and their lives in danger if they mention the gang that is killing people. The security in the area has to be ensured by the people from the community and to find a peaceful solution if empowered to mirror their society and their pain. By the end of six months, we are anticipating a powerful transformation and change in this region. We can’t stop conflict, but we can create avenues to address the conflict and promote healing.

Note: You may donate for this work by going to

https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/responding-to-deadly-conflicts-in-western-kenya/

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