Agony of KDF families after Somalia
Francis Kavindu arrived at his Kivani home in Kitui County one Wednesday morning in late 2011. He found men digging a grave. When he inquired who’s grave it was, they told him it was for his fifth born son, Major Samuel Keli Kavindu. Hours later, he collapsed in his bedroom and died broken in heart and spirit.
Master Chege Njoroge, 12, was in class when his father, Corporal Willie Njoroge, called from the warfront in Somalia. “Son, I want you to pass exams. I will bring you a gift,” he told him. Two months later, his father returned in a coffin draped in military uniform.
And 24-year-old Rachael Masika was waiting for her wedding gown to be shipped from London. Her wedding was in four months’ time. She woke up one morning only to find condolence messages all over her Facebook wall. She had just lost her groom, Lieutenant Kevin Webi, through a sniper’s bullet.
Ms Masika’s wedding gown arrived from London a month after the burial of her husband-to-be. Today the sight of the fabulous gown makes her contemplate suicide. Thousands of miles away, Doreen Magak was fresh from her dream honeymoon when she called her husband of two weeks and the phone went unanswered. Hours later, she received a message: “He is dead.”
For 29-year-old television journalist Magak, the dreaded call came three days into her honeymoon.
Her husband, Lieutenant Edward Juma Okoyo, left her to cold nights when he was deployed in Somalia, just two weeks after his wedding day.
And during the battle days in Somalia, Doreen spoke with her husband daily over the phone. “I was on the phone with him when he suddenly went silent,” she says.” I tried speaking to him, but he never responded.”
Unknown to Doreen, Lieutenant Okoyo, a platoon commander with the 1st Kenya Rifles was lying dead in his trench. A powerful sniper bullet blew half of his head off.
It was not until hours later when she received a three-worded text message. The SMS read: “He is dead”.
Three years since the start of Operation Linda Nchi, military families are finding themselves in a relentless cycle of crisis and stress as more and more graves pile up across the country.
Publicly, their loved ones are lionised, celebrated as the heroes of our time. Privately, many of the families are suffering their own scars of war: Depression, anxiety, divorce, and death.
This week, The Standard will tell you these and many more stories as we examine how combat in Somalia has ended marriages and forced children to grow up without parents.
We examine the trauma and pain of empty seats at the dinner table.
It is a tale of military community that increasingly feels abandoned by a civilian population rapidly losing interest in the war. It is the story of a country that is moving on rather quickly, leaving families to attend to their own wounds.
We narrate the untold stories of troops returning from combat with severe injuries and psychological disorders, and how they are coping. We visit military widows who have abruptly been thrust into the roles of breadwinners.
The series, Scars of War, chronicles harrowing tales of the raging war at home, how some of the families who lost their loved ones are still struggling to get compensation and why others are still sending their sons back to the war despite losing loved ones fighting in Somalia.
The two-month investigation shows that the military operation in Somalia is not just a short-term problem for military families, as it has a lasting impact on the children of soldiers killed in war.
Being Kenya’s first war after Independence, most of the facilities and help needed are often not available.
Most families have no access to licensed professional counsellors. There are no family Readiness Groups to support military spouses during deployment. Even worse, there is no network of communication and support for spouses who have lost husbands and children who will never see their fathers.
The lack of social bonds has further isolated military families already suffering from stress and depression. Public research on how they are doing is unavailable.
During our trips to meet dozens of families and chronicle their perilous times, one of the families welcomes and thanked us for being “the first visitors” to their home since their son was buried two years ago.
Since October 24, 2011, more than 20,000 troops have been deployed to fight in Somalia.
Most of the men who have fought in Somalia are from the Second and Fourth Brigades. They have also borne the brunt of fatalities. From the start of the war in October 2011, the Defence Forces Memorial Hospital has served thousands of soldiers injured in battles against Al Shabaab, according to sources at the facility.
Although the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) did not respond to our requests in the last two years for information on the number of soldiers who have died at war, our investigations established that the number hovers around 50.
By the time of writing this story military was yet to indicate whether it offers any kind of support to the families of the fallen men and those who have been injured at war.
Officials from the African Union Mission to Somalia (Amisom) Spokesperson Elo Yao told The Standard that details of the injured are the responsibilities of the countries contributing the troops.
“Issues of deaths and injuries are left to the contributing countries,”. Mr Yao said he could not divulge more information since he is on leave.
However, later on, Amisom Public Information Unit sent us an email.
“While it is our duty to pay compensation for deaths and disability suffered by soldiers serving under Amisom, we are not in a position to make public the numbers. Under the Memorandum of Understanding between the AU and troop and police contributing countries, it is the prerogative of the contributing country to make such information public,” the email reads.
“Money is a very sensitive issue,” Colonel Willy Wesonga, KDF spokesperson responded to inquiries about compensation. “I can only talk about more on the compensation issues if you furnish me with the details.”
Col Wesonga could not respond to claims by the soldiers that none of them has been compensated for injuries suffered in Somalia. “I don’t have individual details of where, how and when the injuries occurred,” he said.
The families, told The Standard that they hoped for better treatment and access to counsellors, something that has not been forthcoming.
The majority of the fallen men were in their youth, dating or freshly married. The same case applied to those deployed.
There has not been any research done on children of parents who have been deployed in Somalia and those whose fathers have died and how the war has affected them.
For instance, Chege said at times he dreams about his father. The war has also broken several families.
When the body of Jasper Onguso arrived home for burial, his wife cried the whole time. Less than 24 hours after burial, she left never to return.
“We don’t know what happened to her,” Onguso’s father, Joseph Onguso Nyabanga, says.
There are currently no statistics on military divorces or trouble in military marriages.
By: PAUL WAFULA and NYAMBEGA GISESA