Pastor’s anguish after losing three children in Lake Baringo boat tragedy

Pastor Jane Kakenyi

Pastor Jane Kakenyi (right) of the Revival Church in Kabukoki, Baringo County, comes to terms with what has happened to her at Kampi Samaki in the county, during a search and rescue operation near Kokwa Island on 22 April 2024. Her three daughters died and her son survived after a motorboat they were travelling in capsized on Sunday.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

At around 8am on Sunday, 23 youths from Kabukoki Revival Church in Salabani, Baringo South, met on the shores of Lake Baringo and boarded a motorboat to attend a rally on Kokwa Island.

Millicent Lekimanti, 27, was the adult who had been tasked to accompany the youth, most of them primary and secondary school learners aged between nine and 17.

The group was in high spirits. They sang gospel songs, as they started their journey. Little did they know of the tragedy that awaited them.

An hour after starting their journey, and just a few kilometres to their destination, survivors said, the boat, which had 23 people on board, capsized.

According to one of the minors aged 16, the boat’s propeller was trapped by a fishing net and the engine failed.

He added that when the coxswain tried to pull in the engine, the boat swayed owing to the strong tides.

“When the boat swayed, those on board jumped out and only four of us remained inside, but due to instability, the boat capsized. Most of us held onto the engine and minutes later another boat from Kokwa Island came to our rescue,” Kikenyi said.

Ill-fated boat

Four of those on the ill-fated boat were children of the youths’ pastor Jane Kikenyi—a son and three daughters. The boy survived, one daughter died, while the remaining two are still missing.

Pastor Kikenyi explained that her church runs an exchange programme with another in the neighbouring Kokwa Island, where youth from the two churches visit one another once a month for fellowship.

“I was meant to accompany the youth for their fellowship, but I was called by our bishop in Kabarnet to attend a meeting the same Sunday. Coincidentally, the host pastor at Kokwa Island church had also been asked to attend the meeting,” explained Ms Kikenyi.

While at the Kabarnet meeting, her Kokwa Island counterpart received a call from a church member who informed him about the tragedy.

“I was so shocked because not only were my four children among the youths, but the entire group were my church members,” the distressed pastor said amid sobs.

“When I arrived at the shores of the lake, dozens of locals and government officials were camping waiting for the strong tides to subside so that they could start searching for the missing persons. I saw one body being carried by the Kenya Red Cross and when I inquired from a local about the dressing of the deceased, I suspected it was one of my girls,” she said.

She later confirmed it was the body of her 12-year-old daughter.

By the time of going to press, 16 occupants of the ill-fated vessel had been rescued, among them the pastor’s son, a Form Two student.

Six occupants of the boat were still missing, among them the pastor’s two daughters. The six bodies were retrieved on Tuesday morning.

A single mother

“I am devastated. It is so tragic to lose three of my four children,” said the pastor, a single mother. The two other girls were in Form One and Grade Four.

“I am lost for words. I parted with my four children on Sunday morning and we wished each other well as they headed for the fellowship while I headed for the meeting. That turned out to be the last meeting with my three daughters. They usually encourage me that they will work hard so that they can ease my burden of selling firewood for their survival,” she said.

Also in distress is the family of Samuel Lekimante from Loropil village. His sister-in-law, who was accompanying the youth, was among the six whose bodies were retrieved on Tuesday.

“The team left Salabani at around 10am, and an hour later, we received reports that the boat had capsized. We received reports in the morning that my sister-in-law was among the missing persons,” said Mr Lekimante.

“This is so tragic because her two children, between seven and two years old, were expecting her back at home in the evening but it didn’t happen. As we speak, we do not know what to tell the two minors about their mother,” he said.

Samuel Loleina from Loropil village has been camping at the shores of Lake Baringo.

His nephew was among the six missing people. He said his brother, Francis, fell sick after receiving reports that his son was missing.

“We are so anxious…My nephew is the firstborn in a family of four and his father fell ill after receiving the news. This is a very sad incident,” he said.

Samuel Montorosi, whose son was rescued, urged the government to fast-track the recovery of the six missing people, raising concerns that the lake is infested with hippos and crocodiles.