When Gilbert Korir, 22, bade his family members farewell six months ago, none of them thought that it would be the last time they were seeing him alive.
Korir was at the tail end of his assignment as a KDF soldier in Somalia, when he fell victim to a lone gunman who attacked a military base in lower Juba three weeks ago.
The suspected Al-Shabaab militant was gunned down by soldiers during the attack.
“A day before he died, Korir called me and requested that I supervise the planting of crops in a farm he bought in the neighbourhood,” his mother, Nancy Mutai, told the Nation in an interview.
A distraught Mrs Mutai fought back tears as she narrated what befell her son who was the pillar of the family as his siblings depended on him for financial support.
“It is so painful to lose a child in such a manner. I did not have the courage to travel to Nairobi to identify the body and witness the postmortem. His sisters and brothers went to Nairobi,” Ms Mutai said.
Korir was recruited into the military in 2020 and was deployed to Somalia soon after graduating.
“I do not regret that he joined the military, but I wish he had not been deployed to a war-torn country so early in his career,” Ms Mutai said.
Mrs Mutai said that she prays no parent experiences what she has gone through losing young son.
“It is unfortunate he died before he could marry, start a family of his own and make progress in life the way he had planned. I don’t have a grandchild to remember my son with” Mrs Mutai said.
A freshly dug grave, with flowers that have started to wither on a heap of soil, is the only evidence in the compound that a body has been buried underneath with Mrs Mutai’s eyes darting back and forth from it.
Korir's father, Mzee Joel Mutai, said the last time the family met physically with their son was in May this year when he travelled back home for a short holiday.
“We are all traumatised and wonder who will now take the lead in providing for the family,” Mr Mutai said.
Mr Mutai said that his son had told him that he was to return home from service in March 2023.
“We were looking forward to reuniting as a family next year, but now we are left with his memories, ” Mr Mutai said.
The family was informed of the tragedy a day after the incident happened.
“It will take a long time before we come to terms with the loss of our loved one whom we looked up to. He was the pillar of the family and sacrificed a lot towards improving our wellbeing,” Alex, a younger brother of Korir said.
Alex, a Bachelor of Commerce student at Kibabii university said he and his other siblings were depending on Koriri for their upkeep at home and at school.
Three of Korir’s siblings are in secondary school and two are in university. Their pursuit for education now hangs in the balance.
During his burial, the military gave Korir a 21-gun salute to honour him for dying in the frontline.
Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has vowed to fight the Al-Shabaab by all means including militarily and economically with the help of Western countries including the US and the African Union (AU) forces.
President Mohamud was re-elected in May this year after beating former office holder Mohamed Abdulahi Farmaajo who had an on and off tiff with Kenya over deployment of the military to fight the militants. President Farmajo served a one five-year term in office.
Al-Shabab and Al-Qaeda allied militants have for over a decade been fighting in Somalia as they seek to impose strict doctrines of the Islamic Law.
In 2011, they were driven out of Mogadishu by an African Union peace keeping force which Kenyan soldiers along with those from Uganda and Burundi are serving under.