She left to fend for her family in Saudi Arabia. Now she'll return in a coffin

Ms Jackline Muthoni who died in Saudi Arabia on June 10, 2022. The family learnt of their kin's death four months later.

Photo credit: Gitonga Marete I Nation Media Group

Ms Jackline Muthoni left Kenya for Saudi Arabia 10 years ago to work and improve the lives of her two daughters, aged eight and three years at the time.

But the 40-year-old mother is returning home in a coffin.

When she was admitted to Al-Eman General Hospital sometime in early June, no one seemed to have been notified. The death notice shows she died on June 10 after suffering “haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome and excessive bleeding”, the cause of which is unknown.

Meanwhile, her family in Kanyakine, Imenti South, got wind of her death in October, four months later, through social media, her disheartening story told on Facebook and WhatsApp groups, where her photo and a chilling message went viral.

After seeing the posts, her elder sister, Ms Caroline Kagwiria, said she passed out.

When she came to, she went through a traumatising experience of disclosing the news to her ailing mother, Ms Jane Kiambi, and confirming the death a month later.

And she is bitter about the secrecy surrounding her sister's death. Even her friends in the kingdom where she had lived for 10 years have refused to tell her what exactly happened. The family hopes to get more information when the body arrives in Kenya and after a postmortem is conducted.

"We have a government in Kenya yet these stories are still happening, why? Why would somebody die in a foreign land only for the information to be hidden from the family for months,"? she told Nation.Africa, tears gushing from her red eyes.

Volunteered information

"Since we got the news, nobody has volunteered information about what happened. There is secrecy around this matter that we cannot understand," she added.

The family's ordeal started in October last year, when Ms Muthoni cut off communication after allegedly being taken to a deportation camp and being confined there.

Ms Kiambi said Ms Muthoni told them she was held at the centre after her travel documents were confiscated.

Speaking to journalists at her home, Ms Kiambi said her daughter had promised to return to Kenya this year, only for the family to be hit by the bad news.

“Before we received news of her death, we had not spoken for a year, because she was in the deportation camp, but we still hoped she would travel this year as she had promised. It was shocking that we learnt of her death through social media,” she said.

Ms Kiambi, who takes care of her daughter’s children, lost her husband in 2004 while her second and third-born sons, who worked in Nairobi, died in 2006 and 2017 respectively.

A family friend who followed up on the death at the Foreign Affairs ministry said when he started making inquiries, no information was forthcoming.

"I don't know why they did not want to tell us the truth. Muthoni was admitted for several days and nobody was aware. She was dead for four months and even her friends could not talk about it," said the relative, who requested anonymity so that he could speak freely about the revelations he obtained from the ministry.

He said officials at the ministry disclosed that only one social officer was responsible for Kenyans working in Saudi Arabia, the reason it took over a month to obtain an official death notification.

After consulting a doctor on the description of the cause of death in the notification, he said, the medic told him the symptoms were consistent with the Ebola virus.

“Someone at the ministry also told me the cause of death cited in almost all notifications is similar. This, he said, is usually a ploy to conceal the real cause of death," he said.

The family is expected to raise over Sh500,000 to repatriate the body, with Ms Kagwiria saying they have started collecting the money. But she noted that the bill was way above their ability to pay, adding that it would take several months to hit the target.

The reports come in the wake of an outcry over mistreatment of Kenyan workers in Saudi Arabia. Dozens of Kenyans have died in Saudi Arabia under mysterious circumstances.

In September, Ms Diana Chepkemoi, a student at Meru University of Science and Technology, who was working in Saudi Arabia, was flown back home after being tortured by her employers.


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