In 2014, residents of Kalalani village, Tana River County, were thrown into mourning when two families lost four children, mauled to death by a cackle of hyenas.
It was a sad day that caused an uproar in the county, with politicians led by the Galole MP at the time, Gorfo Kayo, pushing for quick compensation for the families.
The Kenya Wildlife Service was remorseful, and to console the families, Sh20 million was approved as compensation for the two families.
Each family was to get Sh5 million for each life lost, a deal that took an unusually short time of less than three months to complete.
Ayub Gobu Dirbu, who lost three children, was paid Sh15 million, while Zakaria Balesa received Sh5 million.
Seven years later, the families have nothing to show for the millions they received, and are living in dire poverty.
“When people learned that I had been paid, they started coming to me for help. Some came asking me to support their business while others wanted capital,” says Mr Dirbu.
He was the village tycoon, soft-hearted and approachable. The opportunists did not leave anything to chance.
One after the other they borrowed hundreds of thousands, others tens of thousands, and others called him to fundraise as a guest of honour.
He was glad to help and many praised him for his good heart and came back for more, but none refunded what they had borrowed.
“I was so busy with people that I did not have time to think of investing until that time I realised the money had reduced so much,” he says.
He had Sh8 million to go and resolved to move from Kalalani village to Waldena to invest it.
Being a known millionaire, he was sold land at a high price where he put up a fairly good structure. It rents for Sh3,000 per month.
He also acquired livestock to secure the little money he had left.
In the past six years, he has sold some of the animals to find money for his basic needs and only a few are left.
Despite the investment, Mr Dirbu can barely support his children’s school fees. As a result, they look after his livestock in the forest reserve, where they get into confrontations with Kenya Wildlife Service officers.
It was a similar story for Mr Balesa. After receiving Sh5 million for the child he lost to hyenas, he kicked out his wife.
He said she had failed to light a fire outside the manyatta at night to keep the children safe.
The innocent woman moved to her parents’ home with her last-born child.
A few days later, Mr Balesa married a new wife, paying a hefty dowry, close to half a million shillings, his friends say.
“He was untouchable, never listened to any advice, especially touching on investment. He always thought people wanted his money,” says his friend Ibrahim Saware.
His life was spent in luxurious living. He would buy five goats on a market day, roast them for meals months later, and then go for more.
Anyone who made fake praises of him was rewarded handsomely and at one point, he announced his interest in vying for the ward seat, a dream he dropped as time went by.
On realising he was becoming broke real fast, he decided to put up a semi-permanent house for his family and acquired a few cows and sheep.
It then crossed his mind that his quick race back to poverty could be as a result of sending away his first wife, the mother of his deceased child.
He decided to bring her back, hoping that things would improve.
“I was gone for four years before he came for me. His friends advised him to. By then he had nearly finished the money,” says Fatuma Roba.
He left Kalalani village with his family. No one knew where they went, until a year later when they returned.
With drooping shoulders, the family started the difficult journey of adapting to their new situation.
As though their situation was not humbling enough, their house, a key asset they had left behind, was demolished for being in a forest reserve.
Mr Balesa and his family were forcibly pushed out of the land.
Having lost everything, he built himself a new home, a manyatta, a few kilometres from the forest reserve where he and his family now live.
“Sometimes I look at my children and how they have been deprived of education after their school was demolished, I feel pained,” Mr Balesa says.
That is not his only cry. The man also decried being robbed by the KWS of his gains.
He claimed to have suffered injuries caused by the hyena and deserved to be compensated and he intends to pursue the matter further.
“They only paid me for the child I lost, but I was injured too, I used a lot of money to treat myself,” he says in anguish.
More than 30 beneficiaries of the KWS compensation are facing a similar fate in Tana River County.
Only a handful of them can account for the millions that they received as compensation.
Chewani Location Chief Athman Mtolee says that most of the beneficiaries spent their windfall on luxury rather than investment.
“Some of them bought cars and would party from one joint to another. They were always on vacation. If you walk past their homes today you will see the vehicles they bought sitting on a stone,” he says.
Most of the beneficiaries, he said, wasted the money, drowning themselves in alcohol and spending it on commercial sex workers.
Some of the men called off their marriages and left town for Mombasa, only to return home broke, while others invested their money on fruitless projects.
“Some of them used the money to support politicians with the hope that their contributions would pay, only for them to be dumped after their point men won,” he says.
He notes that the beneficiaries who wasted their money have since begun championing the narrative that the compensation was blood money, and the narrative is sinking into the minds of other residents.
Margaret Achani, a guidance and counselling expert, notes that most of the beneficiaries did not get proper guidance on investment.
As a result, they spent money irresponsibly, some out of excitement and others to quell their depression.
“These people are still depressed and need counselling. The position they are in at the moment is worse than where they were before and hence the ‘blood money’ narrative,” she says.
Mrs Achani proposes that the KWS compensation committee work with county administrations to have financial advisers for beneficiaries in the future.
Meanwhile, many have been left to believe that compensation money is blood money and only attracts more misery than good.