What you need to know:
- Festus Kisinga's body was found rotting in a bush.
- His family says intelligence officers in government vehicles had driven into the home, just two days after Kisinga had reported his return with them and had been cleared.
Nobody knows where Festus Kisinga, 34, went. Nobody knows whether he is dead or alive. But his family knows they have become enemies of the State ever since their son escaped the grip of Al-Shabaab terrorists only to be picked by unknown people and disappear – this time for good.
Shortly after Kisinga escaped from the terrorist group, the first to arrive at their home in Hola, Tana River, were unfamiliar men believed to be Al-Shabaab agents. They interrogated the family on the whereabouts of Kisinga and when they could not get answers, they took away the man of the house. He was later found slaughtered, his body rotting in a bush.
The family says intelligence officers in government vehicles, and who did not identify themselves, had driven into the home, just two days after Kisinga had reported his return with them and had been cleared.
They took him away and he has never been seen to date.
To date, the family dreads to narrate their story, as they claim they are being monitored by the authorities who get information whenever strangers visit the home.
“We are called and harassed, we are even threatened with death. They call us Al-Shabaab sympathisers,” said Ms Mwajuma Sudi.
If someone intends to be one of us, he must then announce his loyalty in public.
With Al-Shabaab militia losing ground every day, the number of returnees has been increasing. However, home is not the same place they knew, as they are met with hostility both from the state and family members.
Some have opted to start a life away from home, and travel as far as Migori, while those from Migori and Meru are pitching camp in Tana River.
The government has been encouraging all returnees to register. County Police Commander Fredrick Ochieng says that in as much as some may have returned and are involved in good deeds, secret return to settle is considered “fishy and questionable.”
He says that some of the returnees join emerging groups of criminal gangs especially in areas of Madogo and Garsen, while others could be part of a suspected resurgence of the outlawed Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) in Galole.
“We must be vigilant, Tana River is on the spot as a recruiting ground...if someone intends to be one of us, he must then announce his loyalty in public or remain a criminal,” he said.
But it is the mystery of disappearing returnees that is posing a challenge. Close to 10 people are alleged to be missing since their return in 2017. Their families claim they were taken away from home by police in uniform.
While those coming back home from the wilderness, tell tales of a hopeless war, the real war they have to face, is the war to stay alive, away from crime and the authorities.
According to Jamii Moja’s official Hussein Mwakima, most of the returnees live a life of fear.
While some have shown up for training and counselling, some have chosen to stay home, never to be seen.
“We have managed to counsel and reintegrate more than 27 returnees who either reported to us for help or were reported to us by their guardians,” he said, adding that most of the returnees won’t report to the police since most of those who have, have never returned home.
He noted that some have since been killed in unclear circumstances.
“Some policemen are out to carry out revenge,” Mr Mwakima added.
For the returnees, the journey to liberty is still a long shot, but they hang onto hope that it will come one day.