'My husband blamed me'; rape survivors of post-poll violence speak out

Protesters march during a protest to demand peaceful elections and justice for victims of post-election violence in Nairobi on June 23, 2022.

Photo credit: File I Photo

What you need to know:

  • The lack of justice and support has left many survivors feeling forgotten and abandoned.
  • These sexual violence survivors’ voices echo a call for justice that can no longer be ignored
  • More than 3,000 women suffered sexual violence during the 2007/08 post-poll chaos, many victims coming from Nairobi, Nyanza, Rift Valley, and Coast.

Kenya's history of post-election violence has left deep scars on its citizens, with women and children bearing the brunt of the chaos. While the focus often falls on those who suffered injuries or lost their lives, thousands of Kenyans continue to grapple with the lifelong trauma of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) experienced during these conflicts.

The 2007/08 post-election violence (PEV) remains a particularly dark chapter in Kenya's history. More than 1,000 people lost their lives, and over 600,000 were forced from their homes. Among the survivors, countless women and children carry the weight of sexual violence perpetrated during this tumultuous period.

Akinyi's* story is a harrowing testament to the brutality of that time. Once a happy fish monger living with her husband on Nakuru's Ponda Mali estate, her life was shattered in the aftermath of the elections.

As violence erupted, Akinyi fled her shop, only to learn that her husband had been killed. “I never buried my husband. I also never made it back to our house. I started my journey back home to Muhoroni on foot," Akinyi recounts.

Her ordeal was far from over. On her journey home, Akinyi and a group of other internally displaced persons encountered men dressed in police uniforms. The men killed the male members of the group and proceeded to gang-rape the women.

“I was raped by five men and suffered serious injuries," says Akinyi, tears flowing down her cheeks.

The rape resulted into an unplanned pregnancy. “My child who is in high school now, is a constant reminder of the painful memories of the 2007 elections."

Akinyi's story is not unique.

Anne*, another survivor, vividly remembers the events of January 8, 2008. Working at a flower farm in Naivasha, she made the brave decision to return home to find her children amidst growing tension.

Upon arrival, she and her 13-year-old daughter were brutally attacked. “The men raped me in the compound right in front of my daughter. They defiled her too, severally,” Anne recounts.

The aftermath of these attacks often brings additional trauma. Many survivors face discrimination, abandonment by family members, and inadequate support from health workers. Anne's husband left her upon learning of the assault, and her relationship with her daughter, who ended up getting married at an early age, remains strained.

“I live each day hoping that all shall be well. In fact, sometime back, I tried to poison myself, but a neighbour dissuaded me,” Anne confesses.

For Lila*, a survivor from Kisumu, the 2013 post-election violence brought similar horrors. Three men forced their way into her home, raping her in front of her husband and four children. “When they finished, they walked away like they had not done anything wrong," Lila recalls.

“I felt dead. How could they do that to me before my husband and children? I hated myself. I hated my body.”

Widespread trauma

The trauma extended beyond the act itself, affecting Lila's relationship with her husband and her place in the community.

"He would blame me for allowing myself to be raped," she says. The stigma was pervasive: “On my way to water kiosk, shop or market, I'd hear people say 'look at that woman, she was raped. Such a shame. Is the husband still living with her?'”

These stories highlight the urgent need for justice and support for survivors of election-related sexual violence. According to a 2014 study by the International Centre for Transition Justice, the perpetrators have largely escaped accountability.

The study, titled "Accountability Gap on Sexual Violence in Kenya: Reforms and Initiatives since the Post-Election Crisis," revealed that the government had failed to adequately address sexual violence before and during elections.

Yvonne Oyieke, Executive Director of Utu Wetu Trust, emphasises the ongoing impact of this violence, “A number of women and children continue to live with the impact of violence, which took a gender turn, and there has not been much accountability."

The lack of justice and support has left many survivors feeling forgotten and abandoned. Jacqueline Mutere, the founder of Grace Agenda, an organisation fighting for the rights of survivors of election-related sexual violence in Kenya, voiced her frustration at a recent conference in Nairobi.

"It is 15 years now and survivors of sexual violence during the 2007/08 post-poll elections have yet to receive reparations. What happens to these survivors? What happens to the children born out of the rape?"

The Commission of Inquiry into the 2007/08 Post-Election Violence identified administrative police, regular police, members of the General Service Unit, and members of organised gangs as perpetrators.

According to the Coalition on Violence against Women, more than 3,000 women suffered sexual violence during the 2007/08 post-poll chaos, with many victims coming from Nairobi slums, Nyanza, Rift Valley, and Coast. Despite the government's promises of compensation, many survivors, like Akinyi, have received little to no support.

“The government had promised us compensation. We have yet to get anything apart from the Sh10,000 we received then," Akinyi says.

The impact of this violence extends far beyond the individual survivors. Families have been torn apart, and communities continue to grapple with the aftermath. Children born from these assaults face their own set of challenges, often experiencing stigma and discrimination.

However, amidst the pain and trauma are glimmers of hope and resilience. In Kisumu's Manyatta settlement, a group of women survivors has formed a support network. Though initially fragile, with many unable to share their experiences, the group has become a source of strength and healing.

Lila, who joined the group in 2019, speaks of its transformative power, "Every Friday, I go home lighter and happier. That joy of sharing with your sisters who understand what you're going through is relieving.”

The group engages in activities like weaving mats and making soaps, finding therapy in their shared work and experiences.

For Lila, the support group has not only helped her heal, but also improved her relationship with her husband. “She counselled my husband and he changed. Since 2019, he has changed. He doesn't blame me anymore for the rape and now treats me better.”

Amplifying voices

These grassroots efforts, while vital, cannot replace the need for comprehensive government action. Advocates like Yvonne stress the need to amplify survivors' voices and hold the state accountable. “We are here to amplify the survivors' voices, work towards ensuring justice is served and that the state is held accountable.”

As Kenya continues to grapple with its history of election-related violence, the stories of survivors like Akinyi, Anne, and Lila serve as powerful reminders of the human cost of political instability.

Their experiences underscore the urgent need for justice, support, and societal change to prevent future atrocities and help heal the wounds of the past. The road to recovery for these survivors is long and challenging.

Many still struggle with the physical and emotional scars of their experiences. The stigma associated with sexual violence continues to be a significant barrier to healing and reintegration into society.

Yet, the resilience displayed by these women offers hope. Through support groups, counselling, and advocacy efforts, survivors find ways to reclaim their lives and dignity. Their courage in sharing their stories and supporting one another is a testament to the human spirit's capacity for healing and growth.

As Kenya moves forward, it must confront this dark chapter of its history head-on. Providing justice and support for survivors of election-related sexual violence is not just a matter of addressing past wrongs; it is crucial for building a more equitable and peaceful future.

The stories of Akinyi, Anne, Lila, and countless others, demand action, compassion, and a commitment to justice that cannot be ignored.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the survivors.