14 November 2012

Kenya: Why Were Bodies of Murdered Officers Left to Rot?

Photo: Chris Corwin/Flickr
Casket, at gravesite.

Nairobi — A counsellor tries desperately to calm her down looking nervously around him, uncomfortable with the stares she's attracted. A middle aged gentleman in a blue kaftan and a kufi stands next to her and he too tries to cool her rising temper by saying, "It is God who gave him to us. It was simply his time."

"Our boy's body was left out in the open for three days like a dog's," I hear her shout. "He was only 22-years-old," she says wiping away a trickling tear.

We hear commotion behind us and quickly turn to look at the white van with green Arabic writing on its exterior. She falls to the ground; her anger forgotten, her head too heavy for her neck.

Twenty-two year old Abubakar had only just graduated from the Kenya Police Training College before being sent to Samburu. He was part of a contingent of officers sent to pursue cattle rustlers who had stolen 400 heads of cattle. A hundred and seven officers went down the dreadful Suguta valley on Saturday and only half of them got out.

Abubakar didn't.

His body lies covered, headed to a cemetery.

It is said to be the worst attack on the Kenya Police since independence but for the groups of families that wait to view the bodies of their loved ones outside the Chiromo mortuary, the statistics mean very little.

"Most of those who died were new recruits," Lillian Musyoka tells me. We sit waiting for Brian's name to be called out. The entire time we talk we keep an eye on the green gate with the sign that reads 'Body Reception.' Contrary to its designation, that's where the bodies of three slain officers have been wheeled out from.

The boot door of the ambulance that was to ferry the corpse to its final resting place jammed causing someone to murmur behind me, "vehicles used to ferry dead bodies always develop complications."

"Why don't we break it?" An officer helping to load the body says, banging his fist on the uncooperative door. No doubt riled up by the sight of fellow service men lifeless on stretchers.

The door finally opens. A friend or family member of the deceased makes the mistake of asking for gloves in the already emotionally charged environment attracting the chiding of one of the mortuary attendants clad in a white lab coat with the letters JG embroidered on it, "you lived with him, you ate with him, now that he's dead you need gloves to lift his covered body?"

Lillian isn't waiting for Brian's body to be wheeled out. She came all the way from Mombasa to identify the corpse. Twenty-three-year-old Brian was an orphan. His only immediate family is his twelve year old brother; a brother whose upkeep Brian supported.

"He really wanted to join the police force," Lillian, Brian's aunt tells me, "the first time he applied he was rejected and so we told him to pursue a degree course. He refused and applied again."

Brian's family celebrated his passing out ceremony the same day Anthony Ouma's celebrated his; on August 30. Lucy takes out her phone and shows me a photo of Anthony, his neck covered in tinsel and his cousin, Lucy's son, grinning next to him.

Anthony's parents are all the way in Busia and so Lucy - who works at a security firm in Nairobi - took advantage of an opportunity to run an errand to check if any progress had been made in the identification of her nephew's body. Every so often the wind picks up and the smell of decomposing bodies hits us, "the bodies must be in bad shape," she says, oblivious to the fly that lands on the bridge of her nose.

Stella Mugambi knows just how bad a state the bodies are in. She sits resignedly on a curb at the mortuary's car park. "It's him," she tells me.

"He'd just bought a car. He now wanted to build a house, marry and finally have children of his own."

He'd have made a great dad if his nephew's fondness of him is anything to go by, "My nine year old son wanted to become a policeman just like him."

Twenty-eight year old Martin Mugambi was part of the Anti-Stock theft unit to be specific. He'd gone to Baragoi in Samburu just 10 days before he lost his life.

Stella thought nothing of it, "the last time I spoke to him was on October, 20. They move around a lot for their work."

Martin's family home is in Meru. As a single mother, there isn't much Stella can do for her parents and so Martin was such a great help; to them and their younger sister.

"He had told her to select whatever course she wanted to pursue in college. Money, he said, wasn't an issue."

Stella can't go on. Grief takes over and the tears begin to fall again from the blood shot eyes; the soothing hand on her back a small comfort if at all.

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