19 March 2017

Kenya: Families of Slain Soldiers Struggle to Move On With Life Amid Deep Pain

Ms Hellen Birech, 27, was six and a half months pregnant when her husband Cyrus Kiwi Lelei, a Kenya Defence Forces soldier, was killed alongside two others in a landmine explosion at Gedo, Somalia.

Senior Private Lelei was part of a contingent of soldiers that attacked an Al-Shabaab base near the village of Nusdariq on January 15 this year.

It is said that during the engagement with the terrorists, the soldiers' vehicle hit a landmine, and three of them died on the spot, with several others sustaining injuries.

The soldiers for their part, however, killed four militants during the fight, with the rest fleeing.

News of Lelei's death hit his family back in Eldoret town like a thunderbolt. Worst hit was his wife, who was looking forward to raising a family with him.

"He died when I was only six and-half-months pregnant. We were eagerly waiting for the baby to come," she told the Nation in a recent interview at Maili Nne Estate in Eldoret town. She opens up on the heartache that comes with the loss of a loved one on the battlefield, the memories of their life together and the tribulations that followed.

SENT ME MONEY

"It is so funny because we got engaged in August (last year). After the engagement, I conceived. We decided that our baby will be called Cheruto, meaning "a visitor is coming", she says. But with Lelei's death, all their plans have been scuttled.

"I had only spoken to him a day earlier. We discussed a lot of issues, including plans for our unborn baby. He even sent me money to shop for the baby, which I did," she goes on.

"I was eager to share with him what I had bought. However, attempts to reach him a day later were futile as his phone was off. At the time, I did not know about the attack," she says.

For two days, she would call his line without success. I found this very unusual. He rarely switched off his phone."

The widow says the bad news was eventually relayed to her on Tuesday, January 17 at around 10am by "a group of people" who visited her house.

'I was told that my husband was no more. I was devastated. I did not know what to do considering the fact that we depended on him. The thought of raising a family without him was too much to bear. I had not even given birth," she says.

Ms Birech says her husband's death presented a new headache.

Life at her husbands' home became unbearable after his burial, forcing her to return to her parents' home.

Her father-in-law, she says, had initially refused to release forms needed by the KDF to compensate the family, compounding her pain.

The battle with her in-laws has brought bitterness and to date, she can't understand why they turned against her.

DISCONNECTS CALLS

"My husband had rental houses back in the village and my father-in-law has been collecting rent without sending me even a cent ... We also had bought land in Moiben but my father-in-law now says it belongs to his son," she says, adding that he has refused to talk to her. "He refuses to talk to me at all. He usually disconnects my phone calls when I try to reach him," she says.

In Nairobi, Ms Dorah Nandege was left a widow with two children to fend for following the El-Adde attack that claimed the lives of dozens of KDF soldiers last year.

Her husband -- Corporal Patrick Kunani -- was an electrician with the KDF and was in charge of ensuring there was electricity at the camp as well as proper communication.

In an interview with the Nation, Ms Nandege narrates her ordeal that lasted three weeks, as she sought to establish whether her husband was alive or dead.

"I was worried. Not knowing what to do. Information on my husband's whereabouts was not forthcoming. However, two weeks later, we were told that he was killed in the attack," she says.

GREATLY AFFECTED

'My world came crumbling down. I did not know how to tell my children that their father went to war and will never come back. But I managed to tell them what happened," she says. Her son was greatly affected as he and the father were very close. They used to talk a lot," she goes on. Ms Nandege says the process of identifying her husband's body was equally traumatising. "I went to the morgue and was asked to identify him. There were five bodies in the room at the time. I immediately identified Patrick," she says amid sobs.

As Ms Nandege struggles to ensure her children get the best, her hope is that the African Mission in Somalia will compensate her family for the loss.

"The money we have so far received as gratuity from the Kenya Defence Forces has assisted us a lot. But it is not much, considering the fact that our in-laws are also claiming a share," she adds.

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