Mt. Elgon Conflict: Battle for Land Fought Over Women’s Bodies

Posted on 20 December 2008. Filed under: Insecurity, Public Health |

Photo: Georgina Cranston/IRIN
“They took us to the forest and raped me for days, taking it in turns”

KITALE, 17 December 2008 (PlusNews) – Margaret Sichei*, 37, discovered she was HIV positive during a routine antenatal check-up. The pregnancy, as well as the HIV infection, was the product of a gang rape deep in the forests of Mount Elgon in western Kenya, perpetrated by members of a self-styled militia calling themselves the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SDLF).

She talked about her ordeal while waiting to pick up her supply of antiretroviral (ARV)drugs at the district hospital in the town of Kitale, near Mount Elgon, where she tested positive two years ago.

“I had just prepared supper for my family and we were seated in our house. Suddenly the dogs of our neighbour started barking viciously; we heard footsteps, and before we could even realise anything, our door was kicked open by men in huge boots, and carrying all manner of weapons.

“They accused my husband of being a traitor, and they dragged the two of us out of the house. They then took us to the forest and raped me for days, taking it in turns and saying that I would pay the price on behalf of my husband, forgetting that they had already killed him. He was beheaded as I watched, and they buried him,” said Sichei, tears rolling down her face.

She eventually escaped while pretending to fetch firewood to make food for her captors and fled to the nearby town of Bungoma, only returning to her home after the army had flushed the militia out of the area.

The SDLF began their insurgency in 2006 in response to alleged injustices committed during a land distribution scheme. Some of the area’s residents initially supported them in the belief that they were fighting to reclaim land belonging to them, but before long they started paying the price.

In a report released in July 2008, Human Rights Watch, an international watchdog, estimated that the SLDF had killed more than 600 people and kidnapped, tortured and raped many more.

Lillian Kirei, 20, also contracted HIV after first being raped by militia members and then later by members of the Kenyan security forces sent to Mount Elgon in March 2008 to quell the insurgency. Her 45-year-old mother was also raped but did not survive the ordeal.

“We were three girls and we were coming from the market in the evening when the militia abducted us,” she told IRIN/PlusNews. “One of us who tried to scream was beaten senseless and raped with leaves stuffed in her mouth. We are all HIV positive now.

“When the army came, I went through the same ordeal. I do not know for sure where I contacted the virus but I now take ARVs, and whoever gave me the virus is for God to punish,” she said.

''At the time you do things that haunt you later in life. I am now HIV positive, yet at that time we thought it was cool to rape women''

Erick Wanyama, a clinical officer at the hospital in Kitale, noted that many women who had experienced similar ordeals were now HIV positive. “There are some who are dying silently due to the stigma associated with rape and HIV – it is a double blow to women and girls,” he said.

According to Dr. Charles Onudi, medical officer for Kenya’s Western Province, out of 100 pregnant women and girls from the Mount Elgon region who said they had been raped, 35 have so far tested positive for HIV.

He added that the actual number of women who had contracted HIV during the insurgency was probably much higher, but that most women were reluctant to admit they had been raped.

In its report, All the Men Have Gone, Human Rights Watch accused both the SLDF and the Kenyan army of committing war crimes and blatant human rights abuses. Medical charity, Médecins sans Frontières have made similar claims.

John Kirui*, a former militia member who is HIV positive, said he now regretted raping dozens of women and girls during the time he served in the rebel outfit.

“At the time you do things that haunt you later in life. I am now HIV positive, yet at that time we thought it was cool to rape women,” he said.

Read more:
Land dispute spawns violence, displacement
MSF highlights ‘forgotten crisis’ in Mt Elgon
Security improves in Mt Elgon but fear remains

Jane Kibiwott, 18, was raped for two days by a group of young men belonging to the SLDF; she and her four-month old baby are both HIV positive. “I can say he is twice unlucky,” she said, breast-feeding her son.

“First, he is a child of rape, and now he is HIV positive and being cared for by an equally positive mother. Cruel things happen at times, especially for us, the poor.”

*Not their real names


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6 Responses to “Mt. Elgon Conflict: Battle for Land Fought Over Women’s Bodies”

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In rape we only see the victims, the rapists remain faceless. Wonder if naming then would mean shaming them or would they be the heroes of their male friends?

It is sad that people lost life, property, bread winners, friends, lovers, land, education and now the remaining are healing bitter wounds of life. May God’s grace prevail!

Yes, we have to pay for everything wrong we do in this world. you did not know? Please be aware!NOTHING will remain unpunished.

To be the poor is not the problem,but the problem is the Kenyan goverment who fail to protect the poor.They forget that it is the poors who had voted to them and now they are living in a palace with the state guards on their gates24hrs forgetting to put stateguards also to the poor who are their clients.SHAME

It is sad that such crimes can be committed against innocent civilians. please Kenyans let us always view our country men as brothers, sisters,and parents so that we avoid commiting anything that can cause harm to them. We as a people we have an obligation to ensure that everybody in this country is safe. To the government, although the army restored calm but it took too long to respond. The army to whom we pay tax to maintain have no justification whatsoever to wait until when people had been killed, innocent women humiliated through rape so as to respond. please create a rapid disciplined deployment force which should always respond before such damage is done. To those who were humiliated and your rights violated please live positively, face life with courage and always seek medical services so that you live positively. Never give up you can still archieve.And for sure no crime shall go unpunished. Iwonder why men become beasts, because the land and property we fight for, we always denied the women any right over them, then we humiliate them, big shame. Says David Neville Masika, University of Nairobi,

We are now almost through with Mt. Elgon Conflict but a sad scenario emerges again in the Tana Delta. It is a big shame to this thing called government led by dont careeres who sleep, drink, and make merry in the State House as Kenyans hunt and kill one another. I am shocked that the President who is an old man whose symbol is supporsed to be wisdom can betray the same wisdom and desart the poor people of Tana River to kill themselves. But Mr. Kibaki must know this; History will judge you very harshly for not defending the poor, You took office and an oath to protect them but in 2008 you desarted them and kept quet in Statehouse as they killed one another, in North Eastern people have frequently slaughtered one another yet you dont care or even dont comment. No Mr. President God will judge you hashly and your generations. No that the innocent blood of children in Tana Delta, North Eastern, Pokot, Turkana who are massacred daily will for ever cry on your head and family

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