From the end of April through the middle of May, a gang of machete wielding attackers in a number of villages in Bungoma County killed 15 people and mutilated at least another 150. There didn’t seem to be any motive for the attacks as, not only was nothing stolen, but the people being attacked were poverty-stricken with nothing significant to steal. The local police and security officers were unable to stem these attacks. Naturally this caused a great deal of public outcry not only in the county itself, but the country at large. Even Deputy President William Ruto visited Bungoma to discuss the conflict with local government officials.
The police rounded up 309 youth suspects but soon released 297 of them without charge. They charged a few with having participated in the killings, but some of them were already in jail at the time of the attacks, awaiting hearing for other crimes — they were not the culprits. The community then took the law into their own hands, as is so common in Kenya. They found a young man whom they accused of participating in the attacks and tortured him until he gave the names of nine others who were alleged to be with him in the attacks. They then killed him and systematically found the other nine suspects and lynched them all. Of course, information obtained through torture is unreliable and there is doubt that these ten were the actual perpetrators. Even if they were, it will remain unknown who instigated these bizarre killings.
These attacks occurred about 5 miles lower down on Mt Elgon from where we had been working during the election period. Our first response was for Getry Agizah, Peter Serete, Ezra Kigonbu, and Erastus Chesondi to spend three days visiting three of the villages that were attacked conducting a fact-finding mission. “There was so much pain and smell of blood as victims had wounds that were not treated. We could not bear it as it was so traumatizing.” They concluded that the villagers needed immediate listening sessions. With 17 of the HROC healing companions that we had trained in January as part of our current election violence prevention work, guided by our lead facilitators, 35 listening sessions were conducted for 516 participants in the three villages plus 4 more sessions in local churches. One participant, Rosemary, commented, “I need to be with you. My son of 7 months was cut and left bleeding until he died. I was going crazy until you people came. I still feel I need to get more of your humble listening.” At one of the listening sessions a man admitted that he had participated in the attack that lynched the third suspect — he showed no remorse for having done this and seemed willing to do it again if the situation called for it.
We then decided to do three three-day HROC workshops with our experienced facilitators; there were 67 participants. As you can imagine, emotions were still very high. This was the first time we had attempted to do a HROC workshop so close to the incidents that made them necessary – in Mt Elgon four or five years had passed since the conflict ended so emotions had a time to cool down. One the lead facilitators, Eunice Okwemba, who had done many HROC workshops on Mt Elgon commented, “I thought it is like HROC that I have done in Mt Elgon, but, when the conflict is too fresh, it is very traumatizing to listen to these people. I went home the most traumatized person.” We realized that we need a debriefing team to help facilitators who are coming back from this kind of session to help them recover from their secondary trauma.
The workshops, though, left us with another question as the members of the community asked, “How do we interact with the families of the ten young men who were killed by the mob? Please help us to live with the situation.”