Kenya: Evil From Within And Without
The Rape of Kenya
For nearly three decades British troops stationed in Kenya have been
raping local women. Finally, the women are fighting back.
By Charles Wachira
"I was herding my husband's livestock one afternoon when I noticed two
uniformed white soldiers coming towards me," says Selina Letowon Kisio,
a 46-year-old woman from Kenya's Maasai community. "And since I was
perennially afraid of government people and [was] alone, I started
walking away from them. They quickened their steps and I fled when I
heard them shouting at me. I could not hear what they were saying as I
stumbled and fell, all of the time they continued running after me.
"They caught up with me and both got hold of me, one holding my arms as
the other raped me. They did this in turns several times. I was scared.
I screamed. There were no people around that place. When they were
through, they left me crying and ran away."
Afterwards, she says, she wearily trudged home where she relayed her
ordeal to her mother-in-law. At the time her husband and father-in-law
were not at home. The following morning Kisio visited the nearby Dol Dol
Health Center, where she was treated. Upon returning home from the
medical center, she found an unusually quiet husband.
"My mother-in-law had told him about the incident," she says. "He was
furious. Not at the rapists who had defiled me but at me. I was
devastated. He told me to my face that he could no longer live with a
woman who had slept with majoni [the local parlance used derisively to
describe collectively the British soldiers]. He then left the compound
the same day and took all the livestock with him."
Vulnerable even to the local authorities, Kisio avoided reporting the
matter to the police. She vividly relives the incident as if it took
place only yesterday, but it happened 27 years ago. And she was not
Earlier this summer a group of about 650 women won the right to sue the
English Ministry of Defense for its failure to stop nearly three decades
of systematic rape committed by British soldiers who trained in Kenya
over a period of nearly 30 years. Today the women are beginning to
retaliate, and they are using the tools of the British justice system to
gain their day in court.
Martyn Day, a British attorney and a partner at the firm of Leigh Day
and Company, is representing the women. He blames racism for the way the
soldiers acted, and the way they were protected from prosecution.
"British troops have done terrible things to Kenyans," Day says. "Things
they would never do in Germany, Canada or England where they train. But
when it comes to Kenya, they seem to have thrown their rulebook away. I
feel very strongly that it also behooves Kenyan authorities to conduct
their own investigations into these claims of terrible treatment of
The crimes left behind injuries physical as well as psychic, and often
caused devastating financial and social consequences, as many raped
women were discarded by their husbands after recounting the crimes
committed against them. Hundreds of mixed-race children bear tangible
witness to the legacy.
Such is the case with Elizabeth Naiku, now 50, whose 24-year-old son
Maxwell Kabooi was fathered by a British rapist.
Through an interpreter, Naiku recalls the evening in 1978 when a gang of
soldiers forced their way into her house in Dol Dol township.
"I was with a friend of mine called Gathambi," she says. "We heard
knocks on the door. Gathambi went to check who it was, six men in
military uniform got inside, as the door was not locked. We could not
understand what they were saying in English, but we could tell they were
offering us money that was in their hands in exchange of sex. But we
declined and were afraid. But when we tried to run out, three of them
got hold of me, and the other trio held Gathambi. They raped us in turns
as they held our mouths so we could not scream. They appeared drunk."
Naiku explains why she kept quiet about the violation. "This is a
shameful thing," she says. "Our people do not talk about such terrible
things. Women keep it to themselves for fear of being isolated and
scandalized. All the same, neighbors had heard the commotion in my house
the previous night, and word soon went round that Gathambi together with
my self had been gang-raped by majoni. I nearly committed suicide."
After the incident, she lived in horror of not knowing how her husband
and father of her five children would react upon returning home.
"He could not bear the news that I had been raped by the majonis and
things deteriorated when, nine months later, I gave birth to a boy of
mixed race," she says. "He abandoned me with my children and has since
Finally, after years of official stonewalling, the English have mustered
a four-man team representing the Special Investigations Branch of the
Royal Military Police, which spent five days in Kenya this spring
interviewing the victims. Quite a change from the meetings in 1983, when
the army promised investigations only to stand by while two more
decades of rapes occurred.
Many of the interviews took place in the Mukogodo Division of Lakipia
District, a sparsely populated enclave located 400 kilometers northeast
of Nairobi, the country's capital. There, in a community that tends to
treat sexuality as a taboo subject, many victims and witnesses still
find it hard to speak of what happened.
The lawsuit would award each woman $20,000, a healthy windfall in a
nation whose per capita income is just $375. But no amount of money will
restore what these women lost.
"Personally I would want to see them punished for their beastly
behaviour and the pain they inflicted on me," says Kisio. "If
compensation is paid, it will alleviate the suffering the soldiers
plunged me into, including being left to fend for my children. But it
won't reverse what they did to me or erase the memories."
First published: July 31, 2003
About the Author
Charles Wachira is a Kenyan journalist based in Nairobi.
Rape in Kenya
from Interact, Spring, 2002
Violence against women is widespread in Kenya. Every day, women are
physically and sexually abused. Rape occurs in all social and ethnic
groups. It is a crime that shocks and traumatizes the victim and
reflects the acceptance of discrimination against women in Kenyan
society. Yet it is largely suffered in silence. In its new report,
Kenya: Rape - the invisible crime, Amnesty International examines
violence against women, particularly sexual violence and rape committed
by both security officials and by private individuals. It explores how
women subjected to violence are not adequately protected by the law in
Kenya and why those who commit violence against women continue to
operate with impunity.
Victims of rape often face insurmountable obstacles in trying to bring
the perpetrators to justice. Many women who have suffered rape or other
forms of abuse are too intimidated by cultural attitudes and state
inaction to seek redress. To do so can lead to hostility towards the
victim from her family, the community and the police. Those who do seek
justice are confronted by a system that ignored, denies and even
condones violence against women and protects the perpetrators, whether
they are state officials or private individuals.
Discrimination against women in Kenya
Kenya is a patriarchal society, where the husband in the head of the
household and women often have little influence in decisions affecting
their lives. This extends to sexual relations, where women are
frequently unable to refuse to have sex with their husbands. In Kenya,
customarily, women do not own property or the land they work, which
causes them economic hardship and places them in positions of
dependence. Each ethnic group in Kenya has its own identity, realized
through its culture and traditions. Not all customs and traditions
discriminate against women's human rights. Certain practices contribute
towards promoting women's human rights. AI does not campaign against
these cultural values for it is these very values that contribute to
distinct and vibrant communities. However, AI is concerned that some
forms of violence against women have become entrenched. For example,
wife inheritance, bride price (in which a man's family pays the wife's
family thereby giving men the idea they own their wife), forced marriage
and female genital mutilation are institutionalized though culture. The
state does not ensure women are protected against the acts of violence
that these practices either embody or support. Forced marriage is
customary in some communities. On the death of her husband, a woman is
"inherited" by his brother or close relatives. Her consent to this new
marriage or to sexual relations with her new "husband" is not sought.
Gender-based violence not only exposes women to sexually transmitted
diseases but also to the risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS.
Sexual violence by law enforcement officials
AI has received many allegations reported in Kenyan media of rape of
women detainees by police officers. Torture, including rape of women by
police, prison and other officials is reportedly widespread. Amnesty
International believes that rape and sexual abuse of women in custody
always constitutes torture and ill-treatment. The UN Special Rapporteur
on Torture in his 1999 report on Kenya, chronicled at least 33 cases of
torture committed against women by law enforcement officials. Torture is
prohibited under Kenyan law, yet these violent acts are not investigated
and perpetrators are not punished. Mary Muragwa, aged 45, from Bungoma
District to AI she was raped by police officers who were looking for her
husband, David Muragwa, a former teacher who was involved in local
politics. Police visited her home in 1995 looking for her husband and
not finding him, hit her and broke her arm, then carried her into the
house where two of the officers raped her. She was detained without
charge or trial at Bungoma police station for four months. She was
released into house arrest for the next year. Doctors have told her she
will not be able to have more children because of the injuries sustained
as a result of this torture.
Sexual violence by private individuals
Women's organizations in Kenya agree that "domestic violence is the most
commonly hidden form of violence, and wife beating is considered a
private affair of the home." Many of the women's organizations and some
of the victims told AI that some forms of domestic violence are
perceived as "routine chastisement" and victims do not report it until
it becomes extreme. Many women are not aware that forced sex in the home
is rape and they will not mention this even when seeking medical
attention for other injuries. Marital rape is not a recognized crime in
Kenya nor is many other forms of domestic violence. Organizations told
AI that reports of this crime to police are likely to be categorized not
as rape but as the lesser offense of assault. Women avoid the police not
only because they rightly expect the police to minimize or ignore
domestic violence, but also because they fear they husbands can bribe
police to withdraw the case. Peres, aged 34, from Nairobi, was
reportedly beaten and raped by her husband in 1989 when he wanted to
marry a second wife. She reported the beatings to the police but her
husband allegedly paid the police to withdraw the case. She told AI when
her husband comes home after she has been to the police, he beats her
against and forces sex upon her, even when the children are present. It
took her three days to obtain a P3 form, the medical form which must be
filled out by police and then by a doctor who examines the victim. Many
women reporting violence tell AI that P3 forms are not filled out by
police nor made available to doctors so that investigations cannot
Lack of access to police and legal protection
For an investigation to be started, a woman victim has to report the
crime to the police. Most police officers regard violence within the
home as a domestic matter and uphold discriminatory attitudes toward
women. Special provisions for women has not been established in any
police station in Kenya despite commitments made by both the Attorney
General and the Police Commissioner in August 2000 to introduce "rape
desks" at police stations and to make the police more responsive to
gender-based crimes. Doctors interviewed by AI suggest that better
access to a P3 form would enable the doctor to see the victim and record
medical evidence as soon as possible. Without such evidence, a victim
cannot prove she did not consent and therefore that she was raped. Many
doctors are said to be reluctant to examine women victims or fill in a
P3 form especially when a police officer is the perpetrator.
Local organizations report that few victims of marital rape pursue a
legal case against their husbands, mainly because of economic dependence
on their husband, high legal costs, fear of losing custody of the
children and of being ostracized by family and community, as well as
lack of confidence in the police and judicial system to protect them.
Access to justice particularly for marital rape is extremely difficult.
It is rare for a case to reach the courts, and the perpetrator is more
commonly charged with assault than rape. Often courts say that the woman
provoked the violence and treat it lightly.
There are very few avenues for redress. The government is not equipped
to provide services to victims when they are most urgently needed. There
is no governmental housing for women fleeing violence. A small number of
women's organizations have established centers providing counseling or
therapy, but their resources are offered only on a temporary basis. The
Women's Rights Awareness Program(WRAP) now houses approximately 60 women
and children in their shelter, and provides counseling, medical and
legal aid, but the women can only stay there temporarily. The biggest
problem is that because of women's economic disempowerment, many victims
still return to their husbands.