• Caleb Atemi

The Hospital of Terror

They took their time raping my daughter and I. I wish they had just killed me. They would laugh as they exchanged us both.

Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.”-Exodus 23; 6-7

Tears flowed down my cheeks. The scenes at the hospital were unbearably heart breaking. Women, men, and children were brought in on stretchers. Some came in with broken limbs. Many had bullet wounds with blood gashing out.

I sat at the Casualty, mentally recording and reliving the horror that had become Kisumu town. Every day the number of the injured and the dead increased. The gunfire and street wars intensified. The smoke from burning cars, and structures chocked the streets.

A short stocky man staggered in. His head had a gaping wound with brains almost flowing out. He had been beaten senseless by riot policemen. He collapsed and died as we watched helplessly.

A pregnant woman was brought in on a stretcher. She had been beaten to near death. Bleeding and crying in pain, she went into labour at the Casualty. My heart wept for the hospital staff. The Superintendent of the New Nyanza General Hospital Dr. Richard Otieno Muga and his staff were overwhelmed by the number of casualties; both civilian and security. They could barely cope. For days, doctors, nurses and hospital staff had not slept.

They had even mobilised students from the Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC) to help with the crisis. The wards were full and patients were now sleeping on the corridors. The mortuary too was overflowing with the dead.

The most heartrending encounter was the image that stuck on my mind for years. A woman and her teenage daughter were brought in with serious burns. They were preparing lunch for their customers at a canteen in Kisumu’s Manyatta estate when the police burst in.

Porridge and tea were boiling on huge sufurias while githeri cooked at another corner. The 12 year old girl was peeling potatoes while the mother prepared chapatis. The askaris landed on them with kicks and blows before raping them both.

“They took their time raping my daughter and I. I wish they had just killed me. They would laugh as they exchanged us both. Oooh my daughter, her innocence was taken away before my own eyes.” Said the woman almost in a whisper of pain.

The terror and agony in her eyes and voice haunted me for years. She had never imagined such evil would befall her.

After raping mother and child, the askaris poured the boiling tea and porridge on them and casually walked away. Laughing. They were lucky some people found them and organised their hazardous trip to hospital. The Good Samaritan who brought them had his vehicle stoned but he was delighted to have delivered them safely.

Accounts of sexual assault against women and girls during the Ouko Unrest period were heart-breaking and gruesome. In Biblical times, rape was such a cultural convulsion. Whenever it occurred, it sparked outrage, violence and even war.

In the book of Judges, 19-21, Tamar was raped by her half-brother Amnon. Her brother Absalom is so infuriated that he kills the rapist and proceeds to incite a rebellion against his own father King David.

When Jacob’s daughter Dinah was violated by the son of a neighbouring ruler, in Genesis 34, Shechem, her brother murdered the rapist, his entire family and men of the city in revenge. In Kisumu, all the women could do was cry out to God since the government that would have protected them was the one tormenting and killing them.

Soon after I had interviewed the woman, I walked back to the casualty to document a few cases before finding my way back to the office to file my story. Just then we heard some commotion outside the Casualty department. Gunshots rang through the air and several tear gas canisters were lobbed into the Casualty unit and wards.

Armed policemen stormed the hospital beating up patients and staff. They even threw tear gas canisters into the wards. The only place spared was the mortuary. Madness and anarchy had indeed descended upon Kisumu. I miraculously escaped the beating but was now inured to the chocking state of the tear gas.

After almost an hour of panic and fright, the attackers left leaving behind terrified men, women and children. The anger on the faces of doctors and nurses was tangible. One of them issued orders repeatedly: “We cannot tolerate this impudence. Any security officer that walks in with any injury no matter how small, amputate. Amputate and amputate. We must cut off those limbs they are using to kill and main innocent people”

I managed to reach my car parked strategically under some trees within the hospital compound. When the photographer entered we sped off. There were fires all over the road. When we reached Kibuye market, I saw a lone man standing in the middle of the road. I asked the driver to be careful. Before I could finish my sentence, I saw him lift up his hand. He unleashed a rock. We ducked just in time. There was a smashing sound of breaking glass as our car swerved to avoid hitting him. When I raised my head, the windscreen had vanished and a huge rock sat neatly at the back seat. It had missed my head by inches.

For a few days we drove around the town with a vehicle that had no windscreen. Our new Nissan Sunny which had been delivered to Kisumu specifically for the Ouko assignment had met the wrath of a rioter. The vehicle was taken back to Nairobi soon after Ouko’s remains were interred.

Every evening, with swollen muscles and tired minds, we sought solace in our favourite beers and drunk our sorrows away. We prayed that death would elude us and God would grant us favour to see yet another day.

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