Yala, Siaya’s river of death

Crossing the river, which serves as the boundary between Bondo and Siaya sub-counties is not for the faint-hearted. [Photo: Standard]
From a distance, River Yala is scenic and refreshing. It has several waterfalls that attract both local and foreign tourists.

Its banks are also breathtaking. While there, one momentarily forgets the rest of the world as they listen to the waters smash against stones that line its banks. 

With its waters running deep, the river is a source of sustenance as it offers fish to the community. However, the river seems to be on a fishing mission as well, with human beings as its target.

Crossing the river, the boundary between Bondo and Siaya sub-counties, however, is not for the faint-hearted. 

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Commit suicide

River Yala has claimed dozens of lives, especially in the past five years. Most of those swept away, reports show, wanted to commit suicide. And the force of the river’s raging waters will not give a person another chance at life even if they change their mind after jumping in.

Those on a suicide mission prefer the river because of its fast flowing waters.

In 2013, on Christmas Eve, the body of a university lecturer was found floating on the river, more than a week after she went missing.

The body of Pamela Atieno, the wife of Dr Javan Kouko, a top radiologist in the western Kenya region, was found floating in the river nine days after she disappeared.

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Kouko said his wife left Kisumu and went to Yala. She parked her car at a local hotel before boarding a motorcycle to the river.

Atieno, a lecturer at Maseno University, did not even pay the motorbike rider. She told him to come after a few minutes to pick her up so she could pay him all at once for the return trip.

Sources close to the family said Atieno was about to complete her PhD studies. She was said to have left a note indicating where her body would be found.

Kouko said the postmortem examination report showed Atieno had drowned.

Two months ago, a 65-year-old man drowned while crossing the river.

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Jared Okumu Nyasiambe was said to have been swept away by the raging waters near Ulungo village in North Yimbo as he tried to cross the river with his cattle at around 7pm.

“It was late when the old man decided to cross the river together with the animals. He did not to take the long way to the nearby bridge,” said the area chief, Opil Rabut.

The animals managed to cross over safely.

His absence was noticed the following morning when his wife alerted her neighbours. The villagers searched for him after his wife told them he had not returned home after grazing their animals.

“Witnesses said he was last seen crossing the river on the fateful day,” Rabut said.

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Other than the many cases of people drowning in the river, there is also rising concern that it has become a popular dumping place for the bodies of people killed elsewhere.

Discovering bodies

Residents said they did not feel safe, especially those who live near the river, and that it had not been easy after they started finding bodies.

The body of a 62-year-old woman was recently found in the river five days after she went missing from her home in Manyonge village, Bondo sub-county.

Some residents said Teresa Ocholla was killed in her house and her body dumped into the river.

Last week the body of another woman, suspected to have been murdered, was found in the river.

A resident, Justus Otieno, said several bodies had been found dumped at the bridge.

“Reports of most of the bodies don’t get to the media. In fact, most people only get to hear about it when it involves a prominent person,” said Otieno.

Nyawita assistant chief Walter Omollo described the trend of suicides and dumping of bodies into the river as ‘shocking’.

“For a long time, we had cases of people who commit suicide or drown in the river after accidentally falling off the bridge. These cases have significantly gone down. However, there is a new trend where bodies of people killed elsewhere are dumped into the river. We are concerned,” he says.

Every month

Omollo adds: “When someone disappears, the river bank is the first place to start the search.”

Police said at least one case of drowning or suicide is reported every month. “Since December last year, we have recovered four bodies from the river,” said an officer who did not wish to be named.

River Yalariver of deathsiaya countyPamela Atieno