Family mourns passing of woman who symbolized pain of post-election violence - Evewoman

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Family mourns passing of woman who symbolized pain of post-election violence

A photo of Elizabeth Wangoi, a witness of the January 1, 2008 burning of Kiambaa Church in Eldoret. Wangoi died at MTRH on Saturday [Stephen Rutto, Standard]

She was photographed wailing, her hands in the air with her left hand holding a shoe. Soon, the picture dominated headlines and depicted to the nation that the violence had driven Kenya to the brink of a civil war.

Elizabeth Wangui, the elderly woman whose picture dominated local and international headlines when a church in Kiambaa, Uasin Gishu County, was razed during the height of the 2007-2008 post-election violence, is dead.

Her death at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) has rekindled memories of the violence that rocked the country 11 years ago, with her family yesterday narrating how Wangui sunk into trauma and depression following the tragedy in which at least 40 people were killed.

According to her family, Wangoi, 83, died on Saturday after being in and out of hospital since January 1, 2008 when she survived the fire.

Rowdy youth had reportedly stormed the Kenya Assemblies of God Pentecostal Church near Eldoret town and set it ablaze in the 2008 clashes. They were pursuing several victims of the violence including children and women who had sought refuge in the church.

Family, led by her nephew Philip Gakuha disclosed yesterday that Wangoi was crying for her only son and child Kimunya Wangoi whom she suspected was among people trapped in the burning church.

“Wangoi had just escaped from the burning Church and her son Kimunya was still trapped inside. She was devastated and needed help,” Mr Gakuha said.

Mr Kimunya was lucky to survive the inferno but sustained burns that have left his arms weak to date.

According Mr Gakuha, Wangoi’s house that sat in a half-acre farm in Kiambaa had just been razed by angry youths who were said to be protesting the results of the 2007 presidential election.

“My aunt had been raped by the youth and her son was burning inside a church. Things would never be the same again for her. She started developing high blood pressure, depression and suddenly became mad, often losing memory,” he said.

Wangoi’s health, according to Gakuha, was worsened by unfulfilled promises by the state to compensate the now deceased Wangoi for damages resulting from the destruction of her property.

He explained that the late Wangoi was an enterprising farmer who kept cows and chicken in her Kiambaa farm, but after the violence she became depressed and lost her mind.

“After surviving the fire she was taken to an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp. But in a resilient move, she chose to go back to her farm to start life again, but she was unable to due to her health. She became dependent on relatives. She had lost everything,” Gakuha told The Standard.

He said his elderly aunt never received any professional counselling, something that may have worsened her health condition.

He added: “They had been assured of compensation by the State but later, everything went quiet and the Government forgot about her.”

Gakuha said the family is now struggling to raise a Sh240,000 to settle a hospital bill and to give Wangoi a decent burial at her Kiambaa farm.

In an emotional appeal to Kenyans, Gakuha said: “Let us not again allow political competition to divide us. Kenya burnt in 2007-2008 because of politics. The politicians are now friends and ordinary Kenyans who lost their loved ones and property are still fighting, struggling to rebuild their lives.”

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Mr Kimunya, Wangoi’s son recalled the moment they were burnt and his lucky escape by running out of the fire to MTRH where he sought treatment.

He said his mother developed phobia for churches and stopped attending the Baptist Church where she was a staunch member.

“She would appear so scared whenever she heard about church,” said Kimunya.

He added: “My mum would have been alive today were it not because of the PEV. The depression and high blood pressure she suffered was as a result of the skirmishes.”

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