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Families of fallen KDF soldiers grieve lost kin, shuttered dreams

National
From left: KDF soldiers Captain Hillary Litali, Sergeant Rose Nyawira and Brigadier Saidi Nzaro were killed in a helicopter crash in Marakwet East on Thursday. [File, Standard]

The body of one of the fallen military officers who perished in a helicopter crash in Marakwet East was on Friday laid to rest in Mombasa as several families who lost their kin struggled to accept the demise of their kin.

Grief, sorrow, and a sense of emptiness struck villages in Mombasa, Siaya, Nakuru, and Kirinyaga regions as families began burial preparations for the deceased officers.

In Mombasa, the mother of Brigadier Saidi Nzaro Swaleh narrated her last phone conversation with his son who died in a helicopter crash together with the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) Francis Ogolla.

She shed tears as the family held a burial ceremony for their late kin.

“I never imagined to bury my son, I expected him to bury me. It will, however, be blasphemous for me to correct the work of God.”

Brigadier Said, 56, called his mother, Ms. Sada Soud Mohamed, on Wednesday to congratulate her for completing the six-day fasting of Shawwal. The period starts a day after Eid Ul-Fitr.

“I expected some money from him on Thursday. I tried to call and inform him to tell me once he has sent it because my phone has a problem with Mpesa messages. I could not reach him,” said Ms Sada in an exclusive interview.

The late Brigadier Swaleh’s body arrived in Mombasa Friday morning before it was taken to his home in Majaoni in Utange, Mombasa County for a ‘Janazah’ (funeral) prayer.

The function was attended by Cabinet Secretary Aisha Jumwa, Kilifi Governor Gideon Mung’aro, and other political leaders, senior military officers, and former Chief of Defence Forces Joseph Kibwana.

“Brigadier Swale leaves behind a legacy of service and dedication that will be remembered and cherished by many,” said Mung’aro in his condolence message to the family.

The body was buried in a private ceremony at his farm at Kwazengo village in Kilifi later in the day.

In Nakuru, the weathered face of Evelyne Litali, mother of the late Captain Hillary Litali, was etched with lines of sorrow and fatigue as she struggled to share the pain of losing her loved one.

Cap. Litali died in the helicopter crash alongside Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), the late General Francis Ogolla in Marakwet East county on Thursday.

Evelyne's eyes, once filled with hope and determination, are now hollow, reflecting the deep anguish of a parent who has lost a child.

When the Saturday Standard met her at their Shabab Estate in Nakuru City yesterday, Although Evelyne tried to find solace in the knowledge that his late 29-year-old son died a hero, serving his country, the memories of her late son were like a dagger to her heart, reopening wounds that may never fully heal.

Litali was working as one of Gen Ogolla’s assistants with the family revealing that he was awaiting a promotion to the rank of Major.

“I was in church when my in-law called me asking whether he had gone back to the office of the CDF. I confirmed and she told me that the CDF had been involved in a bad accident,” said Evelyne.

She explained that she called her husband who had already received a similar message and they both rushed home.

“We turned on the TV and found that there was breaking news but the fatalities were not confirmed. It wasn't until when the President read my son’s name that I knew that he was no more,” said Everlyne.

Everlyne explained that her son visited them over the Easter holiday and on April 6, 2024, he drove them to Kitale where they planted maize and inspected a house he was building for them.

“He promised us that he would return in May to complete the roofing of the house. God has taken him. God has dimmed a bright star that was shining in the family. He always wanted to give us a good life,” she said.

His father Dickson Litali said that Captain Litali was living his dreams after joining the military in 2013.

“He sat for his KCSE exam and scored a B+. Despite qualifying for university, he insisted on repeating Form Four for a better mark that would allow him to pursue medicine,” said Dickson.

It was while waiting to sit for the KCSE a second time that he was shortlisted to join the military as a cadet. After his commissioning, he graduated with a degree in criminology.

Litali rose to the rank of a Captain and was deployed to the office of the CDF under General (Rtd) Robert Kibochi and was later picked by late General Ogolla as his aide.

“He recently went for further training and studies. He was due to be promoted to the rank of a Major later this year. It is unfortunate death has taken him before he could be decorated in the new rank,” said Dickson.

The father revealed that Captain Litali was close to them and always kept them updated on where he was.

“Last week he told us that they were to visit North Rift with his boss. Thursday morning he called saying that they were to visit later in the day and I wished him well,” he said.

In Kirinyaga, two families from Kirinyaga County are also mourning the death of their loved ones who died in the crash.

The family of Sergeant John Kinyua Muriithi from Kirimunge village Kirinyaga Central is yet to come to terms with his demise. Already friends and family members have started holding meetings at their home to plan for his burial.

His brother Joseph Muthii recalled how they spent part better part of Monday together as he inspected his poultry farming project.

"He came in the evening and picked up his daughter who had come to visit the grandparents and left. We talked on Thursday morning to plan for a family get-together which was supposed to be held on Saturday (today). That was the last call with him," he said.

Muthii narrated how their mother was against him(Kinyua) joining the military after finishing Form Four in 2002 at Baricho High School where he scored an A(minus).

But he was determined to serve the country.

In Siaya, friends and relatives gathered at the homes of General Ogolla and Sergeant Cliffonce Omondi to mourn their loss.

Meanwhile, the Retired Chief of General Staff (CGS) of the armed forces, General Daudi Rerimoi Tonje is among former top military officers who joined Kenyans in mourning the loss of the KDF officers. 

The helicopter tragedy that occurred shortly after takeoff from Chesegon on the border of West Pokot and Elgeyo Marakwet counties, has plunged the nation into a state of mourning.

Tonje, who served as CGS between 1996 and 2001, remembered Ogolla as “a diligent officer who served KDF with great dedication and commitment’.

Former Kenya Army Commander Lieutenant General Augustine Cheruiyot also conveyed his condolence messages to the Nation and families of CDF Gen Ogolla and the nine officers who lost their lives while in the line of duty.

Report by Joachim Bwana, Kennedy Gachuhi, Jane Mugambi, Isaiah Gwengi, Olivia Odhiambo and Martin Ndiema

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