The pain families of fallen heroes go through chasing KDF benefits

Pain families of fallen heroes go through chasing KDF benefits

At 7.55pm on the Sunday of October 16, 2011, a Kenyan military helicopter crashed and burst into flames at Liboi, about 14km from the border with Somalia.

All the five men on board – Maj Samuel Keli Kavindu, Maj Kizito Wahiza Nyamohanga, Corporal Francis Muli Solovea, Corporal Noel Kipkurgat Kipkosiam and Corporal Francis Imenyi Languchia – died in the crash.

The true cost of the Operation Linda Nchi was to be felt thousands of kilometres away. Major Samuel Keli Kavindu was buried alongside his father, Francis Kavindu. The elderly Kavindu had collapsed and died from shock upon learning of his son’s demise.

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Maj Kavindu’s father lost the battle with depression, tormented by the loss of his son. His experience is emblematic of many families of soldiers who have paid the ultimate price.

It is a painful battle with depression, emotional scars and loss of financial support. Many families who have lost loved ones in Somalia are coming to terms with the labyrinth of bureaucracy that greets them at the doorstep of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF).

Besides parents, there is now a new generation of young widows who, according to existing laws, are entitled to widow pension strictly for five years after the passing of their husbands.

The future of these young families and how they will cope with life is inconceivable and is morphing into KDF’s new nightmare.

In spite of all the adulation and attention that brave soldiers are showered with for their gallant efforts to secure the motherland, their families are suffering in silence and facing financial woes.

Three years down the line, widows and children of the fallen heroes opened up to The Standard on Sunday about their harrowing experiences and battle to survive against unimaginable odds following the sudden loss of their loved ones.

“My husband left me with a burden that I have been struggling to handle,” Praxidis Nduko, the widow of Corporal Solovea of the 50 Air Calvary Battalion (50ACB) said. “He died when our three children were in secondary school and university.”

The helicopter crash left six widows, who will have to wait for another two years before they can access compensation and pension that is due to their departed husbands. “The pension to widows only lasts five years,” Praxidis said. “After that, we are on our own.”

Our writers travelled by road covering thousands of kilometres in virtually every corner of the country to speak to dozens of families.

Families, tormented by the loss and aged by the ordeal narrated how they received bodies of the soldiers, arranged their funerals then had to get in line to pursue death benefits and pensions from KDF.

They include the family of Private George Karari, an infantry soldier, whose family waited for more than three months before they could get his remains for burial.

“I am yet to receive a coin from the Kenyan Government,” his father, Maina Karari, says. The senior Karari lives in Othaya, less than a kilometre from the residence of retired President Mwai Kibaki, who was the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces when KDF went into Somalia.

Everything about his physical appearance is a testimony of tough times – he wears black khaki pants tucked in aging black boots and a faded blue T-shirt.

“My son was the only person in formal employment in my household,” he offers. “My family collected resources to educate him and we were happy when he joined the military because we believed that he would take care of us.”

Private Karari served for two years with KDF. During that time he was able to build a timber bungalow and pay school fees for his immediate follower, Lydia, at Kagumo Teachers Training College.

The family’s horror began on October 2012, when Al-Shabaab militants ambushed his battalion at the southern Somalia town of Miido.

After the capture of Kismayu, KDF, with the help of residents of the port city, dug out his remains from a mass grave in Kismayu and shipped his body back home for burial. “I travelled to Nairobi until my old limbs got tired,” Karari says. “I started making phone calls. Every time I called, I was transferred to someone else till I got tired.”

Amina, the mother of Private Aden Suleiman, weeps every time she sees traders’ cash in on the sale of DVDs depicting her son’s body being dragged on a leash tied to a truck through the streets of Kismayu. She says she lives penniless and miserable in Isiolo.

Even worse, promises made at funerals of the fallen men are yet to be fulfilled. “During his burial, they promised to help one of us to join the military but they are yet to keep that pledge,” reveals Samson Mokami, the younger brother of Major Nyamohanga killed in Somalia.

Kenya Defense Forces Al shabaab fallen soldiers