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The two beasts of Kibarani and Aisha’s five-year wait for justice

Irene Aisha Amukuma during an interview at her home in Mombasa County on  April 1, 2022.  [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

On Friday, March 25, 2022, a court in Mombasa made a ruling that will confine two men to life in prison for one of the most vicious attacks that made it to a Kenyan courtroom.

On trial were two men accused of stabbing, gang-raping and later tying down a 23-year-old woman to a railway line, hoping that an oncoming train would run over her and kill her; taking away the only witness to their crime.

Unfortunately for the duo, the witness survived and her testimony and that of others were used to convince a judge to put them away forever.

Irene Aisha Amukuma says every time she opens her eyes to a new day, demons from her past keep pulling her back into a hole she has been trying to get herself out of for the past five years.

She says she knows she is blessed to be alive. She says she sometimes hopes for better things.

But somehow, her past keeps reminding her of the memory she would rather suppress. A memory that prevents her from moving forward.

Aisha’s story is one of pain, loss and of losing oneself. It is one of betrayal by those who pledged to help her and one of despair from a future that is uncertain.

And the walk on this path, on which she was led, by people well known to her, started on February 3, 2017.

In the wee hours of this day, a former lover, Stephen Mzee Thomas alias Kirenje and a childhood friend Stephen Otieno Okalu turned her life upside down.

Although the two men have been sentenced to life in prison, Aisha’s life will never be the same.

That morning at around 4 am, she left the house of a deceased relative where she had attended a night vigil.

Her path home was through a collection of temporary tin, timber and tarpaulin structures that housed an array of businesses, one of which was a food kiosk she operated during the day. Next to the kiosk was a drinking den.

She might have suspected trouble from a few patrons at that hour so she convinced a friend, who was the DJ at the night vigil to at least escort her home.

The DJ agreed, but he could only get her to a nearby mosque. Past the mosque, he was certain danger lurked.

Inside the den, Kirenje and Otieno were making merry. Until they saw Aisha approach. They followed her.

The near-fatal assault was not the first time the two turned on her. In fact, just a week before the incident the two had beaten her up.

“He always claimed my son was his child. He tried to take him on several occasions and each time that he failed he assaulted me,” Aisha told the Standard.

“After beating me up, he always promised he would kill me one day.”Aisha never saw them coming.

As she walked, she was perhaps thinking of those she had left at home in the Kibarani area.

Her newborn baby. Her four siblings. Her elderly, ailing mother.

She used to live on her own in the Maboxini area, but since the arrival of her baby, she opted to move back home.

Maboxini was far from the ideal location for a parent to raise a baby.

To get to her mother’s house, Aisha had to make her way past a railway line, through an area known as Kwa Reli.

 A Vicious Attack

As she neared the railway, Kirenje and Otieno had caught up with her. Kirenje then held her from behind.

Steven Otieno Okalu and Stephen Mzee Thomas alias Kerenje at the Mombasa Law Courts. [Joackim Bwana]

 

Otieno, who was quickly becoming an accomplice, stabbed Aisha in the thigh with a sharp object as she tried to fight them off.

The two men, in the cover of darkness, then proceeded to rape her in turns.

When they finished, they took her to the railway lines and tied her to the tracks.

The two men, who had both been at the same vigil as Aisha then left the scene. Each to his own home.

Just across the railway line, Aisha’s mother had fallen asleep tired of waiting for her daughter to come back home.

Her other siblings were preparing to wake up and get on with the hustles of the day.

The newborn baby, whom Kirenje insisted was his, was sound asleep. Unaware of the trouble that had befallen his mother.

Sometimes the train gets late. Sometimes it even fails to show up. But on this day, as if driven by fate, train No. 9901 from Mombasa to Changamwe via Kibarani was on time.

The two operators on duty expected nothing out of the ordinary. As they approached Kibarani, they noticed the usual.

Garbage bags dotted their path. One of the items on the tracks though appeared unusual.

“As we approached we realized it was a human being,” one of the operators told the court.

They braked. They honked. But the human being on the tracks could not move away. Her hands and legs had been tied to the tracks.

All she could do was close her eyes and hope for the best. The minute she felt the hot steel of the train on her skin, she thought she would die.

On impact, the ropes that were used to tie her down got cut. With her body freed, Aisha was dragged for a few metres by the train before it finally came to a stop. She was under the train.

Bad news travels fast and as the locomotive operators tried to call their superiors for direction, news of the accident had already reached the remaining people at the vigil attended by Aisha.

One of those who was still there was Kibwana Said.

“A guy called Abijinga ran into the house and told me that someone had been hit by the train. When we got there, we found Aisha under the train so we carried her and took her to the hospital,” Kibwana said.

Bleeding, crushed and in pain, Aisha was conscious but in shock.

“She was able to tell me what happened and who had done all this to her,” Kibwana said.

The rescuers got Aisha to Makadara Hospital where they received no help. The doctors were on strike.

They then rushed her to Agha Khan Hospital Mbaraki where she was examined and treated.

The medical report indicates that Aisha’s legs were crushed just above the knee and hanging.

The bones were fractured and muscles were mangled and she was bleeding. Both legs were amputated.

Further examination by the doctors showed that she had been sexually assaulted.

At that time though, Aisha was in no state to record a statement. And when she got out of surgery and the anaesthesia cleared from her head, she would wake up to a brand new world. At 23, her life had changed forever.
 
Picking Up The Pieces.

When she was assaulted and tied down to the railway line, Aisha was pregnant.

“I ended up with a miscarriage,” she says.

It took nine weeks of constant medical care for her to be strong enough to confront what had happened to her.

On March 11th, she recorded her statement relieving the attack from her hospital bed.

By this time, nothing in terms of investigations had happened. And the two men were getting on with their lives, oblivious of the damage, both physical and psychological they had left behind.

A probation report sums up her life since the accident.

“She was hurt and experienced a lot of pain for a very long time. She was hospitalized for a very long period and when she finally got out of the hospital she was confined to a wheelchair. This had a huge impact on her as she cannot go about her business as she used to. Even though she was lucky to get a wheelchair from well-wishers, she has to look for support to move around. She is yet to cope with what happened to her,” the report reads.

Irene Aisha Amukuma during an interview at her home in Mombasa County on April 1, 2022. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

“Her normal life was rudely interrupted. A permanent scar was imparted on her physically, mentally and psychologically. She currently survives by begging on along the streets of Mombasa.”

But there was a time things looked up for her.

“I thought I had turned the corner,” she says, cradling a two-month-old child.

After the incident, well-wishers tried to get Aisha back to business.

The locals donated a tuktuk and Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho pledged to rent her a house in Likoni.

In the years that followed, she lost the tuktuk and was thrown out of the house owned by the Mombasa County government due to accrued rent.

“I was thrown out of the house they had rented me in Likoni and was forced back to the streets. My two children were taken away to a children’s home and my tuktuk was stolen,” she told The Sunday Standard.

Now, she says, the only thing she can hold on to is the court ruling.

The Arrests

On Thursday 23rd March 2017, Stephen Otieno Okalu was just about to take a bath when he heard a mob outside his house.

During questioning, he told the court that people in the crowd told him of a certain incident that he might have been involved in before taking him to Makupa Police Station.

While at Makupa, he was interrogated, informed of the charges against him and denied them all.

Stephen Mzee Thomas also known as Kirenje had a longer stay outside the jail.

It wasn’t until a few days to Christmas, December 22nd that he was arrested on his way home from Ganjoni.

His arrest too was citizen-led and he was also taken to Makupa Police Station.

Upon being charged, the two men failed to raise bail and after five years of trial, they were finally sentenced.

“The injuries suffered by the victim are permanent and irreversible. I have considered the circumstances under which the offence was committed and in view of the same, I do hereby sentence the accused persons as follows,” read part of the judgement.

“In respect of count 1 attempted murder, each accused person shall serve life imprisonment. In respect of count 2- involving the offence of gang rape, I direct that each accused person shall serve life imprisonment. So orders the court. They have a right to appeal within 14 days.”

Aisha says justice has been served.

“I am grateful that they were sentenced to life in prison but my life has gotten worse. I am suffering and struggling to feed myself and my two-month baby,” she says.

She still lives with her mother in the same neighbourhood where it all happened.

Whenever she leaves her mother’s house and she meets with the families of the men who raped her and tied her to the railway tracks.

“I fear for my life because Kirenje’s family always comes around and stares at me without saying a word. I fear they might do something bad to me one day,” she told Sunday Standard.

The probation report also gives a window into what Aisha’s future might look like and her interactions with the families of the two men in jail over what they did to her.

“The families are known to each other. There is blame, anger, bitterness and betrayal experienced between them,” reads the report, but Aisha has nowhere else to go.

For her, every day feels like a struggle. A struggle to overcome something different.

“I cannot move around unless someone pushes me. It gets hard to go to the washroom let alone hang my child’s clothes after washing them,” said Aisha while in tears. “But I am trying hard to give my child a future.”

Aisha wishes for many things. But top of her wish list is an electric wheelchair.

“I think it will give me some freedom to do other things,” she says.

For now, she waits. Waits to see whether time will heal her and take away her pain.