Horror of bodies dumped in River Yala, some with fingers cut off and acid burns

Nicholas Okero Okite at River Yala in Gem Siaya county where dead bodies are normally dumped in sacks.[Collins Oduor, Standard]

River Yala which has been a source of life for villagers is slowly turning into a grave yard for bodies dumped by unknown people.

Barely a week passes before a body is retrieved from the river and its tributary that cuts across Ulumbi and Marenyo villages.

Some of the bodies are found with deep cuts, others with ropes tied around their necks and stashed in sacks. Some of the victims have their fingers severed with what authorities believe to be acid to erase their identity.

Last week, the body of a man of Somali origin was retrieved from the river. According to divers, his head had a gaping hole and what appears to be a deep cut. Just like the other bodies that have been retrieved from the river, his body was found stashed in a gunny bag.

But just who is dumping bodies in River Yala and its tributary river Edzawa? That is the jigsaw puzzle that has left residents and authorities stunned.

Interviews with several residents and rescuers, as well as statistics of the bodies kept at Yala Sub-County Hospital mortuary, have lifted the lid on the gravity of the matter.

When The Standard visited the site where some 17 bodies have been retrieved since last year, the place was eerily silent as two villagers walked along the banks a few metres away.

Just metres away from the main river at a  bridge along the Edzawa tributary, there is a smell of decomposing bodies. Swarms of blue flies and other flying insects buzz over what residents now regard as a floating graveyard.

"We are just wondering who is dumping bodies at the river," said Edwin Nyawade, a 70-year-old resident.

He claimed he was among those who have been retrieving bodies from the river and has been offering prayers every time a body is retrieved from the river.

According to the elderly man, over the past few months, a number of bodies have been retrieved from River Yala.

"We are wondering where they are from. They are not from our village and we have never known any of them," he said.

The situation, he claimed, has discouraged some families from going to the river to fetch water.

"It is becoming like a norm now. We have seen several bodies and most have been retrieved from the river," he claimed.

According to residents, in July, last year, three bodies stashed in gunny bags were retrieved from the river in a span of two days. About three days later, another body was also retrieved from the river.

Christine Ajwang, a resident of Yala Township Ward, who resides next to the river, told The Standard that her children also bumped into a body about three weeks ago.

"The body was retrieved from the river but most of the residents are still puzzled," she said.

And as bodies continue to be spotted, a group of heroes are emerging and have been at the forefront in recovery efforts.

One of the volunteer divers claimed that he has retrieved almost 20 bodies.

Downstream where the beautiful Ndanu falls lie, the smell of death and the frequent recovery of bodies have dampened the moods of adventure seekers.

Joseph Owaka, a resident, said that sighting a body flowing down the stream or stuck on a rock has become commonplace.

The situation has overwhelmed Yala Sub-county Hospital mortuary that has been receiving bodies retrieved from the river.

Records at the facility indicate that some 21 bodies stored at the facility have been marked as unknown persons.

The list includes 19 men and two women.

Bruno Okal, the facility's medical superintendent, told The Standard that most of the unknown bodies received at the facility are brought from the river.

He said that they have been disposing of bodies that lie unclaimed at the facility for more than three months.

"It is a fact that we have been receiving bodies from the river. They are always brought by police officers," he said.

Siaya Woman Representative Christine Ombaka described the occurrences as unfortunate and called on police officers to investigate the matter.

The police, however, also appeared puzzled by the turn of events but claim the 21 bodies date back to about a year ago.

Area OCPD Charles Chacha said they believed that the victims could have been killed elsewhere and their bodies dumped in the river.

"We do not have any reports of missing persons from the region. We do not have an idea where the bodies are from," said Chacha.

He said that some of the victims have had their fingers severed, making it difficult to identify them.

A diver, Nicholas Okero, who has been involved in retrieving the bodies from the river said they could be from various parts of the country.

“The last two that I retrieved were of people of Somali origin,” Okero told The Standard.

Okero said since last August, he has retrieved more than 30 bodies that had been dumped in River Yala. Some of those bodies were decomposing and stuffed in sacks.

Human rights activists Boniface Mwangi and Haki Africa Director Hussein Khalid sparked a social media storm on Monday when they highlighted the recovery of the bodies in River Yala.

Last November, The Standard highlighted the mystery of bodies floating on River Yala whose source is Nandi Escarpment in the Rift Valley. The river flows to Lake Victoria.

At the time, County Health Executive Dismas Wakla said Yala Sub-county Hospital morgue had 14 unclaimed bodies.

Some of those who live along the river say they have lost count of the number of bodies they have discovered floating in the river.

[Additional reporting by Olivia Odhiambo]