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Matakwei’s widow: I have been to hell and back

By Alex Wakhisi | March 16th 2016

When Matakwei died in 2008, life took a different turn for me.

Not only was I left to figure out how I was going to raise our five children on my own, I was also abandoned by my community.

I was left to bear the guilt of Sabaot Land Defense Force (SLDF) actions. People blamed me for the death of their loved ones. It was a heavy emotional burden on my shoulders.

Before this, ours was a normal family life. Matakwei and I got married in the year 2000 and we went on to start a family. Things, however, came to a head in 2006 after violence broke out in the region when, led by my husband, residents said resettlement of squatters on Chepyuk Phase three was unfair.  Genuine squatters had been denied opportunity to get land.

Because of his vocal stance, my husband became a marked man with security agents searching for him. This forced him to flee from home and hide in the thick Mt Elgon forest where he organised his own security squad to fight back. From a normal housewife I became a wife of a militia leader. I would cook meals and deliver to their hideouts in the forests. For the next two years, my children and I would know no peace. We became targets of security officers forcing us to seek refuge in the forest too.

When military personnel were deployed to this region in 2008, I decided to surrender. I also tried my level best to convince Matakwei to do the same and he eventually agreed to do so. Just two days before the day he was to surrender to security officials at Kapsokwony, the military shot him dead in the forest.

Three bullets in the head and chest finished my husband. His death came as a shock to me and it was not until I went to see his body at Cheptais military camp that I was able to confirm that he was indeed gone. With his death, peace was restored in the region. Peace for all except for my children and I who were left to bear the brunt of his vicious rule.

After his death and burial, my community became very hostile toward me. They viewed as me the killer of their husbands, children and kin. I carried the burden of blame on behalf of my late husband yet I was not the one who killed, raped, taxed or took part in the fight, my work was only to cook for SLDF.

I found their anger towards me unfair because everyone here did, in fact, support SLDF activities. We are the ones who paid taxes demanded of us to enable them purchase weapons, we cooked for them, we gave them food, offered them shelter and supported them in other ways.

Nonetheless, I accepted responsibility on behalf of my husband for the deaths of hundreds of people who were killed by both SLDF and the security agencies. I decided to seek for forgiveness, apologising on Matekwei’s behalf so that society could accept me back.

After two years of living like an outcast among my own people, I started talking to fellow widows - seeking a common ground since we were all experiencing the same challenges. I would hold one-on-one discussions with them, seeking their forgiveness, but also urging them to unite so we can push for continued peace in the region so that other women would not have to weep as we do.

It was not an easy task, but eventually, 20 widows were convinced to get on board and we named our group Chebanan Widows’ Group which translates to needy widows who have been neglected in society.

Today, this number has grown and we now have over 300 women committed to bring peace to Mt Elgon. We have since renamed our group to Berur Widows which loosely translates to blessed widows.

What Mt Elgon residents were subjected to by SLDF is an ordeal I regret to date. I often say if Matakwei was to resurrect today, I would prevail upon him to embrace peace and not fight the Government.

He began this struggle driven by good ideals, but used wrong means to seek justice. If he had chosen the courts or mediation, I believe there would not have been any bloodshed.

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