Post-election violence victim now advocates for peace in Kenya

I watched helplessly as my husband was tortured to the point of being beheaded. They placed his head on the table, and then it was time for me to face their wrath.

  • 2 years ago
  • February 2, 2022
5 min read
Joyce Chepkemoi, following the torture inflicted following the 2007 election Joyce Chepkemoi, following the torture inflicted following the 2007 election | Photo courtesy of Joyce Chepkemoi
Joyce Chepkemoi
Interview Subject
Joyce Chepkemoi, 39, is a victim of the violence that followed Kenya’s 2007 election. Armed youths attacked and tortured her and her husband, eventually killing him, destroying their property and leaving her for dead.

With Kenya approaching its 2022 general elections in August, Joyce advocates for peace to young people all over the country.
Background Information
Widespread violence following Kenya’s 2007 election resulted in the deaths of more that 1,100 people, destruction of 117,000 private properties and displacement of more than 350,000 Kenyan residents.

The violence erupted when the widely contested election results were announced on Dec. 27, 2007 and continued through February 2008. In addition to violent protests and rallies, property damage and shootings of citizens by police, ethnic and tribal violence also escalated. According to Human Rights Watch, politicians, businessmen, local leaders, and criminal gangs were all involved in organizing and carrying out the acts of violence.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan arrived in the country brought the two sides to the negotiating table. On Feb. 28, 2008, Kibaki and Odinga signed a power-sharing agreement called the National Accord and Reconciliation Act 2008, which established the office of the Prime Minister and created a coalition government.

URESOI NORTH, Kenya—My path to advocating for peace in the upcoming 2022 Kenyan General Election is born of a horrific, deeply painful event. In early 2008, while eight months pregnant, I survived torture and repeated stabbing during the country’s post-election violence. 

The physical, mental and emotional effects of that day continue to haunt me, but I still speak out about the need for peace because I don’t want anyone to ever go through something similar.

A nightmare of violence and chaos

It was around 11 a.m. when my late husband and I returned home after casting our votes. Our children were at our neighbors’ place, and I decided to cook some food while talking with my husband. 

He opened the door, and I saw a group of young men just outside. They split into three groups—two ran to burn down my shop and attack our livestock, but the third strong-armed its way into our house, armed with machetes.

The youths had masks on their faces and said they were after nothing but our lives. I was terrified and shouted out to my children and neighbors, hoping to warn them to run away. Our attackers ordered us to strip and say our last prayer. We pleaded with them to spare our lives.

They tied our hands and ripped off all of our clothes. While mocking me, they cut off two of my fingers and placed them on the table, asking me to “count the votes.” They then turned to my husband and began chopping off all his fingers, ears and even his genitals. I screamed for help, full of fear and disbelief, but the more I screamed the more I endangered my own life. Pain clouded my mind, and blood oozed out of my wounds. 

I watched helplessly as my husband was tortured to the point of being beheaded. They placed his head on the table, and then it was time for me to face their wrath.

The youths held my face against a burning charcoal stove as they continued to stab my body. I kept losing and gaining consciousness until I finally lost my senses completely. They left me to die on the floor.

Ending up in the morgue

I didn’t regain consciousness for three days. Later, I heard that many Kenyans lost their lives as a result of the violence and corpses were being picked along the roads. I was picked from my house together with my late husband and taken to the morgue.

I spent three days with dead bodies there before regaining consciousness on the third day. Pain, hunger and cold clawed at me. I was so dazed, I thought I was in a corn silo.

It was at the dawn of the fourth day that I fully came to my senses. In my head, I heard voices asking me to wake up and saying I was in a dangerous place. 

When I finally sat up, I was shocked. I was surrounded by dead bodies, some mutilated and lacking body parts like hands, legs or even heads. Others had arrows sticking out of them while some were too damaged to be recognized.

I shouted the name Jesus only to alert the mortuary attendants and heard them asking themselves who had woken up the dead. They rushed to hit me with a blunt object. When I shouted at them not to kill me, they stopped and alerted the doctors.

Being naked, the doctors covered me with a piece of cloth and quickly rushed me to the hospital wing. After minutes of caring for me, the doctor realized I was pregnant. Somehow, my baby was still alive. 

I gave birth to my miracle, whom I named Emmanuel, two weeks later. He was such a healthy baby, weighing 4.3 kilograms (9.4 pounds).

Effects of the torture prove more than physical

I stayed in hospital for about two and a half months nursing my wounds. My left eye, neck and belly suffered the worst pain while I tried to recover.

My badly burned face, on the other hand, was my most severe external injuries. I looked horrible, unrecognizable even to my own kids. My father also rejected me in disbelief I could be his daughter. 

People would literally run away if they saw me coming because I resembled a ghost. Nobody wanted to even talk to me or share a meal with me. Sad and hopeless, I wondered if the challenges would ever come to an end.  

Thanks to a DNA test and some counselling we received, after two and a half years, I proved to my family that I was the same person they once knew. 

Though my appearance is still dramatically disfigured, I look much better now. I even have a few friends, and of course my beloved family. I look forward to accessing further treatment in case I access more funds in the future. For now, I continue to advocate for peace.

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