They have been clinging to the hope that their relatives, captured by Somalia’s Al-Shabaab fighters, are alive and well.
But that hope for the soldiers’ families is fading as they are caught between a silent government and the terrorist group across the border.
Day in day out, the families of Dr Leonard Maingi Kiiyo, Mr David Ngugi and Private Alfred Darryl Kilasi hit their heads against the wall, waiting to hear from them or the Kenya Defence Forces.
All they want to know is their whereabouts and if they are well, but the only information they get is through social media.
On August 5, just three days to the General Election, Al-Shabaab posted a video on the internet, reportedly executing Dr Maingi, 41.
The video had the caption: “Last message of POW (Prisoner Of War) Leonard Maingi Kiiyo”.
Just when the video was being made public through shares and retweets, it was pulled down.
What remains are frozen shots.
The video was released alongside a long message to Kenyans, President Kenyatta, the media and the Maingi family.
On August 7, family members called journalists, who initially conducted an interview at their home in Vengea Village, Makueni County, in September last year.
“There are disturbing messages about my uncle and I don’t know if they are true. I am calling to enquire if he has been executed,” a relative called George, said.
Two days before the interview, Al Shabaab circulated a video of Dr Maingi, pleading with the president to negotiate with the group for his and other soldiers’ release.
He also gave details about his home area. That was in September, nine months after his capture.
Family members were in no doubt that it was him.
He looked healthy though he had a long unkempt beard.
Dr Maingi, a member of the Kenya Army Ninth Battalion based at Moi Barracks in Eldoret, was captured by Al-Shabaab fighters when they attacked the KDF camp at El-Adde on January 15, killing more than 100 soldiers.
The exact number killed in the raid, considered the worst in the country’s military history, has never been made public.
In an interview on Sunday, Dr Maingi’s brother, Matthews Kiiyo said the family had not received any information concerning the “execution” of the soldier.
“I did not watch the video but some family members did. I am pained when I see the images on Twitter and Facebook. We are helpless and don’t know what to do,” he said.
Mr Kiiyo added that the family had not received any official communication from KDF, “meaning we cannot plan anything”.
“At this point, you really don’t know what to do. I wish I could rescue my brother or just talk to him,” Mr Kiiyo said, adding that many visits to his brother’s base in Eldoret had not yielded any fruits.
Dr Maingi’s wife Eunice said she could not say anything.
“What I feel cannot be expressed in words. I have dedicated my time to praying for him,” she said.
She has constantly inquired about her husband from the media, which is as clueless as she is.
Dr Maingi left for Somalia on January 1, 2016.
“The last time we spoke was on January 12, three days before the attack. He told me to pray for him and his colleagues, as they were heading to a dangerous place,” she said earlier, adding that she later learnt her husband had written a message to her asking her to take care of their three children.
Dr Maingi was the family’s sole breadwinner.
His brother said he used to pay school fees for his extended family members and his son who had just sat his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination.
The boy is now in Form Two.
The story of Private Kilasi, 36, known at home as Alfred Ndanyi, is not different from Dr Maingi’s.
Family members think the government has neglected him and other Al-Shabaab captives.
Mr Kilasi’s aging parents told theNationon Sunday that the government had not replied to their letter asking for his whereabouts and what authorities were doing to secure his freedom.
Dr Epainitus Kilasi, told theNation at his home in Vigina Village, Vihiga County that the family wrote to the then Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaiserry in May seeking the government’s intervention.
The letter was written just days after Al-Shabaab posted the video of Private Kilasi pleading with the president to secure his release.
“We are confused as we don’t know where our son is. We keep telling his four children that the government will bring their father home just to encourage them,” Dr Kilasi said.
He called on the Acting Interior CS Fred Matiang’i and his Defence counterpart Raychelle Omamo to intervene and help end the family’s agony.
A video of Mr Ngugi, pictured with a damaged right eye, is still available online.
The soldier whose rank the Nation could not establish asks for help from the government.
Attempts to get the position of KDF regarding the captured soldiers proved futile as their spokespersons were not available for comment.
Credit: The nation.
Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi stressed Egypt’s support for Somalia at a meeting with Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo on Sunday in Cairo, a presidential statement read.
This is the first time El-Sisi has received his Somali counterpart since he was elected in February 2017
El-Sisi hailed the “distinguished and historical relations between Egypt and Somalia, stressing Egypt’s intention to continue to provide all support to Somalia during the next phase to build and consolidate the institutions of the state, especially the Somali National Army.”
El-Sisi added that the two countries will continue cooperation in programmes and courses organised by the Egyptian Agency for Partnership for Development (EAPD), and promised an increase in scholarships offered by Egypt.
The EAPD, established in mid-2014, focuses on transferring technical knowledge and humanitarian assistance, organising training courses and workshops, as well as contributing in funding and in mobilising funds for development projects.
The Egyptian president also expressed Cairo’s interest in following up on the consolidation of the various aspects of bilateral cooperation with Somalia, particularly in the economic and trade fields and in fishing and animal farming.
The Somali president praised Egypt’s historic role in supporting Somalia during various stages.
Farmajo also welcomed strengthening economic and trade relations, saying there are opportunities to develop cooperation in many sectors.
According to Somali newspaper Somali Update, the visit “comes amid growing pressure by the Saudi Kingdom on the Federal Government of Somalia over its neutral position on the current Gulf diplomatic crisis.”
This is the fifth official meeting this week between El-Sisi and African counterparts, following an African tour that included Tanzania, Rwanda, Gabon and Chad, where he held talks on fostering mutual economic and trade ties.
Despite being seven months pregnant, Mesno Taha left her home in Harerge, Ethiopia to find peace and a better future. She trekked to the Somali zone of Ethiopia, crossed the border into Somalia and paid to board a boat bound for Yemen.
After traveling 18 hours at sea, she ended up near the shore of the war-torn country.
Taha said that she and over 100 other migrants aboard were told that they had arrived at their destination, despite still being at sea. Armed smugglers forced Taha to jump off the boat into the choppy water while its engine continued to run.
“They were beating us. They were pulling the women by their hair and pushing them around. We were holding hands with the two women whom we [later] buried,” Taha told VOA’s Afaan Oromoo service by phone last week. “He grabbed the three of us and pushed us. The two of them died, and I survived with the grace of God.”
Smugglers intentionally pushed people
In separate incidents on August 8 and 9, smugglers forced about 300 people from their boats as they approached the coast of Shabwa, Yemen on the Arabian Sea. The migrants were from Ethiopia and Somalia. Several dozen migrants drowned and dozens more remain missing. Shortly after the first incident, staff from the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration found shallow graves of 29 migrants on a nearby beach.
The smugglers pushed some of them into the sea at gunpoint. Some survivors reported that the smugglers feared being arrested by Yemeni authorities.
“If the Yemeni air force sees them, they wouldn’t let them go. So, after they get what they want, they don’t have sympathy for people. They throw people as they wish, like objects,” said Jemal Kebelo Guracha, a witness who spoke to VOA’s Amharic service.
Most of the people aboard were children. Sayo Ahmed, a 17-year-old orphan, traveled from Ethiopia and found herself in one of the two boats. Ahmed hadn’t seen her brother for months after Ethiopian authorities arrested him, so she took the risk of fleeing.
“I don’t have a father or a mother. I have one brother, and the government took him for participating in protests. We don’t know where he is, and then I gave up and decided to leave my country,” she told VOA’s Afaan Oromoo service.
Olivia Headon, spokeswoman for the IOM, says that Ahmed was one of the many teenagers in the two boats. This fact is “shocking,” Headon told VOA, because “the average age of these Somali and Ethiopian migrants was approximately 16. They are children.”
Extortion, rape and forced at gunpoint
The incidents off the coast of Shabwa illustrate the tactics smugglers use to protect themselves while jeopardizing migrants’ lives.
Smugglers use false promises and intimidation to convince refugees and migrants, many of whom are children, to travel in dangerous, unpredictable circumstances. Then, smugglers load them on rickety vessels, often without lifejackets or adequate hydration.
Smugglers abuse migrants to maintain control and maximize profits. “People are being abused and raped en route so that their families will pay more…Some people are paying as little as $100 U.S., but then en route they are tortured, they are abused, their families are made aware of this and are forced to pay $1,000 or to $2,000 more,” Headon said.
‘Better to die traveling’
Despite disease, war and famine-like conditions, Yemen has become a popular layover for African migrants traveling to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. “When you ask them if they knew that there is war in this country, they say it is better to die traveling instead of sitting where we were,” Guracha said. Last year, more than 117,000 people arrived in Yemen, according to the UNHCR. This year, over 50,000 people, most of whom are children from Ethiopia and Somalia, reached Yemen via the Gulf of Aden or the Red Sea, according to estimates from the IOM.
Searching for peace
Poverty, famine, conflict, disease and civil unrest force young people in Ethiopia and Somalia from their homes, sometimes at the request of their parents. These parents hope their children can escape, find employment, and send money back home. In other cases, young people’s family members have died or been imprisoned, leaving little reason for them to remain in their homes. Taha said she left her home because her husband is in prison, and she has no children. She said he was jailed during protests by Ethiopia’s Oromo ethnic group advocating for land rights and equal political representation.
“It’s been two months since my husband has been imprisoned due to the protests. Ethiopian authorities pressured me to tell them what type of political agenda he has, and I left because of that,” Taha said. “They continuously asked me questions and threatened me. There was even a time when they slapped me. We don’t know why my husband is arrested. We couldn’t find him in any of the prisons. He could be dead. His name is Hassan Jamal and his parents couldn’t find him after searching.”
Those migrants who survived the perilous journey to Yemen looked after one another and buried those who had died. Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s director of operations and emergencies, wrote about the migrants’ care for one another in a recent post.
“The sight of some 50 bodies buried in shallow graves, rapidly dug by the young hands of the distraught survivors in an attempt to bring some dignity to their dead companions was also deeply shocking to our team.”
African Union and Somali government forces have captured the town of Bariire, a strategic militant base in the south of the country, officials and witnesses said Saturday.
Commanders said the Islamist al-Shabab group fled following heavy fighting outside the town in which the joint troops approached from three directions.
Bariire was one of al-Shabab’s strongholds in the south and only 45 kilometers (27 miles) from Mogadishu, the country’s capital.
“The joint troops attacked the town from three directions, forced the militants to flee and secured its control,” Abdinasir Alim Ibrahim, a district commissioner in nearby Afgoye, told VOA’s Somali service. “Hopefully, the next target will be Toratorow, and then we will proceed to other towns and cities controlled by the militants.”
Seven civilians were reportedly killed and four injured when a minivan they were traveling in ran over a land mine as they fled the town. But Ibrahim could confirm the deaths of just four civilians and injuries to three others in the incident.
Witnesses told VOA on condition of anonymity that they saw about a dozen military personnel supporting the Somali and AU forces as they moved into the city.
Somali government officials confirmed the involvement of the non-African foreign personnel in the attack, but they declined to comment on their nationalities.
In April, dozens of American soldiers were deployed to Mogadishu to train and equip Somali and AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) forces fighting with al-Shabab.
Somalia’s defense ministry said the U.S. team — mainly based at Baledogle airfield, a former Somali air force base in Lower Shabelle region — has assumed the role of training and equipping the Somalia National Army, and also is advising and assisting troops in their operations against the militants.
Despite facing pressure from Somali government forces backed by AU troops and American advisers, al-Shabab still controls towns in south and central Somalia, and also continues to maintain a strong presence in many rural areas.
Bariire has been a key target for Somali and AU troops. Militants have used the city as a military base from which to organize attacks they carry out in Mogadishu, and to run courts in which they impose strict Sharia, or Islamic law.
“They had courts where they forced people in the region to submit their civilian cases, and they also had an administrative office that organizes attacks against the Somali people, so the town’s fall is strategically important for us,” said Ibrahim.
In May, a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed and two troops were wounded in a raid on an al-Shabab militant compound in the town, in what appeared to be the first U.S. combat death in the African country since the 1993 disaster portrayed in the filmBlack Hawk Down.
The White House has granted the U.S. military broader authority to carry out strikes in Somalia against al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab, the latest sign President Donald Trump is increasing U.S. military engagement in the region.
The Court denies bail to two Somalis who were arrested in Paceville for snatch-and-grab theft and cannabis possession.
Two Somali men have been remanded in custody after being arrested for separate offences in Paceville last night.
Inspector Trevor Micallef told Magistrate Francesco Depasquale how the first to be arraigned, 21 year old Refuse collector Shaban Adan Jama, was arrested in St. Julians after being identified by the victim of a snatch and grab theft. Jama was accused of aggravated theft, having allegedly torn a chain from around a Russian man’s neck before escaping on foot. The incident, which occurred shortly after midnight last night was made more serious by the alleged use of violence.
Lawyer Martin Fenech informed the court that his client was pleading not guilty. Jama was returning from the beach when he saw three Somali men running past. Three drunk Russian men had then singled him out, said the lawyer. He Consistently Denied stealing any necklaces and pointed out that the Police had not found any incriminating items on his person. “He was misidentified.” The magistrate pointed out that from the police report, he also appeared to have been drunk.
Bail was requested. “He’s been in Malta for four years and a clean criminal record. He works and has a fixed residence. There is doubt at this stage, he denies the charges and because it was dark it could easily have been a case of mistaken identity,” Fenech said.
Inspector Micallef said the victims had gone to the police station and time had passed before his arrest. “Obviously there was more than one person involved and that is why the necklace was not found.” Fenech protested that the man was presumed innocent at this stage
The court, however rejected the bail request due to nature if the offence and the fact that witnesses had not yet testified.
Inspector Micallef also arraigned Mahamed Abib Hashi from Somalia this afternoon, after the 21 year old was found to be in possession of cannabis in Paceville at around 1am this morning.
Hashi pleaded not guilty.
Fenech asked for bail. “The police are saying that he was seen throwing some packets under a car and found empty packets at his house, which he shared with five other people.” Only a small amount of cannabis was found, added the lawyer.
Inspector Micallef explained that officers had seen the man throw something under a car, where they later found six packets of drums. More empty packets were found near his bedspace in his apartment, added the inspector.
The Court, in view of the accusation being lodged and in view of the fact that witnesses had not yet testified, denied bail.