Kenya: Life continues in spite of pain
28 February 2011

Kakuma refugee camp in north-western Kenya, Tumaini's new home. (Angelika Mendes/JRS)
We were beaten severely every morning and evening for four days.
Kakuma, 28 February 2011 – My name is Tumaini*. I am a boy from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and live in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. 

My country has gone through wars and fighting but for me the 25th October 1996 marked the beginning of great suffering and the death of hundreds of thousands of people. 

I am originally from Kalemie, in the south of DRC, but I went for studies to Bunia, a town located in the north of DRC where I stayed with my uncle and his family. My uncle belongs to the Walendu tribe and when fighting broke out in 1996, he supported militias who fought against the invaders from Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. 

One day the armed forces attacked the area where my uncle was living. I witnessed how four men were killed. They were taken inside a house, blindfolded and stabbed to death. I heard the victims crying as they were killed. 

Any other person who was around was forced to stay and observe. The soldiers said they wanted to let people know that they were serious about dealing with their enemies who were supporting Walendu militias. Then they left. 

Raids and massacres

Similar raids of villages and massacres happened all the time. Then, early one morning a couple of weeks later, Rwandan troops supported by local allies from the Wahema tribe entered Bunia. 

After a strong exchange of gunfire in which Walendu militia failed to defend themselves, the Rwandese and Wahema soldiers took control of the entire place. All people were rounded up and everybody identified as member of the Walendu tribe was separated. 

Then the horror began. Women were locked inside houses and raped each by two or three men, one rapist after the other. I heard those women cry. Small babies were smashed against walls until they died. Many people were shot straightaway. I will never forget that tragic day, the whole place smelled like blood. I thought it was the end of the world.

A family tragedy

The main aim of the attack on that day was to catch my uncle, who was not around, but the soldiers identified his wife, his two children and me. My cousins were shot dead immediately. 

One of the leaders claimed my uncle’s wife for himself. While this went on, I was held by three of the soldiers who tried to force me to tell them where my uncle was. 

Fortunately one of the soldiers recognised me. He was my classmate from primary school. He approached me and stabbed my leg. He did not mean to hurt me badly but did not want the other soldiers to become suspicious. 

With my injury, I was taken to a nearby village and thrown into a room together with four other men. We were beaten severely every morning and evening for four days. 

Fleeing the horror

During the night after the fourth day my former classmate was on duty alone. He told me to stay awake because there might be a chance to escape that night. With his help I got out of my prison and left on foot from that village in direction of Uganda.

With the help of a lorry driver I crossed the Ugandan boarder. On the Ugandan side, I looked for a bus and one of the transit bus conductors understood my problems and took me to Kenya. 

I arrived in Nairobi and was directed to the office of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). I was interviewed and recognised as a refugee. Then I was given a movement pass valid for 30 days to go to Kakuma refugee camp, in north-western Kenya. 

Seeking refuge in Kakuma

Since my getaway I had no chance to communicate with my parents or relatives in Kalemie nor do I know what happened to my uncle and his wife.

Kakuma is my temporary home now, a big refugee camp hosting refugees from various countries. There is a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) providing different services to refugees in cooperation with UNHCR. 

Out of simple curiosity, I joined a two months counselling training offered by JRS. Besides learning skills to help others, I personally benefited a lot from the course because it alleviated my painful experience of violence and escape. 

It also helped me realise that I am not the only one who suffered and that life continues even after all these painful experiences. The psycho-social assistance made me feel comfortable and gave me hope and strength for a future life.

*not his real name