Kenya’s River Yala: Mystery and Heartbreak Of The Dead Bodies.


“I have just seen my brother’s face. Our faces are alike, even the mouth. I have also seen the legs, those are my brother’s. I have no doubt it’s him.”

A distressed Irene Waheto has just stepped out of the hospital mortuary in Yala, western Kenya.

At least 19 unclaimed bodies have been waiting for identification. They were retrieved over the past two years from the nearby River Yala in different stages of decomposition.

Ms Waheto is making frantic calls to her family in Nyeri, a town nearly 300km (185 miles) to the east.

“It is Ndirangu, I am sure it is him,” she cries down the phone.

But how his body ended up in a river so far from home is not clear.

Ms Waheto tells me her brother went missing in November last year while travelling from the capital, Nairobi, to Nakuru – but that is nearly 200km from where his body was found.

Since then her family has been searching police stations and mortuaries near the two cities – but not in this more remote part of western Kenya.

The thought of looking here came when, on Monday, two human rights activists said that bodies that had been found in the River Yala in recent months were still in the mortuary.

Ms Waheto, who had been living nearby since getting married more than a decade ago, was told to go to Yala mortuary just to check. But it seemed implausible that her brother would be here, miles away from where he was last seen.

But there he was.

Ms Waheto sits on the grass and starts wailing, emitting a sound that sends shivers through everyone around her.

She is not the only person searching for a missing relative and not the only one baffled by how their body ended up in Yala.

Ben Chepkwony travelled over 100km looking for his brother, Philemon, who he says went missing last month somewhere on the road between Nairobi and Nakuru.

His remains were also discovered among the bodies retrieved from the River Yala, and Mr Chepkwony is inconsolable.

“I don’t know who is killing these people and dropping them [here],” he says with long pauses and deep breaths between the sentences.

“This is not a democratic Kenya we wish to live in. I am so frustrated with this country. And I will not accept it at all.”

Mr Chepkwony does not clarify what he refuses to accept – the death of his brother or living in a country where disappearances and unexplained deaths have become normal.

There are deep suspicions that the police are responsible for many of them and they are in the sights of rights activists over the bodies found in the Yala.

Boniface Mwangi, one of the two activists who first uncovered the existence of the bodies, said in a Twitter discussion that no ordinary Kenyan has the capacity to kill somebody and transport the body over 200km away to dump it in a river.

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