Ex- conflict concubine says it’s wrong to blame the victim

Ex-conflict concubine Asha Yussuf, stands next to her traditional shelter in Modogashe, Garissa County. She is among ex- conflict concubines who have been ostracised by the community.
Picture by Abjata Khalif
Ex-conflict concubine Asha Yussuf, stands next to her traditional shelter in Modogashe, Garissa County. She is among ex- conflict concubines who have been ostracised by the community. Picture by Abjata Khalif

Asha Yussuf was a respected girl in her village. She was looking forward to a happy married life where she would bring up her family in the strict Muslim way.

All this changed one early morning when raiders attacked her village, caused death and destruction, before escaping with ten girls and women, including her.

“They over-ran the entire village, clobbered people with gun butts, shot dead some young men who were caught off guard before separating women and young girls .They took ten of us to their hideout on the border areas, “ Asha stated in an interview in Modogashe trading centre, Garissa county..

Coming from one of the communities in northern Kenya that are guided by strict cultural practices that tends to marginalize certain groups of people, she lost the respect she had garnered in the community after she became a concubine of the attackers.

She joined the ranks of girls and women abducted at the height of large scale armed violence in the region who were forced to act as comfort women in the conflict zone.

They were rescued years later by security agencies who stormed the attackers’ hideouts. Most of them had children with the men, which the community regards as children born out of wedlock .Those who did not give birth were regarded as impure and therefore cursed.

Most of these women have settled in villages and trading centres away from their relatives who disowned them.

Access

Ex-conflict concubines, as they are known in Garissa, lack social access and have no interaction with other clan members or relatives. Those engaged in trade are often despised and mistreated by other women traders or relatives.

They also lack access to government service like registration, which means they have no national identification cards as each applicant is required to bring her birth certificate and also present herself to local vetting committees that are packed with clan elders.

Because they lack official documents, they have difficulties earning a living even as traders.

To make it worse, the Garissa County Government has increased the amount of money one needs to sell wares at markets to Kshs 100 per day. Because the majority cannot afford, county askaris are taking advantage by forcing them to either pay bribes, or “pay in kind” by demanding sex, something the unfortunate women detests.

Because she has rejected their advances, the askaris would not allow Asha to trade and she has to depend mostly on charity.

Trading

“I cannot afford the bribes and I have refused to sleep with them, so they have stopped me from trading,” says a sad looking Asha.

Fending for her child is a nightmare, the little help she receives as charity cannot keep them going.

She wishes that the county government would consult people before making decisions. As it is now, it makes policy without asking for the people’s input.

Because she lacks documents and her child is considered illegitimate, she fears that she will not be able to access bursary when the time comes for the boy to go to school.

This is the life of the 21-year-old mother, who lives in a shanty village on the outskirts of Garissa.

She fears to appear before the elders who are the ones that declared the ex-conflict concubines as lacking purity and a cursed lot before ostracising them.

Mr Abdi Anayshe, 70, who is the chairman of Modogashe identification card vetting committee, said they cannot participate in vetting the rescued and ostracised women as that will be tantamount to breaking cultural practices and it might invite curse on the elders.

Culture

“I know they have suffered a lot but the problem is the community and the cultural body to which I belong declared the rescued women as lacking purity. We refused to attend to them due to fear of curse and many of them I know have no identification card,” he said.

Abdi says that only the local traditional system has the absolute authority to change the cultural laws and accommodate or attend to the plight of the ex-conflict concubines in Modogashe area of Garissa.

A dejected Asha narrated how they acted as comfort women for the fighters for two years before they were rescued by Kenyan security forces that flushed out the criminals, also linked to banditry along Wajir-Garissa road.

“I lost hope and thought I will live that miserable life forever, and will always be at the mercy of the armed militias. It was not my fault to be abducted, I was just a victim, yet my clan and family members have rejected me and call me names. I was very disappointed and dejected,” she said tearfully.

Surprise

She said she was happy when the security rescued them and it was her hope that she would be accommodated and accorded assistance to cope with the trauma.

“I was lost for words when they turned me away; I collapsed outside our compound and was taken to the local hospital by a good Samaritan. At the hospital I was visited by my fellow ex- conflict concubines who shared their experiences and bad treatment they received from their families. When I was discharged, I joined them in starting a village outside Modogashe town where we live to date.”

Asha blames her tribulation and bad treatment on outdated cultural beliefs and practices that tend to ostracise women rescued from conflict zones.

“It’s a bad cultural practice but worst is the group of people who make such cultural rules that clearly infringe on rights of others.”

She blamed the elders who represent their clans in the traditional system for the unfortunate situation.

“They rejected us, they denied us our basic rights like obtaining national identity cards and accessing other government services,” Asha disclosed

Asha represented the rights of ex-conflict concubines in the radio campaigns. She used to call in to set the record straight and engage elders and other community members who sympathised with them.