The small Kenyan village of Umoja has a large reputation for its small size. Located some 400 km from Nairobi and comprised of less than 100 people, Umoja is remarkable not for its economic or political power, but for the resilience of spirit which built and now maintains it. Founded for women who are rejected by their families for being raped or widowed, it has become a haven for victims of violence for the last few decades. Mentioned previously in an article by Paola Brigneti, the village has come to signify hope for female populations in even the direst of circumstances.
A recent documentary has shed light on some of the victims of Umoja’s community. In a bleak tale of neo-colonialism, it came to light that hundreds of women had been raped by British soldiers, who use Kenya for training grounds. In the documentary, one woman, crying and holding a mixed race child in her lap, relates the story of her attack. Subsequently banished from her home when her partner saw that her next child was half-white, she stated, “I don’t know why God is punishing me.”
Cases had been gathered and presented to the British Army who, after a three year investigation, cleared all those charged, claiming that there was insufficient evidence to support rape accusations. Reports stated that some of the evidence given by doctors had been fabricated, and when presented with the mixed-race children born from these forced encounters, investigators surmised that the women had been prostitutes, paid for sexual favours by British soldiers. The case received little attention in the British media, and in the reports that did, some clearly agreed with the judgement passed.
The twelve-minute documentary, made by the organization Cultures of Resistance, immediately poses the obvious objections to Britain’s response, such as the irony of having the British military investigate itself, the unlikelihood that hundreds of cases were a collective fabrication and the risk of continued military operations in a consequence-free environment.
The British government, though its lack of response, has not only done injustice to the Kenyan victims, but disregarded a fundamental tenet of human rights and created a precedent for further violation of Kenyan communities without fear of retribution. The communities are unwilling to cease pressing for action, despite discouragement by the British and Kenyan government respectively, and are now seeking international aid and attention. Stating one hopeful man from Umoja, “The UK is not the only place that has good lawyers.”
To learn more about their causes, you can follow this videolink: http://vimeo.com/20808275 or visit the website itself at www.culturesofresistance.org.
By Farahnaz Mohammed