Former soldiers serving under the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) have come out with chilling stories of the trauma they have suffered ever since they came back from the peace-keeping mission in the neighbouring country, Somalia.
A former machine-gunner with the KDF, Christopher Katitu, revealed how he spent the better part of two years manning his mounted machine gun from a dugout trench in Kismayo, Somalia.
Mr Katitu was soon deployed to patrol the streets of Garissa following the April 2, 2015, Al Shabaab attacks at Garissa University that left 148 people dead.
It was after his Garissa deployment that Mr Katitu took some personal time off only to end up having a total mental breakdown while at his home in Athi River.
“That’s when everything went black, I only know about those weeks that passed from what people told me later, that I was babbling about bombs and Somalis and so on. I guess when you leave your barracks, that’s when everything hits you,” the former soldier revealed to a Washington Post correspondent.
However, upon his return to the army barracks, he was stripped of his ID, court-martialed and charged with desertion. He was imprisoned for two years awaiting his sentence, which ended up slapping 6 more months onto his time.
“I have never said no to an order. How can I be a deserter?” a sombre Katitu questioned, adding that there was no space for truth-telling on those bases where soldiers are treated like Western countries did during World War I.
A former colleague and KDF'S first psychologist, Maj. Lucy Mukuria, who has since quit the force following mental issues of her own, echoed Mr Katitu's sentiments, revealing that many soldiers who sought her services were either demoted or discharged.
"They are scared to admit there’s a problem, so they say you’re weak or incompetent and just try to get rid of you,” she revealed.
Ms Mukuria went on to admit that the January 15, 2016, Al-Shabaab attack on a KDF outpost in El Adde, that left hundreds of her fellow officers dead, scarred her for life.
“The bodies, they came in trucks, you know, trucks. I haven’t been able to smell since then; I’ve lost that entirely," she disclosed.
Substance abuse and suicide are reportedly a constant among those she treated or knew and described in painful detail how Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) had ruined families and sparked violent outbursts.
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