Witness Tells Kenyan Court that Mental Health of People Displaced from their Homes Remains Fragile Years after Post-Election Violence

A psychologist told the Kenyan High Court that people displaced from their homes during the violence that followed the December 2007 presidential election continue to experience general anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder years later.

Dinah Kituyi, a counseling psychologist, shared her conclusions during an April 21 hearing into a petition filed by 25 individuals displaced from their homes (IDPs) between December 2007 and February 2008.

Three organizations that assist IDPs are also part of the petition, which was filed in 2011. These are the Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya, the Kenya Section of the International Commission of Jurists, and the Kenya Human Rights Commission.

The petitioners are asking the court to do several things, including declaring the government responsible for the violence and displacement of people that occurred after the December 2007 elections. They are also seeking reparations and/or compensation for the individual petitioners as well as those individual petitioners’ involvement in decisions concerning IDP camps.

The individual petitioners are among the up to 650,000 people displaced by the violence that nearly tore apart Kenya eight years ago. The individual petitioners are nineteen men and six women from Bungoma, Eldoret, Isiolo, Kericho, Kisii, Kisumu, Laikipia, Meru, Mombasa, Nairobi, Naivasha, Nakuru, Nyandarua and Trans-Nzoia.

About half of the 650,000 people displaced during the violence lived in camps. The other half sought refuge among relatives and friends. Many of those who lived in camps have been resettled but an undetermined number still live in camps today. More than 1,000 people were killed in the violence that engulfed Kenya between December 2007 and February 2008.

On April 21, Kituyi testified about her sessions with five people who suffered physical and sexual violence, lost their homes and livelihoods during the post-election violence period. Kituyi’s patients are four men and one woman. In 2008, their ages ranged between teens to late-fifties.

One patient Kituyi diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress disorder is “W”, who was 13 when the violence occurred. Kituyi said “W”’s jaw was shattered during the violence. She observed that this happened at an age “when identity formation is happening.” She said “W” told her that before he had wanted to join the police service. Kituyi observed that “W,” who is in his 20s now, is struggling to find a career.

Another patient Kituyi diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress disorder is “Z.” Kituyi said “Z” was living in the neighborhood of Baba Dogo in the Kenya capital, Nairobi, when was she was attacked. Kituyi said “Z” told her she was dragged out of her home by a group of youths who tore off her clothes, inserted a beer bottle into her genitals, urinated in her mouth and then poured an acid-like substance on her.

Kituyi told the court during their sessions, “Z” found some things too difficult to explain. Kituyi said her observation was that “Z” was in extreme pain both physically and psychologically. She also said it was her observation that “Z” suffered extreme or severe depression.

“Z” is supposed to undergo treatment at Kenya’s main referral hospital, Kenyatta National Hospital, but is unable to regularly do so because she does not have the money, Kituyi said. She described “Z” as “very dysfunctional.”

“She should be an in-patient,” Kituyi told the court. “People who are extremely depressed are prone to suicide.”

One of the patients Kituyi diagnosed as having generalized anxiety disorder is Geoffrey Wainaina who lived Mumias town for 34 years before being displaced from his home during the post-election violence. Kituyi told the court Wainaina was born in 1950. Mumias town is in Kakamega County in western Kenya.

Kituyi said Wainaina told her that during the violence police evacuated him and his family from their home in Mumias to Nyahururu town in Laikipia County. Nyahururu is more than 300 kilometers east of Mumias.

In her sessions with Wainaina, Kituyi said she established that he did not have any history of mental illness before the post-election violence. She said he told her he experienced regular headaches and lack of sleep since moving to Nyahururu.

Kituyi observed that Wainaina had lost everything he had worked for and he felt he did not have the energy to start over. She also observed that he had lost the social standing and relationships he had formed over the years.

In cross-examination, the government’s lawyer, Senior State Counsel Moimbo Momanyi, asked Kituyi whether what Wainaina experienced was out of the ordinary for a man his age. Momanyi also asked Kituyi whether someone who is 65 years old would not miss sleep or have headaches. Kituyi said it was usual for a 65-year old person to sleep for only five hours, but she observed that Wainaina only slept two hours a day.

Kituyi also observed that Wainaina was incoherent during some of their sessions. She said this is one of the things she looks for during her sessions to assess the mental state of her patients.

Momanyi then asked her what was the link between post-election violence and the particular disorder that Wainaina had. Kituyi told the court that the link can be seen when comparing Wainaina’s work and life before the post-election violence and now. She observed that his relationship, “with his family and his children, that has been completely destroyed.”

The government’s lawyer then turned to Kituyi’s observations about “Z” and another patient called Nelson. Momanyi asked Kituyi whether their post-traumatic stress disorder could have been caused by any event other than the post-election violence. Kituyi said that based on her sessions with them there was nothing else that could have caused their condition.

Momanyi asked her whether it was possible their suffering was because they had experienced a road accident. Kituyi said they had not been in a road accident before the post-election violence. Momanyi asked whether a robbery may have caused what they are suffering from. Kituyi said no.

High Court Judge Issac Lenaola asked Kituyi about the cost per session she had stated earlier in her testimony. He said that the court had heard testimony that a session with a psychologist and psychiatrist cost between 2,000 Kenyan shillings and 4,000 Kenyan shillings (about $20-$40) yet she had said a two-hour session would cost 15,000 Kenyan shillings (about $150). Judge Lenaola asked why there was a disparity.

“That is treatment at Kenyatta National Hospital,” said Kituyi, referring to the lower cost the court had heard about. “The reality is that we do not have specialized trauma treatment” in public hospitals.

Kituyi added that the lower cost the court had been informed about covered generalized treatment in a public institution. She said no public institution had a trauma rehabilitation program. Kituyi explained that the higher cost she gave was for specialized trauma treatment.

“Even if this court was to order specialized trauma treatment where would that treatment be found?” asked Judge Lenaola.

“We have specialists in the country. There a few,” said Kituyi.

When asked how many trauma doctors there in the country, Kituyi said not more than five. Judge Lenaola then asked her about the number of trauma counselors in the country. Kituyi said there are about 200.

“We don’t have trauma training in the country,” observed Kituyi.

After being questioned by Judge Lenaola, Kituyi left the witness stand. With the conclusion of Kituyi’s testimony the petitioners closed their case on April 21. In total seven witnesses testified for the petitioners. Momanyi said the government planned to call only two witnesses. Judge Lenaola gave Momanyi 21 days to provide the witness statements to the petitioners. He said he will hear the parties on May 24 to fix a date to hear the government’s witnesses.