Dozens of ethnic Somali families in northeastern Kenya are increasingly worried for their sons in the Kenyan Defense Forces, who are battling the Islamist militant group al-Shabab in southern Somalia. While the soldiers are away, their families are left without the care of their sons and husbands, and are now dependent on family friends and relatives for support.
The Kenyan military has raised the number of its soldiers killed in Somalia to 15. Among them is Yusuf Koriyo. Koriyo was killed on December 22, 2011 at Gerinle village, which borders Kenya.
Family in need
Fatuma Aden received the news that her husband was killed by a single bullet that hit his chin when his military convoy came under attack from al-Shabab. That day Koriyo was the only soldier killed in the attack.
Fatuma is now left with the burden of raising her 11-month-old girl. She said the last time she received any assistance from the government was in December.
She says when her husband died, soldiers sent her some money. But she says December was the last month the family received money and that was Yusuf's salary for that month.
This is where Kulmiye Koriyo, a brother-in-law, comes in. He has been providing assistance to Fatuma and her daughter with basic needs.
“We normally offer anything she needs," said Koriyo. "She has a small kid, she don’t take food. She needs milk and clean water; we have to provide them. It is a must because since I am his cousin's brother, any assistance they require from my side I have to give them.”
Soldiers in Somalia Present Problems for Families in Kenya
In October last year, Kenya's defense force launched a military campaign intended to destroy al-Shabab after a wave of kidnappings on Kenyan territory. Al-Shabab has denied responsibility for the kidnappings.
Worrying for sons
The death of Yusuf Koriyo has left many families in Garissa worried about their sons on the frontline. Mohamed, who prefers to give just his first name, is from one such family. He has a brother serving in the military, stationed on the road between Tabta and Qoqani Somalia's Lower Juba region.
He says as a young man growing up in northeastern Kenya he wanted to join the military but his perception has changed since the death of Yusuf Koriyo and how Koriyo's family has been treated by the Kenyan government.
“My perception has changed," he said. "Before, each and every youth, it was a career most of us wanted to join: the military to defend the country. But so far you can imagine [the] military is only thinking about you when you are present in your country. Their interest is when you are working. Once you die they completely forgot about you.”
Kulmiye Koriyo agrees there is nothing to be proud of in being a Kenyan soldier after how his brother-in-law's family was treated.
“My sister-in-law, she was not happy at all," added Koriyo. "If someone passes like a month ago and the salary ends like that its inhuman, unfair. I suggest it’s not good being a [in the] military since this is what they do if somebody passes away. That is the end of his life and his family. It not a good job.”
Koriyo warns such treatment will discourage other families, and make them urge their sons to resign from their duties.
Mohamed says his mother is disturbed to see her son on the battlefield and hopes she has the power to get her son back.
“Our life has completely changed," he said. "He was the sole bread winner of our family. We have not communicated to him for the last two months. We don’t know if he is alive or wounded or they are hiding [something] from us. We don’t have access to him in terms of information, communication and even the care of his family and we are really scrambling here and there. We [are] trying. Our best well-wishers are also helping us. You can imagine one morning you wake up and have nothing.”
As the battle rages on inside Somalia, Kenyan forces have taken control of several towns in the last two weeks. The families hope their sons and husband come home alive, and that the government will look for ways to address their problems.