Seeking refuge in Nairobi

Kenya's post-elections violence creates thousands of internally displaced people.

    Kibera slum, home to nearly one million people, was one of the hardest hit by violence [AP]

    In less than a week since Kenyans went to the polls to elect their next president and parliamentary representatives, the country has succumbed to the path that many African countries have taken at their own peril.

    The disputed presidential election hotly contested between Mwai Kibaki, the incumbent, and his main rival Raila Odinga of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement, has plunged the country into violence that has claimed at least 300 lives.
    In Nairobi, it is mostly the slum dwellers who have borne the brunt of the violence and mayhem that has almost become commonplace since December 29 - two days after the elections. They comprise different tribes and all share the same stories of heartache and a longing for normality.

    Kibera, home to nearly one million people, is the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa and was one of the hardest hit by violence.

    Some 155,000 people have now left their homes in search of safety elsewhere.

    Those fleeing are reluctant to seek refuge in religious sanctuaries after about 50 people were burned to death inside a church in Eldoret, a town in the Rift Valley province, which has also witnessed post-election violence.

    About 35,000 of those displaced have camped at police stations and district commissioners' offices. But the bulk of internally displaced peoples have sought refuge at the Jamhuri Park – the largest ground in the city for trade and agricultural shows.   
    Faces of despair

    Their faces tell countless stories of trials and tribulations. The men stand in groups in the main arena of the park, with arms folded either talking in low tones or staring into the distance looking lost in thought.

    It is here that they also sleep while the women and children huddle in one of the exhibition halls. 

    Thousands of women and children have taken
    refuge in Jamhuri Park [Felix Masi]

    Children run around playing, oblivious of their predicament while the mothers go about their chores with a sullen or distant look on their faces.
    Most of the men were casual labourers, security guards or handy men in construction sites. As for the women, most of them cooked and sold food by the roadside or were cleaning ladies who move from home to home in the rich neighbourhoods around Kibera.

    Now they have all been reduced to beggars, waiting on aid organisations and well-wishers to help them with food and clothing.
    Janet Makungu, a mother of three, is preparing a maize meal for her children outside the exhibition hall. She fled the Kibera slums on December 29 and has been camping in the park. Before the violence broke out, she used to earn a living roasting maize (corn cobs) by the roadside.
    "I followed the fleeing people when unruly crowds started throwing stones and setting houses on fire," she said.

    "I only took my children with me and a few of clothes. That is all my life is now."
    Scarce food supplies

    Like the many camped here, Makungu and her children are relying on the Kenya Red Cross Society and charity for food.

    "The Red Cross was here a few days ago and donated maize flour. They gave us enough to last us at least two or three days," she said. "When the Red Cross does not come to help us and there are no well wishers, we have to just sit hungry and wait."
    The women do the cooking in turns. There is only a handful of cooking pots – we only see three while we are here. 

    Alice Akinyi finds no buyers for her vegetables
    because people have no money [Felix Masi]

    But not everyone in the camp is lucky to get sufficient food.

    Alice Akinyi's family of 10 say even if they were to receive two packets of the maize flour, it would not be enough to feed them all for even a day.
    "My eldest son went out yesterday and brought back some vegetables for me to sell to the others camping here," says Akinyi as she sits outside displaying withering kales, onions and tomatoes.
    "But the people here do not have the money to buy my vegetables. I now have to cook the vegetables for my children."
    Families separated

    Abigail Kidakwa, a mother of four is camping in the park with two of her children. She considers herself lucky to have taken her older children upcountry for the Christmas holidays.

    They were supposed to return to Nairobi in the first week of January when schools are scheduled to resume. But now she has no idea when she will be able to reunite with her children and settle to normal life.
    "I do not even know where my husband is," she said.

    "When the rioters set ablaze [homes] adjacent to my house in Kibera, everyone ran in all directions. My two children and I followed the crowds that were running towards the (Jamhuri) park. But I have not seen my husband since we got here. I do not even know if he is still alive."
    The stories are dishearteningly similar. There are pregnant women here, as well as women with very young children. The youngest is only two weeks old. The mother, Margaret Wanjiru, says that she is relying on other women in the camp who are taking pity on her and giving her food for her and the baby.

    She has no husband and no parents but was living in Kibera with her grandmother, with whom she escaped.

    But all those living here share a sense of despondency at the political situation in the country.

    "We performed our civic duty and voted for our preferred candidates, all we want is for our country to move on but not this [violence]," says Janet Makungu.
    Seeking middle ground

    While most of the displaced in Jamhuri Park support Raila Odinga and say there can be no peace without his becoming president, others take a more diplomatic stand.
    Ken Odoi, a Kibera resident who was also the Kibera civic seat candidate in the elections, believes peace and security should supercede political woes.

    "It is not time to fight over who won and give conditions. Before the elections, the Kikuyus and the Luos in Kibera were living peacefully. I am Luo but have so many Kikuyu friends who I have lived with, gone to school with."

    "Now it seems as if we are no longer fighting over the elections but over our ethnic differences. When people are losing their lives and property [is] being destroyed, our leaders and politicians should calm down and sort out this mess as a matter of priority. We are all Kenyans and none of us is the better when this kind of situation prevails."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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