Page last updated at 08:07 GMT, Monday, 29 December 2008

Orphaned by Kenya poll violence

Residents of Kibera slum walk past the smouldering remains of what used to be a second hand clothes market in Nairobi, Kenya, 31 December 2007

By Juliet Njeri
BBC News, Nairobi

Kibera, a sprawling slum in the heart of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, was the scene of some of the worst violence after last year's disputed elections.

Neighbours turned against each other because of ethnic and political rivalries and the police were accused of using brutal force to quash clashes and protests.

But it was here that John Okello and Jane Ogolla, both ethnic Luos like then opposition leader Raila Odinga, sought refuge after they were orphaned during violence in other parts of the country.

Fourteen-year-old John says he walked more than 62 miles (100km) to Nairobi from Naivasha after his parents were shot and killed.

"I didn't know where I was going but luckily through God's grace I finally arrived in Nairobi," he says. "I don't remember how I walked but it was many days."

Seeking refuge

He would walk all day and spend the night in forests, depending on the kindness of strangers for money to buy food.

Woman screams in Nairobi's Kibera slum in April 2008
Some 1,500 people died in the clashes that erupted after the elections

He ended up in Kibera, although he had never been there before and made his way to a local government office to ask for assistance.

Rioting erupted after President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of the presidential poll, triggering claims of electoral fraud Mr Odinga.

The rivals signed a power-sharing deal in February to bring an end to the violence and formed a coalition government - but not before 1,500 people died in clashes and another 300,000 fled their homes.

For 20-year-old Jane, the journey to Kibera was not as long or treacherous as John's, but it was no less traumatic.

She had lived with her parents and five younger siblings in Dandora, a slum on the outskirts of Nairobi.

Two people argued in a shop the other day and one was shouting very bitterly 'It's a Luo. If we get another opportunity, they will see'
Jane Onyango

Clashes broke out in Dandora soon after the election results were announced on 29 December, and she says different gangs, including the infamous Mungiki, and the paramilitary General Service Unit were involved in the attacks.

"We were at home and we had locked the door. But the attackers came and my mother and father were killed as they tried to defend me and my siblings," she says.

Their house was burnt down and with no-one to turn to, the orphaned children left Dandora.

They lived in a government camp for a month before they left for Kawangware, another slum area outside Nairobi, after hearing that the local MP was giving assistance to those affected by the violence.

A father tries to get his son to school in Nairobi's Kibera slum in April 2008
The bloodiest clashes in Kibera were between the Kikuyu and Luo

But they were forced to leave Kawangware after being warned that it was not safe there and headed for Kibera.

Jane and John are now living at the St Michael's Holy Unity Academy, which was established in 1994 to assist orphans in Kibera.

Brought together by fate, the two are slowly rebuilding their lives in their new home.

But one year later, the place where they found refuge is still very divided.


The bloodiest clashes in Kibera were between members of President Kibaki's Kikuyu community and Prime Minister Odinga's Luo community.

Today, ethnic tensions between the two communities are still simmering just below the surface of daily life.

Man left bloodied amid riots in Nairobi
Memories of the violence has kept tension simmering in the community
"People are just assuming things are okay. If you want to talk you still watch your back," says Jane Onyango, a Luo who lives in Kibera.

Mrs Onyango, who does community work in the slum, says things are not back to normal.

"I'm a Luo and I really try to relate to everybody because of the community work I do, but you don't just talk freely," she adds. "There's that margin that has been drawn that is very hard to erase."

She heads a community organisation called Kibera Women for Peace and Fairness, which was formed during the post-election violence to condemn police brutality.

When the organisation was formed, people from different ethnic communities came together to support the cause, but cracks later began to emerge among the group's members.

"The Luos and the Kikuyus dropped off," says Mrs Onyango. "We have only two Kikuyus and four Luos among 384 members. Luos and Kikuyus still have that problem relating."

Although most of those who were displaced have gone back to their homes and are living together, there is still tension between different communities.

"I went to a shop the other day and two people argued. One was shouting very bitterly 'It's a Luo,' and saying 'If we get another opportunity, they will see'," she says.

Fuelling resentment

Statements to demean other communities are still spoken loudly in public places such as public service vehicles, and Mrs Onyango fears this could spark new violence.

"If something happens, I think it can be worse. Things are not safe, especially between the Luos and Kikuyus."

A recent exercise to distribute relief food in the slum led to a confrontation with one community complaining that the other was being favoured.

Supporters of Raila Odinga protest in a road leading to the Kibera slum on 30 December 2007
Resentment is said to remain high in a place which is already a tinderbox
"There's no peace. There is calm," Mrs Onyango observes.

Some of this tension is being fuelled by the government, which the community worker accuses of treating the two communities differently.

"The government is treating people very, very differently according to ethnic communities. This unequal distribution of resources, it has brought problems before," she says.

There have been no efforts to organise platforms where the two communities can sit together and resolve their differences, and she says the buck stops with the political leaders.

This has created a general feeling that the government is concentrating on helping those displaced from the Rift Valley Province, and not doing enough to help those affected in other parts of the country.

All this is fuelling resentment in a place which is already a tinderbox.

"People are feeling bad and they have no voices to speak and nowhere to air their views.

"But the truth is people are not happy and because they can't reach the decision-makers, they turn on the wrong people who are also innocent," Mrs Onyango says.

One year on from the elections, politicians have gone back to squabbling over power and forgotten their promise to heal the country's ethnic divide, an atmosphere of fear is slowly spreading in Kibera.

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