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Kenya: Voices from the violence

February 1, 2008

Violence broke out in many Kenyan communities following disputed national elections on Dec. 27, 2007. The conflict has claimed several hundreds of lives and driven about 250,000 people from their homes, according to news reports.

These following excerpts from interviews were compiled by Kariuki Thuku, Julius Muchemi and Mumbi Murage of Porini, a Kenyan peace-building organization, from their visits to people who had experience post-election violence.

Moments of terror

Less than five minutes after the announcement of the election results, marauding youths came from all direction singing war songs. They started torching our houses using petrol. We all ran into the bush where we stayed for three days before seeking refuge in the nearest police station. -Mother of two

I was at a shopping center with my friends. Everyone was waiting to hear the presidential winner. Suddenly, people started shouting and screaming. They started burning the shops and chasing us. One of them hit me with a stick on the ear. I got injured and kept on running. A vehicle that was speeding very fast stopped and rescued me. I have never seen my parents since then but I am happy because I am safe here and I have made friendship with other boys. I was to join class seven but I can’t go to school now.
-13-year-old boy

(We asked this boy whether he would go back. “You want them to cut me with a knife?” he replied.)

I come from a town in the Rift Valley. That day, in the evening, I heard screams from all directions simultaneously. Smoke started billowing from housetops. Before I could decide where to hide, they entered our compound. One of them hit me with a stick on the hand so hard. I screamed running toward the bush to hide. I slept in the bush. The following morning there was not a single house that had not been razed down. I sought refuge in the police station. Our school was also burnt down. I was in class seven last year.
-A 12-year-old boy

“They came screaming towards the staff quarters in the center of the tea plantation. That was less than 10 minutes after (election) results were announced. The youth broke into our house and looted everything. They chased the workers and hacked many of them to death inside the tea plantations. … God, we cried for help as we ran deep to the endless tea farm where we slept that night. The following morning we journeyed to the police station. On the way, we found many bodies of our co-workers, we cried but they were all dead. How can anyone harvest that tea anymore? Who shall surely consume that tea? The innocent blood they shed will come back to haunt them very soon. My husband is currently stranded in the bush in Bomet fearing death, my phone battery has run dry, I have a terrible flu because of staying in the cold for one week …”
-A mother of two

(We assisted her to move her luggage to another tent then got her husband’s phone number. We are trying to reach him every day but all in vain. We hope he is safe.)

Looking ahead

“This is the third time that I have planted and not reaped. This is the third time I have built a house and it is reduced to ashes. This is the third time our village primary school has been razed down. … Shall I live this way the rest of my life? This is the third time I have been in this kind of a refugee camp. This is the third time my children have to stay at home without education. … This is the third time I have survived death. … This is the third and the last time to swear that I will never go back there. I will live here.”
-A mother from the Rift Valley

Every part of this country has a soil. One can live anywhere and be buried there. I am very old and I just want to live somewhere safe, then die and be buried peacefully and decently. Not the way we have left bodies of our loved ones lying in the scorching sun. (Tears)”
-Woman around 80 years old, (her husband was brutally murdered and left unburied)

“I sent my wife (to her sister’s house) together with the children here in Nakuru. But, culturally it is not in order for me to sleep in my in-laws house. I will live here in the camp. I have no money even to buy cigarettes. … They came less than five minutes after (the election results were announced). They had small homemade petrol bombs. In a matter of minutes the entire village was burning and people were running in all directions to save their lives. The arsonists were very young boys who had been imported from somewhere else. I swear I will never go back there because if I go, I will have no other mission but revenge which I do not want. In no time, my younger brother had been hacked to death (A long tearful pause).
-Man in his mid-30s

“…Mothers with young kids are getting a lot of support, even free mattresses. We never thought that we could find friends ready to visit and assist us. We came in tattered clothes, now look, everyone here is smart and there is a huge pile of donated clothes that we cannot finish. It is cold at night, fine, but when your stomach is full one can rest assured of nice sleep. We have realized that Kenyans truly care for each other, save for those who were killing us.”
-A mother in her 60s

“We feel so glad and happy when you come to visit us. We want someone to talk to. Everyone staying here has the same story. The story of war. We feel much relieved when we narrate our stories to concerned people from other areas of Kenya. We really appreciate when you give us time to empty our horrendous experiences. When we laugh, joke and smile. We are in crisis, fine, but, if we fail to find people to talk to, we shall honestly not find sleep. We feel safer when we see (people from other parts of the world or other parts of Africa) coming to say hi to us. Holding our babies. Tapping our back. Giving us reassurance that there is life ahead. Everything which has a beginning … has an ending.”
-A mother of two

“We appreciate for everything from food to your moral support. But the most disturbing question is; where shall we go from here? How will life look like outside this camp? With not a single coin in the pocket how shall we start off? It is not good to be fed by well-wishers when one is strong. I want to use my hands to feed and educate my children.”
-A worried mother of two

In response to the suffering, MCC has provided $5,000 to help the Anglican Church of Kenya give personal hygiene items to about 4,000 people near the city of Eldoret. MCC also provided $5,000 to help Kenya's National Council of Churches provide rice, beans and cooking fat to about 5,000 people near the city of Kisumu, and MCC provided $5,000 for food and medicine to Menno Kids Academy, a school sponsored by MCC’s Global Family program in Mathare, a neighborhood of Nairobi greatly impacted by the violence.