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The Journey through hell

Crispin Oduor Makachia

It had been a week since the elections and four days after the presidential results were announced and then disputed leading to a madness of bloodletting violence that rocked Kenya. This was the first time that political violence had empted throughout the whole country.

The elections in Kenya in December 2007 were held in the middle of a democratic process that has been engaging the Kenyan society since 2000. In order to change the government, stable but charged with heavy accusations of corruption and fraud, the two known politicians Raila Odinga (a Luo) and Kibaki (a Kikuyu), had formed a "rainbow" coalition, that, supported by mostly the young urban people, as well as the music scene, managed to win the elections in 2002. Part of the coalition deal was the commitment of both to establish a prime minister next to the president and work up a new constitution. The slow constitution process, that had started as a democratic movement but slowed into a bureaucratic procedure full of backlashes, and that had urged several politicians and ministers to resign, as well as the refusal to establish the prime minister position led Raila Odinga into forming his own political party. The story is still more complex but some of its outcomes were the occurrences around the 2007 elections, that both parties have claimed to have won, moving a conflict to the streets of Nairobi and other Kenyan towns and settlements, that Kenya had never before experienced.

I had travelled upcountry to celebrate the new year with my relatives. The next day which was a Saturday I couldn't wait but be anxious of the journey ahead. We woke up early to go to the riverside for a bath with my cousins. We were so quiet that for a while I thought that we were communicating to some spirits I don't know where. All the time at the riverside we never uttered a word.

After our morning meal, we were ready to head to the bus station which was at least six kilometres away. We had to climb high and low areas, cross around some three rivers before making it to the stage. It had rained the previous day so the footpaths were muddy. It was a tiring six kilometres walk with our bags stacked to our backs. It took us an hour and forty-five minutes to get there. Once there we were forced with another problem. There are these idlers who extort money from motorists and their passengers along the highway. We had planned to sit next to each other with my cousin Solomon Ochieng. To our surprise there were no busses coming from Busia to Nairobi. We wondered what was wrong but then decided to give more time or even better still we would be pleased to travel by night. At some minutes past three we were told that the violence engulfing the country had ran out of control and gangs of thieves were descending on public transport and hacking people along the Narumu - Nairobi part of the highway therefore there were no vehicles going through. All this was in revenge as most of these people had been evicted from their farms at the Rift valley. They were mainly Kikuyus who had been forced to flee their homes and seek shelter in their motherland. Their targets were mostly the Luo (from where I am one of them). The presidential battle was a two horse race pitting a Kikuyu and a Luo. Thus the main two tribes in Kenya were in conflict.

Luo is the name of one ethnic group in Kenya. Their main settlement area is around Lake Victoria, where they had lived mostly on fishing and farming. It is essential for Luo people to own land somewhere so that many spend half of their time in the country side and the other life in Nairobi. The old settlement area of the Kikuyu people is around Nairobi. They are the people Karen Blixen talks about in Out of Africa (my Kikuyus she calls them). They have been the main force between the from colonialists side called Mau-mau uprisings (meanwhile Mau-mau means nothing in any Kenyan language). Kikuyus are the largest ethic group in Kenya. The route from lake Victoria to Nairobi leads through the Rift Valley, where in January 2008 most of the atrocities during the post-election riots took place.

We contemplated going back to the village or wait to see what would happen. Luckily a pick-up van was enroute to Nairobi. It was a church van with food stuff on board. We waved the driver and he stopped. We told him our story and he was much willing to help even though he was from the other tribe. We boarded the pick-up and were on our way to Nairobi. We had agreed that we would pay him 20 $ (1400 KSh) each. As we were along the journey after some 150 kilometres we were surprised to see that we were running out of fuel. In most towns that we passed by we would see houses in ruins, petrol stations burnt to ashes, shops were no more neither were markets, peoples homes were raided and at some villages we could smell smoke from burning rubbles.

Suddenly the vehicle came to a halt. We were at the middle of nowhere and it was dark at night. We held on to each other and prayed that a good samaritian would come our way. It was a frightening scene to be at the middle of nowhere at night and afraid of attacks from we don't know who. Mwana who was the driver was so afraid as he reached to his pocket took his mobile phone and tried to make a distress call. To his and our surprise we were in a valley at the bottom therefore network to the mobile service provider was not available. We talked about nothing in particular just worried for our dear lives. With visibility less than twenty feet we knew that the only way to be seen afar is to flash the headlights. This we did for several times till the light was dim and we knew that the battery to the vehicle was also going down. Not a good Samaritan yet and it was midnight. The night was so cold that we had to put on some clothes to keep us warm. We decided to sleep in turns. At some point while asleep we were suddenly woken up by Mwana who wanted us to be alert as he had heard some strange noises around. I had a torch so I took it from the bag and as I peared through the bushes around I spotted a herd of cows, which were in a fenced farm, where they were grazing. This was a sign that we were at least somewhere near a home. This gave us a sigh of relief. We went back to sleep and at dawn on sunday morning at six we saw some dim lights approaching us. We told the driver to try and flash them over and so they were able to notice us before they came too close.

As they approached I quickly noticed from the sound of the engine that it was a tractor. They were heading to the dairy to take milk collected from the farms around. They told us not to worry as there was a petrol station about fifteen kilometres away and he was going through that route. The driver took a can of twenty litres and was given a ride to the petrol station. We knew it would be long before he got back since he was not sure of getting another vehicle to bring him back to where we were.

Immeadiately he had gone I realized that I had run out of cigarettes so I knew I was in for a long day. I decided to take a walk towards the nearest village and see what I could get for breakfast. The previous night had passed and we had nothing to eat and were feeling hungry. As I neared the first food kiosk I smelt some blood and I knew tat something was not right. On the first corner to my right I was surprised that it was a slaughtering place. The villagers normally slaughter cows and goats in the early hours of the day. At least I was comforted to learn that it was not human blood. I fetched for some milk and cakes and went back to the road side where we had parked our vehicle. Mwaura was back at around ten. He was tired and so worried about the safety of our journey that he was not in the mood to eat anything. He was determined to get to a petrol station and fill the tank to a brim. We passed by some villages and could spot a few corpses lying by the road sides. As we approached Nakuru we came to the first roadblock. It had not been mounted by the police as the road was barricaded by big stones and huge logs from the nearby forest. as we tried to get our way past it some rough looking youths emerged from the bushes and ordered us to hand over the valuables that we had. They took away our phones and money and told us that since we were not their enemies they would spare our lives. As we went past the first hurdle we wondered what next will the other people demand for. We had no money left for fuel, or anything to eat. It was about two and we had to stop again.

This time it was a real police check, we told them of our ordeal at the hands of the first gang. They warned us that it was not going to be easy since they had information that some other groups were still ahead where we were going to.

As we entered Nakuru town it was as quiet as a ghost town. Most shops were closed and many people had opted to stay out of town for fear of attacks. Petrol stations were closed. Mwaura tried in vain to get a phone booth to make a ditress call so that he coud be sent some cash for fuel. All this to no avail. We decided to park the vehicle at a police station and wait for help. Which seemed too distant for us. The police was not able to assist, as most of them were tired of having had to spend some sleepless nights trying to quell the violence. Their eyes were bloody red due to the teargas they had thrown at the masses who were throwing stones at them and looting shops whenever a chance came by.

Next to the police station there was a camp for the internally displaced persons. They were in large numbers women, children and the old men who could not fight nor run. Most of the young men were involved in fighting for a cause that was not clear to most. In this part of Kenya we have had fightings, which were tribal and so they fought for land. Most of those who were fighting eviction were Kikuyus who had either legally or illegally acquired chunks of land due to the corrupt regimes that we've had earlier. The first clashes there were in 1992, then 1997 and now ten years later they were fighting like never before. The Kikuyus are capitalists and so the hatred between them and the locals there was so strong.

As we walked around the camp we came to some horrorful scenes, we saw people with deep wounds, some had been pierced by arrows, some still in their chest. What I saw was so frightening that I didn't worry about what I had lost to the first gang, but started to worry about my life.

At some parts of the camp children, who were aged between four to eight were playing and it was a battle between two groups, one was the ODM and the other called itself PNU. They were shouting at each other trying to give the others a scare, not knowing that in real it was the battle between these two parties that had made them refugees in their own country. They wrestled each other and when all was done they went home together holding their hands. ODM and PNU were not going to make them fight outside their ring.

The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) is Raila Odingas party (former opposition). It also uses an orange as sign for the non-literate voters. The Party of National Unity (PNU) is a newly created party by the former and actual president Kibaki. It uses a banana as a sign.

We decided to give the red cross team a hand in distributing food rations to the victims of violence. We hoped that in turn we could get assistance from them. This was the second day of our journey and we were only half our way.

As the attacks on motorists were getting out of hand, the government deployed some military to the area to escort public service vehicles. In this situation the busses had to wait until they were around ten, then a military truck would lead and some other two would follow behind. The busses went slow and would take a day for hundred kilometres. As the red cross convoy left Nakuru, Solomon and me managed to get a lift. Along the way to Navasha things were not getting any better, more burnt houses, farms, shops raided and looted. I was shocked to realise how much men can destroy in a few days what had taken more than twenty years to build. We learnt that the railway line from Nairobi to Uganda had been removed. Funny thing in this is, that the railway had been build by colonialists and since independence the government had not been able to add even an inch to the network yet it took a few hours for people to dismantle almost two kilometres of the railway line by their hands. At some points we found shells of burnt vehicles.

On the fourth day of our journey to Nairobi we were leaving from Naivasha at nine. It was Tuesday morning and we thought that calm was returning. This was reported at various parts of the country but just a few metres from Naivasha town, chaos empted and here it were the Kikuyus who were now fighting the other tribes as they were seeking revenge for their brothers and sisters, who lost their place or life elsewhere.

Here the main victims were the Luos, Lubyas and the Kalenjins. Gangs of youth and men armed with crude weapons, descending on mostly women and children, setting them ablaze in their houses. What a shock, I saw them all, passing in these red cross trucks.

Lubyas like most smaller ethic groups opposed the government as well and parted with the Luos. Kalenjins are no ethnic group but are called after a radio programme which was broadcasted in a language that could be understood by various groups. Kalenjin means, I say (to you). They make up about 12% of the population.
Here it has to be noted that Kenya and especially the north of Kenya is experiencing a drought period for the last six years that has made people move in the country, into the cities but also internally and the demand for land still suitable for agriculture is growing.

As we were nearing Nairobi at four we could see clouds of smoke engulfing Nairobi from far. We could hear from a radio that chaos had reached Kibera and it's environs, people burned down petrol stations and supermarkets.

The madness didn't seem to be cooling down. People did unimaginable things,. Women and girls were raped. Men killed each other at will and this happened so fast that seen on TV you would think it's a movie. For the first time we were compared to Baghdad, Afghanistan and Dafur. Zimbabwe was better. The international community was calling for an end to all this as they were worried about Kenya turning into Rwanda and Somalia.

It was exactly ten to five that we were in Nairobi town and the place was like a concrete jungle. Civilians were nowhere to be seen. The streets were being patrolled by anti-riot police. It smelled of teargas and it was easy to notice that things were not as cool as it seemed to be. Finally we had made it but now came the hardest part. Getting to Mathare our place of residence. There were no busses or Matatus.

So the only option was to go by foot. We had to pass by Kariakor and Pangani, the latter a stronghold of Mungiki adherents, fighting for the Kikuyus, being mainly after Luos. I had studied at St. Brigids and most of those we were with came from Pangani. I was able to meet some of them who made sure that we were not harmed. At the next stop we came along some ODM supporters. They only ransacked our bags looking for any valuables to steal. Finding none they gave us an escort up to our house. On reaching there we were shocked to learn that what we used to call a house had been turned into a rubble with nothing in it. All of our household items had been stolen. I was left stranded not believing my eyes that all I had were the two pairs of trousers in my bag and a few T-shirts and what I was wearing. I had lost everything and there was no-one to be asked of anything. This really got me furious. I started thinking of where to go for refuge. I was not able to control myself but to cry for what I had lost.

Mathare is the oldest and second biggest of the slums in Nairobi, situated in Mathare valley north of Nairobi, where the author has been born and lives (which by the way shows that slums are no interimistic living places but homes of generations of people). Kibera, the other slum mentioned here, is newer and is seemingly even bigger than Mathare with app. 1 Million inhabitants. The slums in Nairobi are partly controlled by the Mungiki and the so called Taliban. The Mungiki is a mostly muslimic group of young men, mostly Kikuyus, who understand themselves to some extend in the tradition of black panthers, Mau-mau fighters and muslimic youth organisations. They seek to ban alcohol production and sale in the slum areas and have a violent regime on women as well as on non-muslimic groups. Mungikis are seen as PNU supporters. They are pro-circumcision of women, opposed to: The other (more christian) side and mostly formed by young Luo and ODM supporters. They are called the Taliban, why ever they call themselves Taliban we donít know, and have been raised by the distillers of Kibera and Mathare against the Mungiki into a fight they lost (and many by-standers lost lives or houses).

I enquired to know the state of my sister's place which was some two kilometres away. They were safe and so we took there as fast as we could be carried by our feet which was now the main way of traveling through Nairobi. Their place had been rocked by violence but only for a few days and things were returning to normal at least in large since most of the people there were ODM supporters. Later I came to learn that in areas that were mainly inhabited by PNU or ODM supporters violence was minimal or none at all but in those areas evenly populated were the highest number of casualities.

The next day I went to my employers office only to be told that since I was late I had been dismissed. I was almost on the verge of beating this fellow. Unluckily for me, he was a Kikuyu and I was a Luo so I guess this is where the problem was. I knew that it would be foolish of me to do such a thing because for one, he had money to get me to jail, and they were still in charge of the government. I was the looser. I took it with heads high and just left the offices without uttering a word. I could hear some of my former work mates gossip that I wasn't the only one who had lost his place. I left the office knowing that now again I was back to the unemployed field.
Starship Nummer 11, Seiten 41ff