Karambu Ringera, one of the few women to run for electoral office in the Kenya elections, gives a powerful vivid eye-witness account of the violence and the displacement.
When I left Nairobi for Nakuru to visit the internally displaced people's (IDP) camp, my aim was to be there for 2 days only. I arrived there on Wednesday January 23, little knowing that the events of that night would lock me in Nakuru for five days! On the night of January 23, all hell broke loose in Nakuru town. It was sad, scary and out of this world. I hardly recognized my country anymore. For three days, Kikuyus living in the Rift Valley were being evicted from their homes. The Nakuru violence was a spill over from Eldoret where many Kikuyus amng other ethnic groups had been evicted from their homes and their homes and property burnt. The week before, there had been similar clashes in Kisumu, once again targeting people from the Mount Kenya Region. The violence spread to Kericho, Burnt Forest, Elburgon, and areas surrounding Nakuru town. It was believed that Kalejins were in the forefront of these latter (Rift Valley) evictions and so, when loadfuls of Kikuyus landed into the Nakuru Show Ground (NSG) where these IDP were settled and attended to by the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), Kikuyus in Nakuru felt they needed to do something about it. To see lorry after lorry of people being dropped at the NSG left many angry.
What was more devastating were the stories of anarchy – burnt homes, slaughtered loved family members, raped mothers and daughters, as destroyed property. The Kikuyus organized themselves and on the night of 23rd they struck at Ponda Mali a few blocks from where I spent that first night. In the morning, a few dead bodies were found but more fundamentally, houses were burnt – this time mainly Luo and Kalejin houses. By Thursday, these attacks were spread to more residential areas around Nakuru town such as Ronda, Mwariki, Kaptembwa, Githima, Freearea, Lakeview, Lanet, Karatina, Kiti, pangani, Flamingo, and Mawanga) – a second IDP's camp was opened at the Nakuru Stadium for Luos and Kalejins. A 7pm to 7am curfew was also set up – the speed with which this curfew was set up saved Nakuru from more blood shed than had already been spilt. On Friday, a friend and I walked to the areas surrounded Langalanga residential area to see what had transpired the night before because we heard was a lot of gunshot sounds. We hardly slept that night because we did not want to be attacked or for the block to be set a fire while we were asleep. The newspapers said that 5 people had been killed but that day we found at least 12 bodies lying uncollected – some had been eaten by dogs overnight. Most bodies had deep cuts – some on the head, some with throats slashed, others with cut off limbs – it was ghastly!! Later in the day, a police Landrover was loaded full of bodies of dead people.
It came for a second round – we estimated over 40 people killed in just…… On Saturday, Nakuru town was a no go zone both day and night. Police and army personnel were all over the town. A helicopter was being use to comb the area and spot trouble points and dispatch soldiers there speedily. The roads were blocked and some people were attacking certain groups of people as early as 5pm. We all were advised to stay indoors. Sunday was more calm were I was although we kept hearing gunshots in the surrounding estates. I had to do what I had initially set out to do in Nakuru – visit the IDP's camp at the Nakuru Show Ground. I went there on Wednesday to arrange to go and hold peace talks with the people at the camp. I intended to work with the counseling groups as my entry point. When the coordinator of the counseling program asked me to explain my approach, I explained that I used a participatory approach where people speak from their experiences. I planned on using the circle model and three statements guide the dialogue. The three statements are: Peace for me is; Peace for me would be; and In the name of peace I commit to… (participants state a concrete action they will undertake) .
The women were asked to use these statements to guide their sharing. We used a talking piece (a piece of stick). Initially I had asked for about 20-25 people. I got 30 women. However about 15 of them had come the day before and had not been debriefed – so they had to leave the circle. Women who had not been debriefed were required to do so before doing any other form of talking to people about their experiences. We held the circle with the 15 or so women left. The main concerns for the women were their children's education; lack of enough food; and where they would go since they did not want to go back to their old places.
While waiting for the women to gather, I heard a child crying outside. He was crying with a lot of emotion – a child of about 6 years old. I walked over to him and started coaxing him to stop crying while at the same time asking him why he was crying. He was standing alone and I thought he had lost his mother or whoever was with him. After some time, he stopped crying – almost – and then I was approached by a pregnant woman who had stood at a distance watching us. She told me that she had pinched the child for running away from school. The school was across the main road outside the camp. The mother was angry with the boy for crossing the dangerous road (cars were driving by all the time) alone. She also wanted him to stay in school because other kids were there. I told the mother to be patient with the child for after all he had seen, he may have been afraid that when he comes from school he might fond the mother gone. The kid never told us why he ran away for school, even though I tried to ask him. All he did was cry. We tried to get his older brother to take him to school and stay with him there the rest of the day. I do not know whether the mother was able to enforce this because soon after, a KRCS personnel came and took away the mother and the child to talk to them.
The women we visited with started telling us what life was like at the camp. They said that they had a mug of porridge in the morning, no lunch, and very little dinner. The food at dinner was so little – "it is meant to keep the soul alive" – one old lady told me. The food is so little that even children do not get satisfied – so mothers normally shared out their own food to the children. Girls were known to exchange food for sex too. There was lots of sexual activity as evidenced by the number of used condoms found lying around the camp every morning – the KRCS medical team dishes out condoms at the camps. The disturbing part was the rapes that were happening at the camps. The women told us that at night men would scream to make people start running away in panic. Then they would time women and girls, catch them and rape them. So, women were being told to watch over their girls. Women were also being advised not to go to the toilets at night.
On Friday we were sitting in circle sharing when we heard gunshots. The women panicked and one of them worriedly asked "have they come for us here?" This made me realize how scared these people really were. Their fear was deep. I was sad that I could not be of any help in trying to alleviate it. We ourselves from the outside were sitting on edge not knowing whether we would be safe or not going back home. All I could do was encourage them, hope with them that things would change, and assure them that they were safe in the camp because it was guarded. This sense of security was short lived. On Saturday afternoon there was a panic stampede that took place because a run-away prisoner jumped in to the camp in white underwear, the dress code of the attackers of the people in their farms. The IDP thought the attackers had come for them right in the camp. The person who was the man screamed that the attackers had followed them into the camp and there was a stampede that caused the breaking of the NSG periphery fence – fracturing the delicate sense of security they may have felt in this place.
A lot of food and clothes had been donated to the KRCS for these IDP in the camps around Kenya. We saw many lorries loaded with stuff come to the camp. The KRCS also had an office in Nakuru town where they stored these things. The surprising thing was that the people told us they never received any good clothes. They got third rate stuff – the KRCS staff in the store selected clothes for themselves before letting the IDP get into the store to select – the women informed us.
The people also said that the store people let about 30 people to get into the small store and they gave the people only few minutes to select clothes. This meant that one had no time to select good stuff – so they ended up with old t-shirts and skirts. One woman who had brought in a selection of very good clothes found someone selling one of her dresses in the local market! In view of this, when the women told me that they need underwear and pads, I decided not to hand these to the KRCS office as I had done on Wednesday when I first went to the camp. Counseling is being done in the camps by many people. However when I asked whether there were any people talking about peacebuilding I was told "no one had thought of that."
I found my niche. So, I set up to come on Thursday January 24 to start the peace dialogue. Lack of information on where women can get help for educational needs of their children or for material needs is alarmingly much in the camp. At Nakuru many women came to ask me for assistance – where to take their kids for schooling; how they can leave the camp and reach their relatives; how they could earn a living – several girls were looking for househelp jobs (to be employed in people's homes) – and so on. One man approached me with a letter which had a female handwriting seeking assistance for relocation. Since I am from far (Meru – Nakuru is about 9 hours by car from Meru) and did not have the capacity to help, I told the women that they have to speak with the KRCS personnel in their camp so they can ask the questions they were putting to me. I know that the organization is meant to assist people the camps in various ways. So, I insisted that they talk to these people.
The Peace Circle Dialogue
We sat in a circle and I introduced myself, asked someone to open with prayers, after which I asked everyone to introduce themselves and say where they were from. We started off with 30 women, 15 eventually went for debriefing (they had arrived at the camp the night before), two of 15 were called to go to the hospital to check on one of them who had given birth to a baby (they said to me smiling: "we have been blessed with a new life even here"), and two others left for other business. In the end, we had about 10 women who stayed throughout the 2 and a half hour session. I introduced the peace dialogue idea and why we were doing it. I gave the three statements that were going to guide our dialogue, looked for a talking piece and then I began the process.
What emerged was very interesting. Each woman gave her story – most spoke about their history. Some gave incidents before the clashes (current displacement) as what gave them no peace, incidents that were exacerbated by the violence. Most were painful family issues – including wives being told to go where they came from because they were from a different ethnic group – being forced to leave with ones children because the children had the blood of the unwanted ethnic group. On the second day, the women were less personal and our discussions were more on what others had suffered. I was told of an elderly lady who was gang raped and then ripped open because the gangsters wanted to "see where they had been." The woman died. One woman came to me for assistance for her son who is beginning high school. She said to me, "one of the children has been taken to an orphanage. Now I need a place for my son who is attending a day school, but see where he is coming back every end of day. Please take him with you and help him get into a boarding school." At that moment I wished the community home we are building for AIDS orphans and other children in crisis was complete.
I would have taken this boy to stay there while we looked for a boarding school for him. I took the lady's contact so that when I got a school for the boy, I would call them. I have already asked the IPI Program Director to check out a school for this child whose name is Isaac Geita. His mom's name is Margaret Wambui. The women who followed the three statements guiding our peace dialogue had this to say about their view of peaceful being or otherwise and what they committed to do for peace. (i) I have peace when: Peaceful moments cited by these women included when they pray, read the Bible, and when they are able to provide food, shelter and health to their families, including being able to educate their children. (ii) Peace for me is: Some of the answers I got include: End of conflict and violence; all the children in this camp going back to school. Help for those infected by HIV/AIDS, widows, single mothers, and orphans. The women said that education is the only hope for their children considering all their property was gone and the parents were in no position to support them now that they had lost everything. (iii) In the name of peace I commit to: The women committed to praying for peace; supporting those who were in need like orphans; encourages each other to keep hope in God. The women felt that if they kept their hope in God, He would deliver them and prosper them wherever they are.
Before people massacre others, they dehumanize and demonize the enemy. While walking around Ponda Mali, area in Nakuru to see the results of the violence, we came across many bodies of dead people that lay all over the place. Two young people were walking past one body and they said "it is fat!!" They did not see this as a person – he had become an object, hence "IT.". Down the path we found another body and this time, a woman sold her tomatoes unbothered by the presence of a dead body near where she was selling. I wondered at this lack of … fear, respect… what did I expect them to feel for these departed ones – perceived as 'the enemy' by them?
It was sad to witness the disgrace we have come to as a nation – we have become so removed from our humanity – we have failed to see we were the 'other' we were butchering. To fail to 'see' that our humanity is inescapably intertwined with that of those whose lives we have cut short, is to fail to 'recognize' how inhuman we have become. I desire to participate in healing the broken cord that joins me to my sister and brother, no matter their ethnic origin; reconcile the severed human spirit broken by our fractured humanity.
Part of my reason for being in Kenya is to work for peace in Africa. Little did I know I would be doing this for my beloved country. I have already put in place a peace training program under Institute for Nonviolence and Peace (INPEACE) (INPEACE was launched in 2005 at the Women's Congress held in Nairobi that year). I intend to continue the peace dialogues in the IDP's camps that I started in Nakuru. I also intend to do a training for leaders, who will hopefully share what they learn with their constituents. Then I will start systematic trainings for civil society, with a focus to women and youth. I am already meeting with people and organizations willing to partner with IPI's INPEACE to run the trainings. The plan is to begin with trainings for women and youth in the camps and leaders and follow up with longer term programs for civil society and learning institutions. I also hope to continue helping with material and informational assistance to women and young girls in camps.
For those interested in supporting women and girls materially, IPI has been collecting clothes and food stuffs and taking to various collection points in Meru. However, from the experience of what the women in Nakuru told me, IPI will be distributing the stuff directly to women in their tents within the camps like we did the last time we donated underwear and pads to women and girls at Nakuru.
*Dr. Karambu Ringera was one of the few women who ran for elected office. She was the North Imenti Parliamentary Aspirant.
*Please send comments to or comment online at www.pambazuka.org