, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 6 – “I want to forgive them, because I want peace. There is nothing else that can give us peace except forgiveness. They chased my family out of our house and up to now they have not left my house. But I forgive them, because I know them and they know me,”
This is the grief and the reality of life that 79-year-old Mzee Kamau and many others have to live with following the 2008 post election violence.
“We drink together, they even greet me,” he says somberly. “I come to Kibera every day hoping they will give me back my house, but they live there as if it is their house; they have completely refused to leave.”
From the tone of his voice, it’s clear Mzee Kamau is hurt with memories of the violence still vividly fresh on his mind. He was forced to move his family to live with a relative in Nairobi’s Kawangware slum.
The septuagenarian, however, wants to leave vengeance to deity. “I leave them to God, not The Hague or a local tribunal can do anything,” he asserts.
Deep in the heart of Kibera, accessible through careful hops over stinking garbage, open sewers and dirty paths is Mary Wanjeri, another victim of the violence.
It’s about 2.00pm. Wanjeri and her friends are conversing in hushed tones in an illegal brew den at the centre of Kibera. In a slum like this, a stranger is easily picked out and my entrance is immediately greeted with suspicion as everyone goes silent.
I am definitely out of place with my microphone and recorder. At this point, my guide quickly signals me to identify myself by my first name to conceal my tribe.
It is only with his intervention that Ms Wanjeri agrees to tell her story.
“I lost my house and property. My two cousins were murdered in cold blood – hacked to death,” she starts. “You see, we live with these people every day, what will happen if they are arrested?” she querries, maintaining that forgiveness is the best option for her.
Not far from where she lives, Ronald Igadwa wipes tears and sweat from his brow as he sadly narrates the aftermath of a disputed presidential election,
“I was very hurt, we suffered. We could not sit outside, it was helter skelter. People never wanted to see other tribes, it was hatred; my business went down to ashes, but I m praying for them, all I want is peace, they don’t have to be punished.”
The post-poll violence in Kenya claimed over 1,500 lives and displaced 650,000 people. Property worth billions of shillings was also destroyed.
Kibera was among the worst hit areas in Nairobi and two years down memory lane, the fear, suspicion and hatred is easily noticeable.
Despite the agony they went through, these victims want to forgive – quite an unusual reaction given the magnitude of their suffering. It is evident in the way they look around suspiciously and lower their voices anytime the issue of the post election violence is raised.
When they talk of forgiveness, the tone of the voice rises, it seems as if they are going out of their way to make the whole world know they want forgiveness. Could it be a sign of fear or intimidation?
Why are they quick to forgive?
International Centre for Policy and Conflict Executive Director Ndung’u Wainaina says it is clear victims want justice done but they cannot say this because of fear,
“If people will be prosecuted it will only be a few of them. What do you do with the rest of the suspects whom they live with everyday? Many of them have fear for their security, which is a very serious concern.”
Mr Igadwa and his neighbours may be fronting forgiveness, but will they be getting any closure if they still have to live with the very same people who killed their relatives, stole and destroyed their property?
But even as the victims continue suffering trying to re-collect their lives, neither the government nor the politicians are willing to bring justice to them.
The government refused to refer the Kenyan perpetrators to the International Criminal Court forcing the Prosecutor Moreno Ocampo to seek approval from the Pre-trial chamber. On the other hand Members of Parliament have frustrated a Bill seeking to establish a local tribunal.
The only window of opportunity for justice is the Pre Trial judges to give Mr Ocampo a go-ahead to open a case against the Kenyan perpetrators.
Though the government gave strong indications that the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission was the solution, a lot remains to be seen.
For Njonjo Mue of The International Centre for Transitional Justice – Kenya office -, justice involves truth telling, prosecution of perpetrators, promotion of democracy and human rights.
“The society we want to create in Kenya is a society where truth and mercy have met together, justice and peace have kissed each other so that you are telling me what you did and the truth about what you did and why you did it, there cannot be peace without justice, and there cannot be justice without peace, but the two is not an either or, it is both end,” he explains.