Wounds yet to heal in Kenyan slum

May 19, 2010 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, May 19 – It’s a cold, wet morning and I am in Kibera’s Ayany area. After the previous night’s heavy downpour, getting to Jane’s house was definitely not easy.

Walking down a slippery and muddy path was however worthwhile after I spotted 74-year-old Jane.

She’s seated outside her small makeshift structure holding her granddaughter, desperation and helplessness clearly painted on her old wrinkled face.

But the sight of visitors draws a smile.

Jane was once a self-reliant landlady who worked hard to maintain her houses and collect rent in Kibera.

But today, she is helpless with extra responsibilities after her neighbours forcibly took over her houses during the 2008 post-election violence.

“When the president was declared, they rioted all over the place.  At 1pm, some came to my plot. They were armed with knives, machetes and clubs,” Jane says as she recalls the happenings of that cursed day.

A group of young men locked her in a room. Then there was an argument whether to kill her or not.

“They blindfolded me.  My hands were tightly held back, and one was swinging a machete on my neck. They took all my money.  What I had hidden in the house and even what I was carrying in a pouch under my dress,” she explains.

Jane invited danger when she made it known she had recognised one of her attackers.

“I thought he would sympathise with me, so I called out his name. Little did I know I was inviting more trouble. They wanted to kill me,” she explains and can now manage to laugh about it.

By the feel of the grip and sharp machete on her neck, she gave up and was very sure it was her last day on earth.

Luckily, one man who was part of the gang saved her life, “Why do you want to kill her yet she is not the president’s relative?” he wondered.  After engaging in another argument, they decided to leave her but steal everything in her house.

Sadly, she lost contact with her son and daughter who were in a different house nearby.  She was left behind with her granddaughter who was not even a year old at the time. To date she has not traced her son and daughter.

Jane’s life is not different from the lives of 1,349 other people who lost their houses and homes in Kibera.

Internally Displaced Persons Coordinator (Langata Constituency) Rev David Mugando says this group meets every Wednesday to share their experiences, encourage one another and try to seek help from well-wishers to help them re-build or reclaim their houses.

“There is a serious problem here.  It is too dangerous, and some people continue to occupy people’s houses and refuse to pay rent; the leadership is continuing as if there is nothing wrong with this,” he says.

Before the attack, the church had constructed a house for her in her compound where she owns more houses. She however does not collect any rent from the block with about six houses. The occupants have refused to pay her since December 2007.

“Sometimes they pass near my house. They insult me. They call me a dog. They use the things they stole from me. I see them wearing my clothes, washing my beddings and hanging them outside here for me to see, probably to show me how strong they are,” she explains.

Rev Muganda is also blaming the local leadership for worsening the landlord-tenancy dispute. He says local leaders in their campaigns during elections promised to ensure the residents don’t pay rent when they elect them.

“They come here and say, ‘mkinichagua hakuna kulipa rent tena’. (If you elect me, you will not pay rent anymore),” he says.

When International Criminal Court Prosecutor Moreno Ocampo visited the country early this month, these victims were happy that justice would soon be delivered.

“Yes, it is very good he came to see us. My neighbours are not bad, those in charge are the ones to be blamed.  They have failed to implement the law, because they should have been in control, burning houses is not legal, killing people is not legal, why did they accept this to go on? Ocampo should take those in charge, but even those who did these things to us should also be punished,” explains Jane.

Forgiveness sounds very holy and Godly, but not for Jane, “Who am I forgiving, for you to forgive someone, they must come and apologise, so I cannot say I have forgiven anyone, I am very bitter, I am old and I am taking care of this little angel,” she says holding her granddaughter who is now two years old.

As I leave Jane’s single-roomed house, I wonder how long the government will require or when it will think of restoring peace and fully re-settle people.

Victims of the violence are yet to see the President or the Prime Minister who is the area MP try and resolve the housing dilemma.


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