NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 25 – In the absence of serious national prosecutions for the crimes which took place during electoral bloodshed in Kenya six years ago, residents of a Nairobi slum are seeking redress through face-to-face meetings with perpetrators.
The gatherings are run by a local charity called the Ghetto Foundation in conjunction with a community radio station, with similar events also hosted by churches.
They aim to support efforts aimed at bringing peace and reconciliation among those living in Nairobi’s giant Mathare slum which suffered brutal attacks in late 2007 and early 2008.
The violence that erupted across Kenya followed the disputed outcome of a presidential election held on December 27, 2007. Political grievances quickly descended into ethnic conflict, leading to the death of more than 1,100 people nationwide and forcing more than 650,000 others from their homes.
No prosecutions for murder and rape in Mathare
In Mathare, which has a population of around 500,000 whole neighbourhoods were burnt down, hundreds killed or injured, and women and girls were raped.
Similar meetings to discuss the 2007-08 violence take place in neighbouring slums, but they have not been widely replicated in this format elsewhere in Kenya.
The country’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, have been charged with orchestrating the conflict and are currently facing trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. A former journalist, Joshua arap Sang, is also charged.
But very few of the thousands who committed atrocities have been prosecuted in Kenya’s national courts. The government has been heavily criticised for failing to set up a special tribunal to put mid and lower-level suspects on trial. And experts say other efforts at justice have fallen well short.
Catherine, 24, lives in a village in Mathare. During the 2008 unrest, she was on her way to collect firewood when she was beaten up by two local men whom she knew. A large scar on her face serves as a permanent reminder of the attack. As the violence spread, Catherine and her family were forced to flee their home and take shelter at a local church.
When Catherine heard about the meetings, she decided to go along.
Each event is attended by between 25 and 50 people. Participants gather in a temporary marquee, where invited speakers discuss what happened in 2008 and debate broader issues around conflict.
They use photographs and video clips to inform and prompt discussion. The participants are then given a chance to speak about their own experiences of the bloodshed. Everyone who attends is assured that nothing said at the meeting will be made public.
For Catherine, recalling what happened to her is particularly painful because she knows her attackers.
But she says that speaking out at meetings has helped her move forward from the horror of 2008.