Exposed: Politicians lit fires of war in Kawangware
Kawangware is angry. So angry in fact that rowdy youths were willing to pelt rocks at a local primary school on Monday with the pupils still in it.
Heartbreaking photos of school children cowering behind police officers and journalists as they tried to escape tear gas and flying stones made the headlines, but the violence following Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i’s visit to Gatina Primary School only tells part of the story.
The past few days have seen Kawangware, usually peaceful and quiet, break out in sporadic but fierce violence that has threatened to rip it apart along ethno-political lines.
Ten people have died, and tens of others injured, since the repeat poll last week. They are the unfortunate victims of clashes between youth groups from both sides of the political divide. Others have lost what they say is their life’s work to looters.
THEY TOOK EVERYTHING
Mr Samuel Mariga is a man who has lost everything for the second time round. The 34-year-old businessman watched his grocery shop go up in flames during the 2007/08 post-election violence, and two days ago, his makeshift café at the Kawangware 46 bus stop was raided by rowdy youths and looted. They took everything, including the food cooking on the stoves and the stoves themselves.
Mariga was caught up in the epicentre of the violence that rocked Kawangware on Friday evening, finding himself and his business smack in the middle of two rival groups, both wielding pangas and rungus, with intent to inflict as much damage as possible.
“I could see a mob of young men coming down the road from Waithaka, a predominantly Kikuyu area. On the opposite end was men from Kawangware 56, which is mostly inhabited by Luos and Luhyas. They clashed right in front of my café, and my workers and I had to flee and hide at a nearby mosque. We were scared for our lives,” he said.
Mariga is originally from Vihiga County, but has lived in Kawangware for more than 15 years and has come to love it. He got married here, and is raising his four children in the bustling neighbourhood, which teems with a cosmopolitan mix of people from all corners of the country.
He knows some of those who looted his café.
“Just before the violence broke out, one of them came up to me and said, ‘Sammy, you have gotten too comfortable here. You have stayed here for too long, and this is Kikuyu territory, not Luhya. It’s time to leave.’ But I am not about to go anywhere,” he told the Daily Nation.
In his opinion, the polarised political situation in the country is to blame for the simmering tension in Kawangware, the fires of violence stoked by self-serving politicians and business people, who, he says, have gone beyond just inciting violence, and are now arming the youth with pangas and paying them to wreak havoc in the area.
“I know these boys, they would never pay Sh300 from their own pockets to buy a panga. Someone is arming them,” he said.
Outside of the election cycles, he lives in peaceful coexistence with his neighbours. He has firm friends among the Kikuyu, his perceived ethnic rivals, and fluently speaks the language.
“We have visited each others’ rural homes in good and bad times. My Kikuyu neighbours have come to Vihiga with me to attend funerals. I have been to their homes in central Kenya for weddings. I don’t understand why we must fight,” he said.
In the Kawangware 56 area, predominantly occupied by the Luo and Luhya, Kikuyu business owners and residents are suffering the same fate as Mariga and his ilk, just a few minutes’ drive away.
A resident who refused to be named for fear of victimisation said that on the same evening that Mariga’s business was being looted, armed Nasa supporters flooded the streets and went door-to-door in Kongo area, targeting businesses and houses owned by Kikuyus, and razing many to the ground.
A two-storey bar owned by a prominent Kikuyu businesswoman was among those targeted, and its charred remains now hide behind a hastily put up iron sheet wall, protecting it from prying eyes.
“I know the owner. She has lost millions as she was unable to salvage anything from the pub. She had invested heavily in it; 10 large flat-screen TVs for football fans, a back-up generator and over two million shillings in stock alone. They also burned down around 20 rental houses belonging to her, leaving her with no source of income,” said the resident.
Kevin Osiga, a 25-year-old insurance salesman living in Kongo, witnessed some of the violence.
“On Friday evening, I saw around 30 youths from 56 arrive at Waiyaki Way supermarket. They were armed with rocks but were quickly subdued by the ones guarding the supermarket.
The youths from 56 went back and regrouped and came back in a much bigger mob and were then able to disperse the guards. They were, however, unable to break into the supermarket and turned their rage instead on nearby shops and houses, looting them before they set them on fire.
“All the targeted property belonged to Kikuyus. I saw grocery shops, a butchery, M-Pesa outlets and residential houses go up in flames. No one was hurt in the fire as people had been warned before-hand to leave,” added Osiga.
‘I MIGHT DIE’
Unlike Mariga who is determined to stay, Osiga, who has lived in Kawangware for a year, says he will leave until temperatures cool. “One of my friends has already left and I will be next. If I stay here I might die,” he said.
A little up the road from Kawangware, on the other side of Naivasha Road in Dagoretti South constituency, lies Kabiria, an area that was thrust in the limelight last year when six teenagers were murdered execution style by police officers in one of the most shocking cases of extra-judicial killings witnessed in recent years.
On Monday, the neighbourhood was smarting from incidences similar to those in Kawangware, after armed men from Waithaka and Ndonyo area raided Kabiria on Sunday night baying for blood in revenge.
Locals say some people who had been evicted by their Kikuyu landlord came back and torched the houses, prompting the youths from Waithaka and Ndonyo to respond.
According to residents, the young men were armed with pangas and threatened to conduct a door to door search to flush out Luos and Luhyas, who they said were living on their land.
‘ARMED BY POLITICIANS’
“Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja came and tried to calm them down, asking them to leave but they would not listen. They claimed that they too wanted to be armed with pangas as the Luo and Luhya youths had been armed by politicians,” said Samuel Mulera, who watched in fear from his house near the road as events unfolded.
They only left after police arrived and dispersed them.
“I fear that they will be back and fulfil their promise to flush us out. I live here with my family and I don’t feel safe but I don’t have anywhere else to go. Some of my neighbours have started moving out,” said Mulera.
All indications point towards communities bitterly divided along ethnic lines, whose rivalries have been sparked by the tribal nature of Kenya’s politics.
Old enmities that were supposed to be buried after the reconciliation efforts that followed the 2007/8 violence have once again reared their ugly heads, driving an even deeper wedge between otherwise peace loving communities who live side by side and conduct business together during less turbulent times.
“The people we reconciled with in 2008 are the same ones attacking us. This country has not healed,” said Mariga.
As Mariga’s experience shows, neighbour is willing to turn against neighbour, if the price is right.
The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, established in the wake of the 2007/08 post-election violence, was supposed to be the first step towards national healing, digging up the truth about our historical divisiveness and ushering us into a truly united country.
Its final report, presented to President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2013, ignited a national conversation on the historical injustices and human rights violations that had distilled into the post-election violence that killed 1,133 people and displaced 600,000 others.
The report found that ethnic tension, a prime driver of violence, was a relic of the divide and rule tactics favoured by the British to make their administration of Kenya easier.
This coalesced into magnification of ethnic differences and stereotypes, uneven distribution of resources, thus creating inequalities among different regions, exclusionary land distribution policies, among others.
The feeling after the release of the report was that the country was finally taking a good hard look at its past and was building a future that included everyone, ensuring that never again would Kenya burn.
One of the commission’s primary recommendations was that “alleged perpetrators of ethnic incitement and violence be investigated and prosecuted accordingly, notwithstanding their official or other status”.
Four years later, however, politicians are still spewing hate-filled remarks during political rallies with little consequence, exposing the National Cohesion and Integrity Commission (NCIC), the body charged with ensuring peaceful coexistence and integrity, for the toothless dog that it is.
Kenya imposes a million shillings fine or a jail term of three years on hate mongers, but nearly 10 years after the NCIC came into being, not one politician has been convicted of hate speech.
What Kenyans have been witness to is perennial hate mongers from both sides of the political divide becoming some sort of celebrities; they create a media frenzy every time they are charged in court over the crime, after which they are given newspaper inches to recount their nights in prison cells following arrests for hate speech.
Meanwhile, their utterances stoke simmering fires in political hotspots, leading to the outbreak of violence in traditionally volatile places such as Kawangware and other informal settlements in Nairobi.
Conflicting narratives abound about what exactly has brought trouble to Kawangware.
Many residents have fingered local politicians for the violence, saying that they have been meeting youths at night and arming them, and although police have remained mum about their investigations, local media have reported that police are pursuing the politicians as a possible lead.
By the time of going to press, efforts to reach MPs Simba Arati (Dagoretti North) and John Kiarie (Dagoretti South) were unsuccessful.