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Kawangware clashes lay bare latent ethnic, political tension

The violence witnessed in Kawangware 56, Nairobi, has exposed the simmering ethnic and political tensions in parts the country.

The residents, who are split between the National Super Alliance (Nasa) and the ruling Jubilee Party, feel a peace deal between leaders of the two opposing sides would help ease the tension and restore normalcy.

At the same time, the violence has been blamed on the high cost of living and class differences — landlords and shop owners on one hand and tenants on the other.

The wananchi have complained about the high cost of living and they want the government to address the issue.


In Kawangware, the government is viewed as being only interested in the consolidation of power, regardless of the cost of living.

The main ethnic groups in the area — the Luhya, the Kisii and the Luo — support Nasa and are against the Kikuyu, who are mainly in the Jubilee Party.

The potential for a conflagration such as the one seen recently has been there for a long time, just waiting to be ignited.

It was, therefore, not surprising that the October 26 repeat presidential election would provide the spark. It ignited the violence that engulfed the area only a few days after polling ended.

It was not lost on many observers that the hordes of youth who support the Opposition were not only keen to be heard, but also vented their anger on small businesses owned by members of the Kikuyu community.

Shops and market stalls were broken into, looted and set ablaze. Equity Bank, which has a presence in this area, was also targeted.


The attacks have paralysed many businesses in the area for days.

Leaflets have been dropped in various places, warning the Luo and the Luhya to leave Kawangware 56, which lies in Dagoretti North constituency.

There are fears that the conflict could spread to neighbouring areas, including Dagoretti South, Westlands and Kibra constituencies if action is not taken to ease the tension.

Supporters of Nasa, which boycotted the fresh election, has been accused of fuelling the mayhem by preventing those who wanted to vote to do so by lighting fires and pelting police officers with stones.

Most of the residents feel they are oppressed and that their situation is made worse by the police, whom they say are biased against them.


When they were attacked by a group of youth from Dagoretti South, which they overpowered on two occasions, the police moved in, and are said to have sided with the gang.

The Kawangware residents also accuse their landlords of creating the current situation by sponsoring the Dagoretti South group to attack them for being opposition sympathisers.

The violence that started on October 26 is not the first one to erupt in the area during an electioneering period. Similar violence was experienced in 2007.

For the last five days, the residents have felt the economic impact of the violence.