Dispatch From Kenya: Eyewitness to Unrest

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) was quick responding to violence that erupted in Kenya following the December 27 elections, but our Nairobi-based staff has also been affected by the unrest. Here are the stories of two members of our CRS family.

Kinyanjui Kaniaru

Kinyanjui Kaniaru is an engineer focused on water and sanitation. He has worked for CRS for more than 13 years and has been a mentor to many agency employees. He worked with CRS’ East Africa region to help pull together a strategy for water and sanitation programs, and has helped CRS Kenya with projects across the country.

Like many Kenyans, Kinyanjui Kaniaru, known as KK to colleagues, closely followed the campaign pitting President Mwai Kibaki against challenger Raila Odinga, and participated in what seemed to be a relatively orderly vote on Dec. 27. And like many Kenyans, KK’s life has been overturned by the disorder that broke out in following days.

Much of the violence across Kenya has occurred along tribal lines – Kibaki is ethnically Kikuyu while Odinga is a Luo, and some of the fighting has followed that division. But scores of groups have engaged in violence and no tribe has been spared. KK serves as a spokesman for many Kenyans when he states directly: “I am first a Kenyan, nothing more, nothing less.”

KK’s four sisters live in the Rift Valley, not far from Eldoret town, where rioters burned down a Protestant church, killing some 50 people who had sought refuge inside. The area is an ethnically mixed community that has been one of the hottest spots before and after the election. KK’s own family serves as one tragic example of that.

Violence broke out in Eldoret – as it did in many parts of the country – on December 29, after the Kenya’s Electoral Commission announced Kibaki had won the election. That day, neighbors of KK’s sister, Florence, heard that some of the young boys from their settlement had been badly beaten – and one killed – by crazed rioters. As local men headed out to assess the situation, they saw the victim’s body, and realized it was Florence’s 24-year-old son, Tiras Githinji.

Escorted by police, Florence and her daughter went to confirm the young man’s identity, then called KK to relay the devastating news. KK has since arranged to fly his sister and other family members to Nairobi to stay with him, as they mourn Tiras’ death, together suffering the pain that many families are facing throughout the country.

George Ambayo

George Ambayo, who is from Kenya’s western Nyanza province, has been working in CRS Kenya’s finance department for more than five years. He is also a pastor who says his commitment to helping the poor in Kenya is enhanced through his work with a faith-based institution like CRS.

As violence exploded around his home in Nairobi, George Ambayo was more than 200 miles away. He had traveled to his family’s village outside Kisumu, the provincial capital of Nyanza province, with his two sons to celebrate Christmas. His wife Florence, however, had stayed in Nairobi and as tensions mounted in the post-election period, George started to grow nervous.

Ulumbi, George’s family village, is a farming community predominantly comprised of the Luo ethnic group. Many in this area supported presidential challenger Raila Odinga, who is also Luo. On voting day – December 27 – the election process seemed to be running smoothly and peacefully, with Raila taking an early lead. But as votes were tallied, the gap between Odinga and Kibaki closed, and supporters of Odinga’s party, the Orange Democratic Movement, alleged misconduct. Tensions grew, erupting into violence on December 29.

About that time, George also realized the roads to Kisumu were blocked, completely stopping him from returning to his home, and his wife.

By then, rioters were rampant in Nairobi, particularly in Kibera, the Ambayos’ neighborhood where homes are crammed closely together. A few doors down from the Ambayos, a house was set on fire and a gas cylinder inside blew up. Sparks from the explosion landed on George’s home, collapsing the delicate roof, which landed in the boys’ room and burst into flames. Neighbors quickly helped put out the fire, avoiding major damage to the rest of the house and Florence escaped unharmed.

“Thank God our boys were not in the room, and thank God that Florence was not hurt,” said George, who spoke to his wife by phone shortly after the fire was extinguished. “I advised my wife to leave the residence immediately and get to safety. The house and all our material belongings could be looted and go, but life is not replaceable.”

Florence is now staying with friends in a more secure area of Nairobi, desperately waiting to be reunited with her husband and sons. As unrest continues in western Kenya, George is still unable to travel home, though he and his boys are safe.

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One Response to “Dispatch From Kenya: Eyewitness to Unrest”

  1. Gilbert Maiyo Says:

    May the souls of our Brothers & Sisters who have lost their lives in this unfortunate tragic event rest in peace.and for all those who are suffering currently,never give up,GOD is coming,& he has already answered your prayers.

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