NAIROBI, Kenya- What would you do if your house were simply stolen? For many in Kenya, displaced by tribal clashes that began after contested presidential elections in December, the answer is simply to find another one.
That is what Anglican pastor Simon Peter Waiti had to do. Waiti's house in Kibera, a slum area of Nairobi where he ministered to needy children, was stolen when a member of the Luo tribe broke into the house during the onset of violence following the elections. Most Kibera homes are simple padlocked structures of timber and metal, and in the break-in Waiti lost most of his belongings: clothes, household items, and his brand-new college diploma. He has found a home in a calmer part of Nairobi to wait out the clashes. Four years ago, Waiti, known in Kibera as "Pastor Simon," never dreamed of living, working, or ministering in Kibera. Now he can only dream of returning.
Over a month after presidential elections allegedly handed power back to incumbent president Mwai Kibaki, Kenya's post-election violence has yet to subside. Having met police resistance in the larger towns and cities, gangs of boys burning and looting have turned their sights on the small towns and rural areas (see below).
Rallies called by the opposition party followed by prayer services for those killed, over 850, have led to even more violence as gangs throughout the country set up roadblocks, engaged police in street fights, and continued to burn buildings.
After meeting with a negotiation team headed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, opposition leader Raila Odinga, who has challenged the election results, called off yet another rally. On Jan. 24 Annan brought together for the first time Kabaki (a Kikuyu) and Odinga (a Luo) in an effort to end the violence and rebuild the government.
That could pave the way for Waiti's return to the slums. After years of living in Kibera and directing children's ministries at four of the slum's small Anglican churches, Waiti's ministry has a simple philosophy: "If you have to change Kibera, then invest in children and they will do it themselves." Before the elections he ran Sunday school classes and had scheduled weekday classes for children as well as parenting classes on discipline versus abuse, communication, and living in Kibera's crowded quarters, where water and electricity are nearly nonexistent, and communal at best. The election violence has changed all that, forcing him to indefinitely postpone classes and, like many church leaders and faith-based groups working in Kibera, rethink his mission.
Waiti, 28, has been warned by his friends not to enter Kibera for at least a month. They are afraid he will be beaten or killed. Such warnings have not dampened the spirit of a soft-spoken, diminutive man more likely before the unrest to be found jumping rope with Kibera's youngest children than playing soccer with its oldest. "I'll still keep on ministering to those children despite the fact that I will be a marked person. People know us, there are people in churches who betray us at times, and they hand you over to the hooligans. I'm not ready to quit because there are over 100 children looking unto what God has put in me and they are really in need. I'm not giving up. I'm heading for battle."
Kibera in many ways remains ground zero in the post-election violence. The largest of Kenya's informal settlements, known as slums, it has representatives from most of Kenya's major ethnic groups. Too many of its young men are idle, unemployed, easily stirred, and eager to show off their strength and to fight for any cause. The disputed election gave them an excuse to loot, burn, plunder, and fight not only other tribes but also the police.
It is the women and children from both communities who suffer the most. Many have fled their homes, taking refuge in a fairground outside Kibera, while those who remain struggle to find food and other necessities. The youths burned and looted many shops, homes, and churches, leaving the people to rely on aid from the Red Cross and NGOs.
For Colorado-based Compassion International, a child sponsorship ministry, all three of its projects in Kibera are crippled. Compassion assists over 890 children who come from all tribal backgrounds, according to country director Sidney Muisyo, and its facilities were burned and looted in the violence. Muisyo said the projects had accepted children from any tribe ("poverty does not discriminate") but now that tribal identity has become a volatile issue in Kibera, Compassion must reassess ways to address tribal sensitivities as it reopens its programs.
For now, he said, "Some children might move away; some may not be able to attend our child development programs until the areas they are in are completely settled in terms of security; [other] children will have challenges in terms of clothing, food, beddings, and school necessities. The organization also will have to rebuild its affected centers."
In many parts of Kibera nothing remains but ash and charred debris. Long buried tribal animosities, raised again by the disputed election results, have boiled over. Kenyans no longer trust each other and they have separated themselves according to tribe even in the refugee shelters, according to other church leaders working there. The tribal boundaries of Kibera are more clearly defined than before, and crossing those boundaries has life-or-death consequences.
After Waiti applied to the school of theology at nondenominational Carlile College in Nairobi in hopes of becoming a missionary, he was dismayed at first to learn that "urban ministry" was the only missions course available. As part of the course, students had to integrate into one of Nairobi's slums, and the school placed him in Kibera, found a house for him, and guided him in choosing and developing his ministry. "I cried. I hated myself," he now admits of his early assignment days. He knew nothing about survival in Kibera, with its tight rutted dirt lanes and ubiquitous impoverishment. With no choice but to adjust, he soon was eating food cooked in filthy conditions, walking through paths flooded with sewage, and studying by kerosene lamp. And learning to love its children.
Waiti in the month since violence began has been able to make only a brief visit to Kibera, seeing the wreckage from inside a car. His voice quivers at the mention of one familiar market area known as Olympic: "That road is flat. All those shops are flat." He expected to feel the tension, he said, but he did not expect such widespread devastation.
Waiti plans to be cautious when he returns to Kibera, and he knows he will no longer be able to enter certain areas. He also knows he must change his priorities. The greatest need for the children in Kibera is no longer good nutrition, he said, but it is to "train our children to be Kenyans and not Kikuyus and Luos." Until that happens, tribal tension and violence will continue.
The people of Londiani thought the worst was over. Gangs of young men, numbering up to 2,000, had already burned a third of the Kikuyu homes in the surrounding villages. The Kikuyu had packed their belongings and fled. Londiani now is more refugee camp than town. Those with no place to go or money to get out camp at the police station or at Londiani's Catholic Church. Kikuyus with a place to go and a means to get there have left, many for good. Geoffrey Kariuki left even though his house is among those not burned. He found schools for his children to attend in nearby Nakuru and says he "won't go back [to Londiani] for three or more months." Asked if other Kikuyu will return, he hesitates before replying, "It's too hard to forgive and forget." Another Kikuyu, Jane Wanjiru, left with her relatives and says they have relocated-permanently-to safer places. Wanjiru's mother, however, remains in Londiani, and she worries about her.
Nearly a month after elections and with the worst violence over, tension is high. Schools have not reopened and few people travel the roads. On the night of Jan. 19, following days of calm, houses on the edge of Londiani were suddenly torched and burned when soldiers protecting the refugees moved on to other areas. At least 10 houses burned while Kikuyu families at the nearby Forestry College, all hoping for a way to escape to a safer location, received threats: They would be the next victims.