Damaris and Nancy were friends and neighbours in Nairobi’s Mathare slum before Kenya was plunged into a post-election crisis in late December 2007. They have remained friends despite their different ethnic backgrounds and are now among hundreds of people internally displaced at the Huruma chief’s camp near Mathare.
Nancy Wanjiru is a Kikuyu while Damaris Angulu is Luhya. Their communities took opposing stands in the aftermath of the general elections held on 27 December.
“When I reached the Air Force compound on 3 January after our home was looted and burnt, it was Damaris who welcomed me, she shared her mattress with me,” Wanjiru told IRIN on 27 February. “Since we were moved to the Huruma chief’s camp, Damaris has been there for me, she is like my mother.”
Their friendship illustrates how ethnicity has ceased to be a key issue in the face of hardship.
“We are all suffering together now; there is no going back to our homes, we have no future plans, we are just stranded here,” Angulu said. “We get along with Nancy because we lived together previously as Kenyans and there is no reason to stop now. Moreover, Kikuyu and Luhya are both Bantu, we see no reason for animosity, plus we also love other Kenyans who are not from our communities.”
Angulu moved her five children to her “ancestral” home in the western region of Kakamega when the violence spread to her neighbourhood in Mathare. She lost everything to looters, and says she has no way of knowing how are children are faring.
“I am an orphan and I separated from my husband more than 10 years ago; now I don’t know how I will fend for my children who are not in school any more,” she said.
In Wanjiru’s case, those who attacked their home and shop in Mathare were both Kikuyu and Luo. She thinks the conflict has more to do with crime and poverty more than ethnicity.
“These people are just thieves; they are people who don’t work, they are always idle and I think they attacked my family because my husband had a shop,” Wanjiru said. “But I have forgiven them, I am a Christian. In fact I went back to where we used to live and I saw the people who attacked my husband; they were very surprised when I told them that I had forgiven them.”
Wanjiru and Angulu now share the little relief aid they receive at the IDP camp and vow to remain friends despite the odds.
“When they distribute milk, we let the children have it in their porridge, when we receive unga [maize flour] we talk about how to share it, who will cook and where to get vegetables,” Angulu said. “Often the aid we get is cooking oil, flour and clothes; we don’t get kerosene, vegetables or cooking stoves. Where are we expected to find these things yet we do not have any money?”
Two months into the year, with the political crisis increasingly taking ethnic dimensions, the IDP camp at Huruma is defying ethnic divisions.
“We have people from different ethnic communities here; we have Kikuyu, Kamba, Luhya, Luo and Teso; we also have people of all ages and they are all living together without any tension,” Godfrey Ngugi, an IDP and coordinator of the camp, told IRIN.
Ngugi, who was a butcher in Mathare before the violence, said the IDPs’ future was more important than their ethnicity.
“All these people would be willing to go back to their homes if there was peace and if they had the means to restart their lives,” he said.
Lilian Njeri, 26, who was a petty trader before the violence, said life as an IDP was hard but people had put aside ethnic tensions because “we are all suffering”.
“My husband, who was killed in early December as he went to work, was Luhya, so my son is Luhya yet I am a Kikuyu,” she said. “Although the majority here are Kikuyu, we are all just living together; those from other tribes who are here did not like what happened in our homes and we are all hoping we will not remain here for long.”
Njeri said she was not planning on returning to her home in Mathare because the Mungiki and Taliban militia groups were still active there.
“The Mungiki and the Taliban have made our lives hell, I’d rather go to another estate and get help to start another business than go back to where I used to live,” she said.