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from issue no. 01 - 2008

The account of the parish priest of one of the poorest and most densely populated areas of Nairobi

Days of death and fire in the mission of Kariobangi

by Paulino Twesigye Mondo

The account of Father Paulino Twesigye Mondo, Combonian missionary, parish priest of Holy Trinity in Kariobangi, one of the poorest and most densely populated areas of Nairobi. His testimony was received by the Superior General of the Combonians, Father Teresino Serra, who mid-way through January visited the missionary communities in Kariobangi and in the slums of the area, theatre of the first clashes that broke out the day after the presidential elections. The Combonian missionaries have been here since 1975. Presently there are five of them working in the slums of the Kenyan capital.

Clashes on the streets of Kisumu

Clashes on the streets of Kisumu

Three days after the announcement of the final count results that declared President Kibaki the winner, all hell broke loose. After hardly an hour the dispute was no longer between the PNU (Party of National Unity), led by Kibaki, and the ODM (Orange Democratic Party), the party of the opposition with Raila Odinga at its head, but between the Luo and Kikuyu ethnic groups: the Luo armed with rocks and torches, the Kikuyu with pangas (machetes) and rungus (clubs). On 1 January in the slums of Nairobi – Korogocho, Gitathuru, Kanyama, Githembe, Roundabout, Kamunde Road, Huruma, Kiamako, Ghetto, Japost – more than seventy dead were already counted, 128 houses set on fire, 123 injured by firearms, knives, machetes and rocks. Hundreds of people robbed. In this area, in the course of a few hours, seven matatu (the minibuses of the public transport company) were set on fire.
Since then survival is the rule. Many are taking advantage of the tension to steal and plunder. Young people can be seen gathered in scattered groups, everyone speaking their own dialect. The gangs demand passwords of those they come across and not to reply with the exact answer means to be robbed and killed. Hundreds of shacks have been set on fire. There are only the skeletal remains and in some there are corpses. So many incendiary bombs of petrol and kerosene have been thrown that one asks oneself where these people, who have nothing, who are the same as before the elections, found the ingredients for making them.
From the beginning of the violence we never abandoned the area. In Korogocho the mission of fellow missionaries Father Daniele Moschetti and Father Paolo Latorre lived through dramatic moments. We all stayed, sharing the little that we had: food, water, medicines, blankets and shelter. As a community, like other pastors of the area, we attempted to mediate among the various groups, convened the leaders of the other religious confessions for moments of ecumenical encounter and prayer and to take shared initiatives and we approached Caritas and the NGO for help. The lack of provisions and medicine was the first emergency. Now we must face a new one: the huge wave of the “newly wretched”. Approximately three thousand homeless families camped in front of the gates of the Missionaries of Charity. In Kariobangi there are internal refugees; in Kibera, the largest shantytown in Kenya, there are 22,500 homeless inside the slum and six thousand in the surrounding areas. They are in need of everything. The women and children are the most defenseless, because they cannot flee far away. The men, the young and the adults, have turned themselves into vigilantes and pass the nights awake waiting for the invisible enemy.

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