How did this all happen? How was it that just a few months ago I was sitting in a swanky Nairobi bar with Daudi Were, chatting about the good life, and brainstorming ideas for an African Bloggers Conference. And now … this?
That photograph was taken in Nakuru – a smallish city in Eastern Kenya, not too far from the border with Uganda. Just as there was talk of silver linings, of moving on, Nakuru has become the newest hotspot of violence. Writes the New York Times:
Witnesses said Kikuyu gangs built roadblocks to stop police officers from entering certain neighborhoods and then burned homes and businesses belonging to two other groups, Luos and Kalenjins. Those groups sent out their young men to confront the attackers, resulting in a riot with hundreds of homes burned, dozens of shops destroyed and at least 10 people killed. Some witnesses said dozens of corpses filled the town’s morgues.
The situation had gotten so out of hand by Friday evening that the authorities imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew.
“It’s totally unsafe here,” Peter Geche, a taxi driver in Nakuru, said by telephone on Friday afternoon. “So many people have been killed by arrows.”
More than 650 people have been killed in Kenya since a disputed presidential election in December, and the latest clashes show how the violence has taken on a momentum of its own, which the authorities appear unable to stop.
The violence in Nakuru is especially upsetting for me because of personal connections. Less than four months ago, after a painful 8 hour overnight bus ride from Kamapala, I arrived to Nakuru at 5 in the morning on a Saturday. On the taxi ride from the bus station to the hotel we passed by dozens of bars and rum shops still open with temporary couples dancing lethargically.
Five hours later, after a much-needed power nap, I met up with Dennis Kimambo and Collins Ouduor – two brilliant and extremely motivated peace activists who run REPACTED, now one of Rising Voices 10 citizen media outreach projects. We drank tea together, excitedly shared our visions for how new media can help encourage community participation in Nakuru. Then they took me for a short walk around town and we visited REPACTED’s headquarters.
Dennis and Collins seemed to know everyone in town. It took us about 30 minutes to walk the few blocks back to my hotel because every few steps we ran into another one of their friends. I had the impression that everyone in the town knew everyone else.
Two weeks later I was back in Nakuru, this time with my best buds from Cali, Raman and Kevin. There was a nightclub across the street from our hotel where everyone told us not to go. And so of course we went … and had more fun than should be allowed. Around three in the morning we were standing outside in a long and meaningful conversation with a guy in his 40’s or 50’s whose son was studying in the U.S. Ohio I think it was.
I wonder what his son is thinking now. Stuck in the United States while his hometown is on fire.
I have yet to hear from Dennis or Collins, but checking in on the REPACTED weblog, I see that Collins has written a post titled “THE DEVIL ON THE CROSS” which gives some more context about the complicated situation which has led to the ethnic clashes in Nakuru and throughout Kenya. It’s a huge relief to know that they are OK.
To stay up to date on the latest that is happening in Nakuru and Kenya, make sure to keep your eyes on Ushahidi, a SMS violence reporting portal developed by Kenyan bloggers based in Kenya and the US.
Beyond staying informed, it’s time to donate to help the many who have been displaced by violence.
Global Voices friend and colleague Juliana Rotich lets us know that we can directly help displaced Kenyans via the online donation portal at MamaMikes. Just like Georgia, I too used MamaMikes to easily and quickly make a second $50 donation. I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I’ve spent more than $50 just to go out to dinner. Here’s what that $50 is getting this time:
I don’t mean to get preachy. But I really hope you take the time to donate now.
Finally, two audio excerpts from BBC’s The World featuring my friends Juliana Rotich and Daudi Were: