By: VINCENT ACHUKA
Along the banks of Nairobi River at the sprawling Huruma slum, two villages with distinct names lie side by side.
Othaya and Bondo are the home bases of former President Mwai Kibaki and Cord leader Raila Odinga — who were bitter rivals during the disputed 2007 presidential election.
They are also the names of two villages in Huruma settled primarily by members of the ethnic groups of the two long-time political rivals.
Here, the suspicion and mistrust that erupted into violence after the 2007 election is still evident.
Othaya is predominantly occupied by the Kikuyu community while the Luo community fills most of the mud, sticks and rusty iron sheet shanties that dot Bondo village like a permanent reminder of a time when the country was nearly torn apart.
A narrow dirt road with randomly occurring shallow trenches flowing with sewer water and kiosks acts as a boundary.
Peter Gitari, who moved from Kijiji cha Chewa in the neighbouring Mathare 4A to the area in 2008, says he feels safer on the Othaya side of the boundary.
“It is not that we are not friends. People who live on this side enjoy good relations with people on the other side but I don’t think anyone will be willing to live in an area where their people are not present,” he says.
LEARNT THEIR LESSON
He adds: “It is common sense. Everyone who was around here in 2007 saw what happened and learnt their lesson that it is safer when you live among people from your community than in isolation where you never know what may happen.”
In early January 2008, the majority of houses at Kijiji Cha Chewa were razed. Mr Gitari and his neighbours camped outside the Moi Airbase for several weeks.
“When the peace deal was signed, I could not go back to Mathare for fear of reprisal attacks. Very few people went back,” he says.
Close to nine years after Kenya witnessed the worst bout of post-election violence in its history, the country appears to have moved forward and even held a peaceful poll in 2013.
In the slums of Nairobi, however, the re-organisation of settlement patterns along ethnic lines that took place during the violence appears to have only become more deeply entrenched.
In Kibera, each of the 13 villages that make up the slum is synonymous with a particular ethnic group.
Gatwekera, Raila, Soweto West, Kisumu Ndogo and Kianda are predominantly Luo-occupied villages.
The Kisii are dominant in Kianda, the Kikuyu in Laini Saba and the Kamba in Lindi. Within Silanga, the Luhya dominate while the Nubians primarily occupy Makina, Kambi Muru, Mashimoni and Kichinjio.
The situation is similar in Dandora where Dandora Phase 4 is predominantly occupied by the Luo community, and in Kawangware where the Luhya mostly live in 46 Area. Congolese immigrants are to be found in a section dubbed Congo.
Patrick Magero, a conflict and peace studies lecturer at the United States International University (USIU), says the violence sharpened the survival instincts of residents of the low income settlements.
“Unlike the rich whose social network is determined by their tastes and aspirations, the poor rely on their kinship networks as they are constantly fighting for survival on a daily basis.
“This was heightened during the violence when they realised the need for safety in numbers,” he says.
Mr Magero argues that the situation benefits politicians who exploit ethnic divisions at election time.
“With the political rhetoric that we are having, people are continuously mobilising into tribal outfits.
“And remember that no one is still sure whether the 2007 violence was planned or spontaneous, similar to the 2013 election where one part of the population believes it was rigged,” he says.
He cautions: “If you keep in mind that over 60 per cent of Nairobi lives in informal settlements and you have a situation where social mobilisation for civil disorder like rent non-payment, demonstrations or criminal activities can be done in a matter of minutes, the country is sitting on a time bomb.”
Matters are made worse in areas such as Kibera where a number of residents who were tenants before the post-election violence assumed ownership of the houses they live in after the landlords were chased away.
Some of the landlords who have attempted to come back to collect rent have been threatened or assaulted.
In April last year, Mr Joseph Ngige was roughed up by his tenants when he went to collect rent for his houses in Gatwekera after not doing so for five years.
Mr Ngige thought that with the election of a new government the tension that characterised the slum had gone away, but he was wrong.
One of the tenants had installed new tenants in some of his 30 houses and had started collecting money from them.
“He rained blows on me and told me that he would burn my houses to the ground if I ever went back. He also threatened to kill me,” he says.
“In addition, many tenants had moved houses and sublet them to their friends who did not even know me. I reported the matter to the chief, Sarang’ombe ward, but he was not helpful.”
Gatwekera, which comes from the Kikuyu word “Gutuikiria,” which means to pass through, was initially predominantly occupied by members of the Kikuyu community up to the early 2000s.
For this reason, a majority of houses in the area are owned by them.
However, as a result of the violence, the landlords, out of fear for their lives, fled and some residents are now living rent-free.
Vigilante groups too that emerged during the violence have in the past nine years grown into fully fledged gangs that control these balkanised areas.
They too have taken an ethnic dimension, control specific areas marked by ethnic boundaries and are used to safeguard political interests.
In Kibera, the Siafu only control Gatwekera while Mungiki control Laini Saba. In Korogocho, the Taliban control Highridge area mostly occupied by the Borana. Likewise, in Kawangware the Bakongo vigilante group controls Congo area.
The gangs not only control their areas but look after the interests of their communities, often leading to violent clashes.
On December 28, 2012 over 50 houses were razed in Mathare, sparking a large police operation in the area that locked down the slum for days.
The then police chief, Moses Ombati, said a gang from another section of the slum that burnt the houses was retaliating following a series of stabbing incidents.
Even more recently, the Siafu gang torched a toilet and vandalised a clinic in Gatwekera, Kibera, which had been put up as part of the ongoing slum upgrading projects by the National Youth Service following revelations of corruption in the Ministry of Devolution. Although both Jubilee and Cord coalitions condemned the actions, the gang is thought to have been politically aligned.
The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), though agreeing that the situation is dangerous, says there is little it can do to change it.
“It has to be broken but it is not a question of waking up and saying you guys you need to intermingle. There has to be a change in attitude,” says NCIC chair Francis ole Kaparo.
“We have conditioned ourselves that in order to find security you have to stay with your tribe.
“But there is nothing, as a commission, that we can do. If there is anything that can be done, it should start with the politicians because we cannot dictate.”