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Much of this work was originally produced for UNICEF

“They are coming to kill us”

At the start of 2008, Kenya was in the grip of its worst crisis since independence. The violence following the December 2007 election was unprecedented. By the time a power sharing deal was struck on 28 February 2008, approximately 1,500 Kenyans had been killed, over 400,000 displaced and unknown numbers of women and children had been abused, exploited and raped. In the midst of the upheaval, hundreds of children became separated from their families – some recruited by orphanages without appropriate registration. Hundreds more children were left to fend for themselves in camps or lodgings so that they could continue their education while their parents searched for a place to resettle. Property worth millions of shillings was destroyed including schools, health facilities and water supply systems. UNICEF Kenya communication team members, Julie Mwabe and Juliet Otieno, interviewed children affected by the violence. Their verbatim stories were published in local and international media and shone a powerful spotlight on the impact of the conflict on children. (Photos by George McBean)

Paul, 8 years, Eldoret “ My father came running into the house and screamed that ‘they’ were coming to kill us. I did not know who ‘they’ were and when I asked my father he said that it was because we were from the ‘ [name withheld] tribe. My father led the way as my siblings and I ran after him towards St. Pauls church that was nearby. We did not even have time to collect any of our belongings. That night we slept inside the church which was slowly getting filled up by other families who had run away. The next morning we woke up early to go see if our house was still there but found that it had been completely burnt. We lost everything. I feel lucky that none of my family members was in the house when the bad people came. But we now have no home to go back to and I don’t even have school uniform to go to school with.”           

Ezekiel, 18 Years, Eldoret  “I remember that before the Elections I was very excited about voting. I had attended every single political rally in my area and could not wait to vote since this was going to be my first time. Of cause we would always joke with my friends that my choice of presidential candidate would win but I never thought things would end the way they did. My friends and I woke up at 6am to cast our votes that morning and by the time the results began being announced we were still friends. As soon as the President was announced as the winner all hell broke lose. My so-called friends came to my house with ‘ pangas’ clearly ready to kill me. It is by Gods grace that I managed to dodge them and ran to this church. I saw my neighbor who we had grown up together lead the group of attackers. They burnt our house down and even killed another boy who was in the same circle of friends as me. We were promised change and a better life? Is this it? I will never vote in my life again!”

Anne, 14 years, Eldoret  “I am just shocked by the level of hatred that exists in this country. I have never seen so much bloodshed in my life. These people did not care whether you were a man, woman or child. When we were escaping to the church we saw a man slashing an old woman together with her grandchild right in front of my eyes. I have been unable to sleep as I keep having nightmares of that particular scene. I haven’t seen my father or my elder brothers since the day the election results were announced. The church is so crowded now and even here we know that we are not safe. I heard that a church nearby was burnt with the people who had taken refuge in it. I don’t know when things will go back to normal or if they ever will. Our leaders need to do something about it. They can stop this from happening. How many more people must die like this. The sad thing is all us poor people are losing our lives while our rich leaders who have caused all this don’t seem to be moved”

John, 16 Years, Eldoret  “My father was killed by the neighbour right in front of my eyes. He only spared me because his son is my friend. I do not even want to talk about this anymore. I am tired of life.  I am cold and hungry and no one seem to care. Every time food is brought here people fight for it and I hardly eat. I wish there were no elections”

Faith, 15 Years, Eldoret “As soon as the results started being announced we knew we were winning. There was no doubt about it. My mother is from the [name withheld] tribe but my father is a [name of tribe withheld]. As soon as Kibaki was declared the winner, we heard loud knocks on our door. A rowdy mob broke down our door and began beating us up! They even beat my 6 year old brother who had nothing to do with anything. They asked us to leave and never come back to the area..burning our house which we had lived in since I was born. They never even asked who we supported, they just assumed we were Pro Kibaki which we are not. I am so bitter and angry. I have nothing left. You hear this happening to other countries like Sudan but never imagine it could happen in Kenya. Our leaders have let us down. If I could I would run away from this country and never look back.”

Jane, 13 Years, Eldoret  “ My father is in the hospital fighting for his life. I don’t even know if it is safe enough to see him. The rioters came into his shop and stole everything and set it on fire. He was cut up on the head with ‘pangas’ and left for the dead together with the shop assistant who died. One of my father’s friends called my mother to tell her what had happened because we were at home at the time. When we went to see my father he was in a pool of blood and was unconscious. We managed to get a car and rushed him to the hospital who admitted him. My mother is staying with him but my sisters and I are staying at the church since it is not safe to go back home. We have not been getting much to eat and it is very cold at night. This should never have happened. I don’t think I will make it to school on Monday. This is my final year of primary school and was hoping to study hard so that I make it to a national secondary school. Now I just do not know when this will happen.”

Mary, 26 Years, Kibera, Nairobi “I live in in Kibera with my two children aged seven and five. My village is predominantly [name of tribe withheld] When President Kibaki was announced and sworn in, some people in the area went out into the streets and started shouting, ‘No Raila, No peace’. They started knocking on doors of certain homes and throwing people out to the street. They were using machetes and wooden planks to beat them. There was an old grandmother who lived near me with her grandchildren. When they came to her home she refused to leave. Her grandchildren ran away and she was beaten and died in hospital later. I packed my things and ran to Jamhuri park before they got to my house. I still have my neighbours, and we have no choice but to live together. I cannot say they are all bad people. I am just waiting to see what happens when Kibaki and Raila are supposed to meet. Those two need to agree on something, because it is us, the people, who are paying for what happened. If they remain silent, this will not change,”

Salome, 20 Years, Jamhuri Park, Nairobi “I am an orphan staying at Jamhuri Park. I ended up at the park after people of the same tribe as me drove me out of my single room home, because it was owned by [name of tribe withheld], just before they set it on fire using petrol. Life at the Park, with all the tribes here is quite difficult. The people there call each other names; they blame each other. Sometimes the food is cooked at the Park and we do not get any, sometimes we even miss out on the relief that is brought. All we have are our few belongings, a single blanket, which is for lying on and covering yourself too. I don’t know when all this will change for the better, I just want my life back,”

Martin, 23 Years, Jamhuri Park, Nairobi  “I lived in Kibera with my 22 year old brother. We ran a small business selling second hand clothes. The day the election results were announced, I was driven out of my home by my neighbours, after which it was set ablaze. I lost my home and my business in that single incident. I cannot go back to Kibera now, they are just waiting for us and they will kill us for sure,”    

Joshua, 7 Years, Displaced in Jamuhuri Park, Nairobi  “I have been told by my mother that I can not to go home because it is unsafe. I want to go to school where they give us food”

James 9, Displaced in Jamuhuri Park, Nairobi “I have not seen my father since I came here. My mother says he is far away working. I know he has died. I saw them beat him to the ground with ‘Rungus’. He was screaming and asking them to let him go but they kept beating him until he went quiet. My mother took my sisters and I and we ran to our auntie’s house where we stayed for a few days. My auntie said she could not let us stay any longer because her house was too small and she was scared they would come and look for us there. She said she knew someone who would bring us here and he brought us here in his pick up.”

David 7, Displaced in Jamuhuri Park, Nairobi “ The men in green clothes entered our house and asked me if I was a [tribe name withheld]. My dad said those people wanted to kill us. I saw them throw a big ball into my friend O-----’s house who lived next door then I saw a lot of fire. We ran and ran and ran. I want to go to school next week to tell my teacher Anne about what happened. I think she will be mad at me because I do not know where my uniform and books are.”

Austin, 9, Displaced in Jamuhuri Park, Nairobi “ We had already gone to sleep when all the noise started. My mother came into where my sister and I were sleeping screaming ‘Wake Up! Wake Up! They are killing Us!’ Then I heard loud noises inside the house. I think it was a gun. The men that came into our house grabbed my mother and started beating her up. They told her that if she did not give them any money they were gong to hurt her. They even pulled her hair and one of the men remained with some of her hair on his hands. I do not think my mother had any money to give them because all the men continued beating her and hurting her. I have never seen my mother cry that much. My Uncle came with some of his friends and rescued us then we came here with my sister.”

Ken 10, Displaced in Jamuhuri Park, Nairobi “I came here with my mother. She said we had to leave because it was dangerous. We left my father in Kericho. He said he could not come because he was fighting for our land that someone else wanted to take and that we would not have somewhere to stay if he let it happen.  He always walks around with a panga these days. He has friends who my mother says are bad people who burn people’s houses and steal from shops but I know my father is a good man because he always takes me to school on his bike. I need to go to school on Monday. I think all the children here will go back to their homes tomorrow because school is about to open.”

Fridah  8, Displaced in Jamuhuri Park, Nairobi “ Its because I am a [name of tribe withheld] that’s why they burnt our house….Now my little brother Ken and I have no where to stay. I have to go to school on Monday. My teacher does not like us missing school.”

Naomi 9, Displaced in Jamuhuri Park, Nairobi My father came to the house and said these people cut off peoples heads and that they were looking for 1000 heads. He said that if we did not leave immediately mine would be one of them. I just want things to go back to normal. I miss playing with my friends. I do not like living here because it is so cold at night and when I am hungry I never have food to eat. I do not even like going to the toilet because everyone is there and they are all smelling very much. I want to go home and I want to go back to school.”

Francis, aged 32 “Yesterday I went back to see if my old home was still there and available and it was. I decided to spend the night there and this morning, as I was leaving to return to the camp for my things, I was attacked by a group of youth from the neighbourhood. They took the Ksh3,000 that I had kept to enable me to start a small business once I was out of Jamhuri. They cut me with a panga on my face. I ran and came back here, but I will not go back to Kibera again. I don’t know what to do for now, I will eventually go to my rural home.”

Beatrice, 23, “I took off from Kibera with my daughter. I will live with relatives in Dagoretti until I can find something to do and to get enough money to go back to Kisumu. Jamhuri was the only place we could stay at but now we have been told we have to leave. They tell us they will give us enough food for a month but some people left here this morning with nothing. How do they expect us to survive out there?”

Teresia, 27 “ I have lived at the camp with my four children and this morning I went back to Kibera to see if my house was vacant. It was, but when I came back to get my children, I was denied entry into the camp. I had to show them my card to prove that I had been in here otherwise they would not have let me come in to take my children. I am afraid of going back, because those young men who drove us out are still there, but we just do not have any other place to go. We have heard stories of people who went back yesterday and were attacked again, how can we be sure it will be any different with us?”

Ronald and Roselyn  “Together with our two children we have lived in Kibera for many years. We came to the showground on December 31 2007 as soon as the fighting began. My wife Roselyn is 9 months pregnant with our third child and was due last weekend. For this reason I cannot even think of going all the way to our rural home back to Kisii as advised by the officials here. Our home is still in Kibera, nobody has occupied it forcefully. But our neighbours are still there, the same people who made us run in the first place. I think it is only in Kisii that we will have any peace but my wife will not make it now. We will go and live with my brother first, still in Kibera, then after the baby is born we can all go home.”

Alice, 40 “I have six children and was forcefully evicted from my home in Kibera. I will first go and live with my sister in Kawangware then I will look for my own house. I have no money, my income came from a fish business I had, but I lost everything that day. I will have to wait a while and do something for money before I can rent my own place.”

Jane, 20 “ I saw my house go up in flames. I have been here with my three children for the last 3 weeks. I cannot go back to my rural home because when I got pregnant they kicked me out and said they never wanted to see again. I haven’t seen them since then. How do I go back there with my 3 children? I am a single mother. Where do I go? What will happen to me? They treat us like we are not human beings. Like we have no feelings. It is not easy. It was not our fault.”

Charles, 40. I am very upset at what is going on. I was not a poor man. I had a shop in Kibera and was successful. I even had my children in good schools. I supported myself and those close to me. Look at me now, I am a refugee. I went back to check on my house but the same people who attacked me are still there. How can I move back there? So that I am Killed?  The government is treating us like we are nothing. We are the ones who voted for them. Look how they treat us”