Beatrice Kaluku first heard the wails and then saw the huge fire ball that was fast spreading to the shacks towards her house.
Instinctively, she knew that it was time to run. Waking up her children, the 45 year old single mother then joined the great trek with the rest of the dwellers of Nairobi’s Mathare Slums. There was no time to salvage anything, giving the phrase escaping by the skin of the teeth a whole new meaning.
“We had heard rumours that there were people who were planning to wreak havoc but we did not know that the grapevine would be proved right. I thank God that I escaped with my children but now am worried because even if I go back home there is nothing to go to,” she says.
According to Beatrice, immediately families fled their shacks, looters went to work, stripping the sparsely furnished houses of any valuable they could lay their hands on. And in Mathare valuables include anything from pieces of torn clothes, to leaking utensils and furniture that has seen the best of times.
Like many of her former neighbours, Beatrice is camped at the local church, still afraid of going back to what used to be home. She is one of the hundreds of victims of gang warfare that broke out in Kenya’s second largest slum.
The fight that pitted members of an outlawed religious sect, ‘Mungiki’ against the ‘Taliban’ vigilante group saw scores killed and property of yet to be determined value destroyed. Uneasy calm has since returned to the area although many, like Beatrice, are still apprehensive.
This week, brushing aside warnings about her personal safety, UN HABITAT Executive Director Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka visited the victims and offered her condolences to those who lost loved ones as well as those who fell victim to the clash. She congratulated them for surmounting the difficult phase of their lives and picking the pieces of their lives.
“It is due to your resilience that we are able to come and visit you here. Let the past be and focus on your future,” Mrs. Tibaijuka who was accompanied by the UNIFEM Regional Programme Director, Mrs. Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda said. Most of the victims who spoke to Mrs. Tibaijuka said their biggest problem so far was medicine and blankets. “We are now camping out in the open and at night it gets very cold,” 11 year old schoolgirl Sharon Achieng told the UN team.
Mrs. Tibaijuka said she was concerned because UN-HABITAT was involved in activities in Mathare especially with the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA). She offered a donation of US dollars 50,000 which the youth group will put into helping some of the people rebuild their homes and lives.