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No place to go

 Street News Service 23 July 2019

During the 2007 post-election violence in Kenya, some 750,000 people were displaced within their own country. Three years on, almost 400,000 have not been resettled. This is an exclusive report from the Vumilia refugee camp. (777 Words) - By Brigitta Moll


Following 2007’s post election violence, many Kenyans are living in make shift tents with no place to call home. Photos credit Brigitta Moll

Joseph Mburu is sitting on an empty plastic water canister in front of his tent. Since the post-election violence he has been living in this small shelter that is roughly ten square meters. Joseph Mburu is always waiting for donors to come and bring food or clothes, or for the government to help him rebuild a home. "There is no work for me around here. I can be glad if I get casual work from time to time", Joseph says.

The 45 year old has deep wrinkles running from his nose down to the corners of his mouth. Joseph used to be a farmer in Timboroa, 150 kilometers further north from here. He had cows and sold their milk, which enabled him to sustain his family and to send his kids to school but this was all before the post election violence. "Now I don't have enough money to always pay what the school asks me to. Right now, they want to build a new latrine, so they asked for money again". Joseph points to the eleven year old boy who is sitting a few meters away from him. It is his son Patrick who the local school teacher sent home, despite claims made by the government that school fees would be taken charge of by the state. "I usually spend my time collecting firewood or playing with my friends", Patrick explains.

Joseph gets up from his canister and slides aside the canvas cover of the entrance to his tent. The midday sun is shining high over Vumilia camp some 100 kilometers north of Nairobi. Inside the tent it is gloomy, stifling and dusty. Joseph shares this space with his wife Mary and their nine children. In the awning, the family keeps their pots and cutlery. In the main tent, blankets are spread over the ground; a wooden cot for the youngest children stands right next to the entrance. The low height of the tent does not allow walking upright.

Outside, Joseph's wife Mary is bent over a dirt bucket, washing clothes. She does not talk much. Is she going to take part in the referendum that occupies Kenya at the moment more than any other event? "No, I'm not going to vote. I don't see what should be good about voting", she says, determined. Her husband does not hesitate either. He has not even registered on the voters list.

"The last time I took part in elections, it brought me into the situation I am in now. If I vote, it will again cause me trouble." While he would consider voting if it was helping him to get out of his tent, he is convinced that voting would not change anything for him. Joseph says, most people in Vumilia camp think the same. Only Phylis, his fellow camp inhabitant who is sitting with the Mburu family in their little courtyard, tries to change his mind. Phylis is wearing sunglasses and she laughs a lot. "I went through the provisions in the draft constitution and I am going to vote, because I think it can make a difference for me", says Phylis. For her, the most convincing provisions are the guarantee of equal access to land as well as the prohibition of gender-based discrimination in land questions.

Joseph hates to depend on well wishers and the government. He wants to rebuild a home. But not in Timboroa. He and his family belong to the Kikuyu tribe, which is the biggest among Kenya's 40 different ethnic groups. After the elections in 2007, a violent group from the Kalenjin tribe looted Joseph's village. "We had to flee because these people burned down our house, and they killed seven villagers. I cannot go back to the place where my enemy is waiting." Joseph recalls that every five years, his property was destroyed in violent clashes after elections and he does not want another repeat of this. The government has so far not kept its promise to resettle them.

Meanwhile, lunch is simmering in a pot over a small fire. The Mburu's kitchen nowadays is outdoors, encircled by some sticks that are holding another plastic cover. Mary has cooked the typical Kikuyu dish Githeri. "We don't always have enough vegetables to cook. So I just make do with what I get". The government provides 40 Kilos of maize for three months. For a family of eleven, this does not meet their needs. "The children are still healthy, thank God", Mary affirms. Neighbor Phylis says she will continue to convince the Mburus to vote in the referendum. She knows, though, that the people in Vumilia have other issues to care about first.


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