KENYA-UGANDA: Border Town Sets-Up Camps For Families Displaced By Poll Violence
MALABA, 3 January 2008 (IRIN) – Johnstone Kimili still does not understand why it happened as he describes the violence in western Kenya that forced him to seek refuge in neighbouring Uganda.
“I am a pastor and had gone to church that Sunday [30 December] morning. There was nothing that indicated violence would break out,” he told IRIN at a makeshift camp in the Ugandan border town of Malaba.
“The trouble broke out immediately after the results of the presidential polls were announced; everything changed within 20 minutes,” he said.
“Within minutes, my two shops had been burnt down and they took everything – even the doors and windows. I lost property worth 600,000 shillings [about US$9,000] – including the clothes I was wearing.”
Fleeing the rampaging youths, Kimili abandoned his home of 12 years in the tiny western Kenyan township of Malakisi and headed for Malaba, along with his family.
“I do not understand why they did this; we voted for Kibaki because we like him, not because we hate Luos,” he said. “Perhaps they want their land back.”
Dubbed one of Kenya’s closest-ever elections, the 27 December presidential polls ended with a controversial declared win for incumbent Mwai Kibaki, but opposition leader Raila Odinga rejected the results, triggering violence across Kenya.
Ugandan officials in Malaba said about 2,000 Kenyans had crossed into the town since the announcement of the poll result. “We have registered 778 people but about 1,000 more are staying with relatives or in hotels around this area,” George Alfred Obore said.
“We have set up two reception camps and are appealing for blankets, mosquito nets, mattresses and medicines, especially for children,” he told IRIN on 2 January, ahead of a meeting with the local disaster preparedness committee. “We are still receiving people.”
The two camps were set up at St Jude and Koitangiro primary schools. At St Jude, staff from the Uganda Red Cross had been registering the displaced civilians and offering some aid. “Based on the ongoing registration, the most urgent needs have to do with sanitation, beddings and food,” local leader Joseph Okiror said.
Uganda’s Disaster Preparedness Junior Minister Musa Ecweru, who visited Malaba on 2 January, said his government was arranging food aid for the displaced Kenyans.
“We have the food; we only need to find trucks to deliver the food,” he said after an assessment meeting with local leaders. “We hope the situation normalises soon.”
Speaking to IRIN earlier in Kampala, Ecweru said his ministry was liaising with other humanitarian agencies to help the affected people.
Ugandan sources said hundreds of other displaced families were in the border town of Busia and Lwakaka area in the Mount Elgon region.
Felix Esoku, chairman of the Tororo district disaster management committee, said there were also plans to move the displaced to Tororo, 12km away from the border, if the numbers swelled to over 3,000.
Since the violence erupted, the usually bustling border town of Malaba has been quiet – just like the road from Kampala to Malaba, where traffic was very thin.
On the day Kimili fled, gunshots could be heard on the Kenyan side of the border as security officials tried to contain looters vandalising shops and grabbing property.
Police sources in Malaba said two people were killed in the skirmishes, while several others sustained injuries.
According to local border officials, there has been very little traffic from the Ugandan side to the Kenyan side since the violence broke out. There was however movement of people from Kenya to Uganda, including the displaced seeking refuge within Malaba area and dozens of families driving across the border.
Sources said the displaced in Malaba were mainly from the Kikuyu ethnic community and that scores of Asian families also crossed the border, including 500 who reached Jinja, further west of Malaba.
“The impact has been devastating for this small town,” said Moses Okware, a local resident in Malaba. “For example, hundreds of money changers used to do business on the more than 10 buses that ply the Kampala-Nairobi route daily. The buses have since stopped moving.”
Hundreds of vehicles, including trucks carrying fuel and goods to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Southern Sudan that used to cross the border daily, also temporarily stopped moving – triggering a major fuel shortage in Uganda.
“The longer it [the violence] lasts, the worse things get for us in Malaba,” Okware added.
The waiting continues
Despite assurances that they are safe, the displaced Kenyans in Malaba say the people behind the violence are still threatening them.
“One of them came into this place today; we don’t know why,” Lucy Kimanthi, an elderly lady lying on a mat in a classroom at St Jude camp said. “Why are they doing this?”
Local MP and Ugandan junior health minister, Emmanuel Otaala, met the displaced Kenyans and appealed for calm and understanding. Kenyan officials too addressed the groups, repeating similar appeals.
“The main worry for Uganda is that
|if it continues, there will be an economic crisis.|
,” a customs official at Malaba told IRIN. “It is a problem of being so landlocked. Already, it has impacted on the fuel situation in the country – which will in turn affect other sectors.”
For Kimili, the priority is for peace to return to western Kenya so he can go back and rebuild his business.
“I am just 31, so there is still life to be lived,” he said. “I want to return to work again. The politicians should reconcile their differences so that we can get on as one country.”
Meanwhile, he worries about the conditions in St Jude camp. “The Uganda Red Cross and government officials are doing their best, but sleeping on mats, poor feeding and poor sanitation is bad for the children,” he said. “This should really end.”