Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Face of Eldoret Nine Months after election violence

Nine Months ago, Eldoret and many parts of Country were engulfed with the worst violence caused by the announcement of Presidential election results last December. It was horror and total agony for the inhabitants as tribe resented against tribe. Killing, maiming and destruction of property especially in Eldoret suburbs were so rampant targeting individuals of particular communities.

 Eldoret attracted a great number of International relief agencies like UNHCR, UNICEF, IOM, WFP, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and World Vision, which are perceived to be based in war torn Countries like Somalia , Sudan and with a small presence in parts of Northern Kenya, providing relief supplies to affected Kenyan Communities and Refugees from Somalia .

 Today, Eldoret town and it environs have a different hue. Residents breathe a new air although with fresh memories of what happened nine months ago when Eldoret was ghostly to even those not directly affected by the skirmishes. “It was lifeless,” says Mr. Chandresh Dodhia, of Crossroad Boutique on Oloo Street . He says the town was deserted and for some one used to interact with his customers and friends, he found it hard to cope by being remained holed in his town centre apartment.

He will only watch General Service Unit GSU personnel patrolling the streets on horse backs from the balcony of his apartment from dawn to dusk. The businessman is happy that despite Eldoret being the epicentre of the violence, there was no looting, stealing and burning in the town like in Kisumu, where his friends lost millions.

He is however optimistic that what he saw will not recur in Kenya again. Despite the prevailing normalcy nine months down the road, indivituals who are still in refugee camps in Eldoret especially the main one on Eldoret Show ground, Jasho, Kiambaa, Kemure, Kesses, Maili Nne, Kaptaget, and Huruma are encroached with various challenges.

 They says the recently resettlement campaign dubbed Operation Rudi Nyumbani (ORN) was a public relations exercise to hoodwink the public and even international community that all is well in Kenya when we are in fact suffering. “Who will want to stay under these pathetic conditions when they have a place to go”? Replied John Thairu, when I asked of the notion that some internal refugees may be sticking in the camp to attract compassion from the public, the government and well-wishers.

Those the government purports to have moved under Operation Rudi Nyumbani were resettled in camps near where their homes once stood. “How can you be moved from a refugee camp to another refugee camp and be told it’s your home?” asks Elizabeth Wairimu. “It was politics that brought us to the current state, not our mistakes.” Says Mr. Ndora,a TSC teacher at Show ground Primary School. “The current coalition government must take full responsibility to rebuild our lives to normalcy without conditions.”

 Despite all businesses remaining intact, during the reopening, some firms devised new names. For instance, Naivasha Self Service Stores operating on Nandi Street , two Kilometres from Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital , changed to Naivas Supermarket; detaching itself from Naivasha where Mungiki adherents beheaded members from other communities perceived to be anti-Kibaki during the violence. Some feel the Country should go back to the elections so that the right leader is elected.

“We were robbed victory in broad daylight by Kivuitu and Major Hussein Ali,” a newspaper vender who refused to divulge his identity says. He evokes the Police Commissioner’s presence at KICC, leaving with Mr. Kivuitu, and later announcing the Presidential results and the swearing in of President Kibaki at State House after sunset. On Kenyatta Street dubbed Eldoret Parliament, where people especially youths congregate to talk politics from sun-up to sun-down, is less crowded unlike last year during the campaigns.

The few I found on newspaper vending sites, talks about the constitutional review, current inflation, 2012 and also ODM Party deputy leadership where supporters are divided between Mudavadi and Ruto for the party position. On the current economy, many people lauds the reign of former President Moi, saying there was money in circulation. They say Kibaki’s leadership lacks the humanistic approach to the plight of the poor in Kenya .

They say the thousands of job Kibaki promised the youths in 2002 has become political fiction. Business overview in Eldoret Business people are hit by low sales characterised by the escalating inflation. Mr. Chandresh Dodhia who buys clothes from India , China and Dubai says his supplies have been shop-soiled as a result of low sells.

This has forced him to scale down the prices in order sell and recover the purchase price without making good profit. He supports Eldoret Municipal council for getting rid of hawkers from the central business district; saying they, hawkers, are a nuisance as they occupy corridors; blocking customers to his shop. However, not many business people are against a ban on hawkers from the town centre. Mr. Alex Kamau of Eldoret Mattresses says the municipality should allow them to come back. He argues that when they hawk around the town during the day, in the evening, they spend their earnings to buy from his supermarket which is a sales boost to their business.

 Most of the business people who volunteered their opinions, urges the government to reduce VAT from 16% to 10% so that it will scale down the prices of good; increasing consumers’ purchasing power and hence a boost to the country’s economy. Like most business people, many Eldoret residents decry the high prices of essential goods.

They say if the government is concerned with the plight of the poor, they should control the prices of sugar, cooking oil, petroleum and flour. Mrs. Jane Kemei who sells stationery blames the government for most of the economic woes the country is going through. “If they care about us, why not control the prices of sugar, flour, cooking oil and petroleum?” She is quick to single out the bloated cabinet crafted by Kibaki and Raila in the grand coalition government as being behind the escalating inflation. “Maintaining this government is a toll to the tax payers.” They have forgotten the men and women who fought for them during the elections and now what we see are empty talk from the two leaders.”

 As a reflection of the grave economic times the country is in, most of the people I interviewed ranging from professionals, Jua Kali artisans, students, business people and hawkers, all agree that the cost of living as gone so high making them live in misery. Although the economy is grave, a few investors are bringing up new business structures in the town. The new ultra modern building, Salama Corner on Oloo Street is an eye catching structure.

The four storeys building which is yet to be opened was constructed by Clement Bowen; a Civil engineer with Bowen Building and construction is specialized in residential, commercial buildings. His company is now working on a foundation to bring up another structure opposite Tuskys Supermarket. The owner of the upcoming building; is Mr. Mburu, who is a Kikuyu and despite the animosity, witnessed early this year between Kalenjins and Kikuyus, Mr. Bowen, a Kalenjin says Mburu gave him the job as a professional and a Kenyan irrespective of his tribe.

 “Tribalism stunts our growth as a nation and it must be rejected at all costs,” says Mr Bowen. He urges Kenyans from all spheres to emulate Mburu’s gesture. “This is a reflection of bonding that we want to see in our Country especially now that we are on the healing process after the post election violence.” Like Mr. Chandresh Dodhia, Mr. Bowen wants the government to reduce VAT to 10% so that the prices of cement, reinforcement bars and aluminium tubes can come down in order to reduce the cost of construction. He lauds President Kibaki’s move to scale down the cost of electricity as it will also reduce the cost of construction.

 He however says that the biggest challenge facing the construction industry is fluctuating economic trends. “A contractor signs an agreement with a client and immediately and shortly after, the prices of construction materials shoot up.” Mr. Bowen says that it’s a mirage to convince a client for a renegotiation and to keep yourself a float in the market, you cannot abandon the construction. He cites how the price of construction materials went up by 40% last year shortly after signing the contract to build Salama Corner. He advises the Ministry of Public works and Housing to provide structural engineers during construction of any multi-storey buildings to ensure compliance as the surest way to avoid the collapsing of buildings in the Country.

 The 24 hours operation by Nakumatt Lifestyle, Prime Chic Restaurant, and Glory Pharmacy on Oginga Odinga Street has given Eldoret a new lease of night life. However, the street doesn’t miss negativities as its how to Paradise Bar, which is associated with twilight girls who target men with fat wallets after the harvest of wheat in the Rift Valley. 

Community Integration and Harmony in Eldoret Its business as usual in Eldoret town and its environs, but when you talk to the locals, they express different opinions on community integration, tribal harmony, the election fiasco, the coalition government and the political future of the Country. “I am a Kenyan, serving customers from diverse communities including Asians,” These are the words of Owino, a street shoe shiner. He says as a Luo by tribe, he has no problems with people from other communities. On the post election violence, he says Kenyans should adopt an accommodating attitude to all people, irrespective of their tribe “I am a Luo; comfortably living and doing business in Eldoret, which is a Kalenjin land and I welcome any Kalenjin to go to Kisumu and do the same if there is an opportunity.”

 He says there is no reason why Kenyans should rise against Kenyans when we are housing many refugees from Sudan and Somalia . “Why haven’t we risen against them yet they live in our midst, enjoying our security and hospitality”? He wonders. Dr. Kebuti who is on private practice says that the violence days were very hard. It affected even professionals who provide essential services to humanity. He found it hard to have friendly chats with his patients; a norm in the medical profession. People feared what to say or comment especially when using public transportation. “It was a worst kind of life in our Country which is a democracy.”

He however beams with optimism saying things have gotten better. Shem Vilembwa, a teacher at Ngenyilel Secondary School in Kipkaren River says he doesn’t have a problem with issues of tribalism. When he was in the University eleven years a go, his best friends were outside his Luyia tribe. He gets a long with the Principal and the rest of his fellow staff who are from different communities. Mr. Obura, an evangelist, operating an IT firm says these are times for healing in the Country. He says people should come together, pray together and repent. He lauds Dr. Awor’s Ministry of National Repentance which has held crusades in many parts of the country as the surest way of mending ethnic punctures that was characterized by post election violence.

 On youths currently wasting in the dungeon as a result of the post election violence, Evangelist Obure, urges the government to set them free as a sign of reconciliation and harmonisation of the Kenyan communities. An instructor at Eldoret polytechnic says the violence that engulfed the country was caused by bad talk. He refers the Bible that warns us that the mouth can give life or death. He says that this is a wakeup call for the citizens and political leaders to use their tongue for building bridges of harmony, reconciliation and understanding. “The youth in this Country must guard their actions and not be driven by what politicians say.

ur vulnerability lies on glorifying politicians like gods and when we suffer, they are no where to be seen; just enjoying the fruits of our votes.” The bitter instructor thunders. Students at Eldoret Polytechnic who volunteered their opinions refused to divulge their identity. They say the issue of tribe will only be sorted out when some tribes will stop the mentality of belittling others; thinking they are more superior.

They are however comfortable and accommodating of each other in the Polytechnic irrespective of tribal affiliations. On the post election violence, Tarus Cheruiyot, a Newspaper vender talks bitter about last year’s elections. He says ODM was robbed the Presidency and vows that if elections are held today, the party will still carry the day. I was surprised about two small scale traders- Mr.

Tukiko Ogwena, a Luo and Wanjiru, a Kikuyu who share a small room at 64 Arcade doing tailoring and running a Salon. The two get along very well sharing rent. This reflects a high level of harmony and social integration that is worthy to emulate. “I have got no problem with tribal issues so long as you respect me. As you see, I share my business space with this lady who is a Kikuyu and we get a long very well.” says the soft spoken Ogwena who is specialized in making suits.

 Operating under one roof, they both concur that the spirit of unity and accommodating each other irrespective of tribe will move the nation forward and heal old wounds which stagnates national development. At Sosiani Matatu stage, most operators agree that the Country must move forward. David Kosgey who controls Matatus plying the Kesses and Nyaru route says politicians must take the lead on national harmony and cohesion. “If our political leaders preach unity and cooperation, it will be hard to see a recurrence of post election violence in this Country.” 

Matatu Business in Eldoret Matatu driver David Njenga says: “Soaring prices of fuel and Insurance as made the matatu business a loss making venture,” I drive from 5 am in the morning up to 9 pm but take homeonly 200 Shillings, which is not enough to sustain my family with the current inflation.” Njenga’s boss often asks the logic on how a Nissan Matatu consuming Kshs. 5000 worthy of fuel in a day will bring home Kshs.2000. “This is enriching the Oil Companies; in fact working for them indirectly.”

 Like other Matatu operators, Njenga urges the government to control the prices of Petroleum and all its products to save Kenyans from the horror of inflation since Oil prices affect every item in the market including foodstuffs. A survey in the town showed that many Petrol stations have only reduced their prices by between two to three Kenya Shillings. Matatu operators with newer vehicles have an edge as opposed to those with old ones due to low maintenance costs and less prone to exhortations from the traffic police.

Plying long routes often fetch good returns than plying the town routes. Extorting money from Matatus by traffic police as brought havoc to the operators. “It doesn’t matter whether your vehicle complies with the law or not. Even it left the showroom yesterday, the police must get their share,” if you deny them, you will be taken to court on flimsy charges like not having mud guards on your vehicle,” says one conductor who requested for anonymity. Most operators say the police can ground you if they want and you can’t take them anywhere.

They however appreciate the Prime Minister’s recent tough talk on cracking down police officers who extort money from motorists on road blocks. They are yet to see any change. Another aspect that continues to dog the Matatu business in the entire Country is the presence of cartels at every route. New entrants into the business often get frustrated. It’s imprudent to buy a vehicle, fit it with gadgets, and on taking it to a route want it to operate, you are told to pay thousands of Kenyan Shillings. When you try to question whether it’s a government directive, you get a rude answer.

 By and large, this money goes to the hand of few individuals. It doesn’t go into a consolidated fund that should cater for operator’s Welfare. It’s high time the government does something to protect the public transport Industry. Issue of insecurity in Eldoret Resident of Eldoret challenges the government to tell Kenyans why the increase in tax collection has not been transformed to better service delivery and high efficiency in most government departments. They complain of being asked to fuel government vehicles by police whenever they report a crime. “My business was broken into, and when I rushed to the police asking them to arrest the prime suspect, they asked me to fuel their Land Rover Car,” complains one resident of Race Course estate.

Coming back to the police station with Kenya shillings five hundred to give to the police the suspect had disappeared. Residents of Langas estate are the worst hit. No single night goes without reported cases of robbery and burglary. “I wonder how thieves can break into a business premise which is 800 metres from a Police station?” moans Catherine Nasimiyu, who’s Cafe which was a few metres from Langas police station was broken into twice and she was compelled to cross down. Catherine lost properties worthy Kenya Shillings 250,000 and when she reported to in the police Station, the officers didn’t take any initiative to carry out investigation or even arrest key suspects for interrogation.

 George Owino a shoe shiner at Nandi Street living in Langas wants the Municipality to reinstate the hawkers back to the town. He decries the rampant increase in robberies, mugging, prostitution, illicit sex that bring to unwanted pregnancies and HIV Aids, saying its caused by the idle youths evicted from hawking in the town. “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” as the human mind builds you, it can also destroy you depending on what you are feeding it with,” quips Owino. He urges the government to devise ways for job creation for the youth; arguing that when you are busy throughout the day, it’s hard to think about acts of felony.

 They urge the government to increase the number of police officers who will conduct 24 hours patrols especially in the estates. Sanitation in Eldoret Eldoret town centre looks clean. The town has been beautified through a direction from the Municipality of having all business premises repainted. The streets look clean except some dumped garbage you will see on the drainage drenches. Residents want the Ministry of Environment and Natural resources in collaboration with the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to clean up the Sosiani River which is contaminated with fresh sewers. It looks pathetic as you will see not only street children using the water but all regular residents of the town which is a health hazard.

 Traders at the Municipal market wants the town health department to clean the market at least six times a year and also carry out extermination of rodents which destroy their foodstuffs meant for sale; which is also a health hazard to the customers who buy and use the food. Residents at Show ground who are also internal refugees complain of a looming health hazard in the camp. There is garbage all over. The movable toilets look pathetic.

Even children play on dirt. The Municipality stopped cleaning the camp two months a go. The free medical care the children used to get from UNICEF and the government is not available. They however appreciate the fact that water is in steady supply although they were stripped off electricity supply which used to light the camp at night for security reasons. Juakali Artisans at the Nyayo Shed expressed displeasure to the Municipality for refusing to provide them with enough toilet facilities. “How can 300 people share two toilets with irregular flow of water?” says Rajab Shaban, who is in charge of sanitation at the Juakali shed.

 It’s shocking to look at the toilets; with mounds of human dejecta over the toilet bowl. The taps are dry and most artisans are urging the municipality to introduce pay toilets like what they have done in the town centre for the sake of their health. Residents of Langas complain of people who keep Pigs in the estate. “These animals are a nuisance, they contributes to the low sanitation standards in this estate; roaming all night and dirtifying the corridors of business outlets.” complains James Koros who runs a Dairy in the estate. They urge the Eldoret Municipality to act in a timely version whenever there is a sewage burst in the estate.

“It takes months to repair a broken sewer, despite numerous reports we make to those concerned.” They complain that due to sewage menace, their children lack a clean place to play especially during school breaks. Internal Refugees in Eldoret No aura yet at the Eldoret Show ground. The large scale operation to resettle internal refugees, dubbed operation Rudi Nyumbani doesn’t seem to have worked. The squalid camp at the show ground is still awash with about 2500 people including children.

 When you enter the camp, you can see signs of desperation, frustration and idleness. Men play cards from sun up to sun down. Those with capital operate small businesses within the camp. It’s a real cry from the wilderness. The only difference between now and before Operation Rudi Nyumbani is the reduced number of people. However, the conditions are worse than before. Electricity that used to light the camp at night was disconnected. International relief agencies like World Food Programme (WFP), Red Cross and Red Crescent, UNICEF, IOM and UNHCR have all pulled out and removed their flags.

 The government provided about 10,000 to the refugees where some left but those who remained due to lack of a place to go have depleted their share; buying food and clothing. The current refugees blame the government for the false alarm over the Operation Rudi Nyumbani resettlement campaign, which made donors and other well wishers to withdraw their support. Almost two months after Operation, the head teacher of Show ground Primary School the only registered IDP School in the Country is in a quandary over the fate of his pupils as there is an impending eviction from the camp by the government through the Uasin Gishu District District Commissioner’s office.

 He wonders what will happen to the hundreds of pupils from standard one to seven as those in standard eight will be sitting for their examinations in about six weeks from now. After the withdrawal of International agencies from the camp, food supply to the internal refugees has been very scanty. The rations currently provided by the government are not enough. “Twenty five kilos of maize is not enough to feed my family for a whole month, says Mary Wanjiku, a mother of four. “The meagre funds we were provided by the government during the Operation Rudi Nyumbani have been depleted.

I bought food and clothing for my children and now we are in a state of penury.” John Kamau, who was displaced from Kesses, disputes the criticism that some internal refugees have refused to vacate the camp because they want to avoid the hustles of life associated with the current inflation in the Country. “I want to go but where?’ he quips. “ I lost my brother in Kesses and those who killed him are walking free in the village.

“I can’t stand settling down in such environment with the entire phobia.” John urges the government to donate land of whichever size for some internal refugees on special circumstance like him in order to resettle them. Asked to comment on the findings of the Commission for Post Election Violence led by Justice Waki, many refugees in the camp agree that the law should take its own cause. “Those mentioned in the report are culprits and must be brought to justice, irrespective of their status in the society,” says Jacinta Wamboi; “they must also be put in “Black Books” and Kenyans must not elect them to any public office.” Learning at Show Ground primary School The challenges of pupils at Show Ground Primary School sound grave.

Examinations are soon coming for 228 Standard Eight candidates; volunteer teachers, have not gotten any allowance since International relief agencies pulled out of the camp. Stanley Wanyoike, the head teacher for the school who is also displaced from Nandi South is a worried man. “Managing a School of about 1000 pupils where 228 are examination candidates is not easy. We lack learning materials as my current 14 TSC teachers are compelled to borrow books from neighbouring schools to enable the pupils to learn.” Mr.

Wanyoike lauds the efforts of his 21 volunteer teachers. “They have reflected big love to my pupils; a reflection of how they cherish the quest for knowledge. That is why they feel guilty to leave my pupils in suspense and anxiety in their learning.” All the TSC teachers in Show Ground Primary School blame the Minister for education Professor Sammy Ongeri, for not being mindful of not only the teachers but also the pupils in Kenya ’s only registered IDP Primary School . “Does it mean the Minister values other responsibilities more than what happen here?” asks one of the TSC teachers.

They are all very critical to the Minister stressing that government policies are made after assessing what happens with Kenyans on the ground but not in Ministry headquarters in Nairobi . They applaud the former Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) secretary General Francis Ng’ang’a and the national Treasurer Mr. Fred Ontere for touring the school and donating chairs that are currently used by the teachers. Secondary school students in the Camp were recently relocated to private premises in Langas estate, so that form four candidates can get humble time to sit for their examinations.

The fate of those in form one to four just like those from standard one to seven at the Show ground is unknown as the last term for 2008 almost comes to an end. Working conditions in Eldoret town Hawkers/Juakali artisans & other employees Jefrey Mwangi, a hawker, says that the Mayor should establish a specific ground not far from the town centre where hawkers can sell their wares paying a daily fee without disturbance; citing the Muthurwa market in Nairobi as a success story that must be emulated by all councils in the Country if they care about protecting hawkers.

 However, the Eldoret Municipality argues hawkers can sell their wares in the estates and also at West open air market, near 64 Stadium, but the hawkers say it’s far from the town centre and only comes up on Fridays. “I have tried to sell in the estate but I don’t even make two hundred a day,” cries Mwangi who lives in Langas. He says in town, he can make Kenya shillings 1,500 on a good day. The few surviving hawkers who claim to have permits to hawk says that the Municipality should give them badges to avoid harassment from the inspectors.

They say it’s hard to display their licenses since they don’t operate on fixed premises. When they inspectors bounce on them, they don’t give them a chance to produce their permits. They bind them in their pickups and take them to police where they are locked up. The lucky ones who bribe are set free before reaching the police station. The inspectors are ruthless, arrogant and inhuman. They don’t give one a chance. Not even the mothers who often sell their wares with babies on their backs. It’s ironical that when they confiscate fruits, vegetables and clothing from hawkers, they rarely give it back to the owners. Many hawkers want to meet the mayor Mr.

Sammy Ruto and the town clerk to have a discussion in order to find a lasting solution to their problems. At the Nyayo Juali Shed, artisans complain about harassment by Police and railways officers who always come looking for Rail bars. The metal bars are very popular with Juakali artisans. The government has been very strict on people found with them as a measure of preventing vandalism of railway lines. “I got this metal bar from my grandfather 10 years a go and since he is dead, I can’t tell how he got.

Without it, I can’t do anything’ moans Festus Jagogo who makes Jikos at the Nyayo Shed. Another artisan Rajab Shaban says the government should organize workshops where they can meet with artisans from different parts of the Country to brainstorm on how they can improve their skills. This will also allow them to learn how they can produce items which are of the same standards throughout Kenya , a system that will enable them source for overseas markets for their products. Jeffrey Maina, a hawker, says their work promote big businesses.

“When new products are introduced in the market; it’s the hawkers who do the marketing before customers hit the shops looking for them.” Genuine and honest hawkers who are known to business people in the town take items on credit from shops and after they sell through hawking, they deducts their profit and refund the balances. “We should not be viewed as criminals or loiterers as we also need a space to operate and earn a living.” Maina says. Supermarket employees in the town suffer the most agony.

Most of them are paid Kshs.1000 weekly instead of a monthly basis. “This makes it hard save and buy even a goat at home.” Say one employer. ”They care less about our financial improvement as they want us to work here until the end of our days.” All workers signs new contracts after every three months including those who have worked even for five years; which is a big violation of the labour laws in the Country. “There is nothing like permanent employment here.

You just come to check every morning, when the gate is opened, you heave a shy of relief knowing that you will clock in and make that day.” laments a female employee working at Fims who requested for anonymity. Because of fear of victimisation, employees of Fims that I spoke to highlighted many problems ranging from poor pay of ksh. 5000 per month and lack of leave allowance. They expressed the need for the government to investigate labour officers in Uasin Gishu District who collude with employers to cover their grievances.

When they report problems in Eldoret labour offices, it becomes an eating spree to the officers. They don’t address the worker’s grievance but uses it as an avenue to extort money from the employers. Most workers are not allowed to belong to a union, leave alone joining a cooperative society. To authenticate their claims, I contacted a Mr. Pyush who is in charge of all departments at Fims but he refused to talk to me.

 To prevent theft according to the employer, workers are not allowed to go for lunch. Instead, they are provided Githeri within the working premises and thoroughly checked physically when leaving for home in the evening to ensure that they are not carrying any item from the stores. Many of the workers I interviewed include those working in business outlets in the town.

Their problems ranges from unfair dismissals from employment on flimsy grounds, long working hours with low pay, lack of working gear like overalls, helmets and gloves and serving as casuals for too long without being confirmed on permanent terms. Employees in Asians owned firms are the worst hit. They suffers from constant harassment, intimidations and verbal epithets from their employers. Female employees are even in dire need of help.

Their Asian employers make sex overtures and when they turn them down, that is the end of their job. Some are compelled to yield for job security and may be a salary raise.
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