In Summary
  • The polarised political situation in the country is to blame for the simmering tension in Kawangware.
  • Old enmities that were supposed to be buried after the reconciliation efforts that followed the 2007/8 violence have once again reared their ugly heads.
  • The setting up of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission was supposed to be the first step towards national healing.

Kawangware is angry. So angry in fact that rowdy youths were willing to pelt rocks at a local primary school on Monday with the pupils still in it.

Heartbreaking photos of school children cowering behind police officers and journalists as they tried to escape tear gas and flying stones made the headlines, but the violence following Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i’s visit to Gatina Primary School only tells part of the story.

The past few days have seen Kawangware, usually peaceful and quiet, break out in sporadic but fierce violence that has threatened to rip it apart along ethno-political lines.

Ten people have died, and tens of others injured, since the repeat poll last week.

They are the unfortunate victims of clashes between youth groups from both sides of the political divide.

Others have lost what they say is their life’s work to looters.

Mr Samuel Mariga is a man who has lost everything for the second time round.


This Class Eight pupil was caught up in the chaos as anti-election protesters clashed with police in Kawangware. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The 34-year-old businessman watched his grocery shop go up in flames during the 2007/08 post-election violence, and two days ago, his makeshift café at the Kawangware 46 bus stop was raided by rowdy youths and looted.

They took everything, including the food cooking on the stoves and the stoves.

Mariga was caught up in the epicentre of the violence that rocked Kawangware on Friday evening, finding himself and his business smack in the middle of two rival groups, both wielding pangas and rungus, with intent to inflict as much damage as possible.


A man shows an arrow as people loot a house in Kawangware on October 27, 2017 during anti-election protests. PHOTO | PATRICK MEINHARDT | AFP

“I could see a mob of young men coming down the road from Waithaka, a predominantly Kikuyu area.

"On the opposite end was men from Kawangware 56, which is mostly inhabited by Luos and Luhyas.

"They clashed right in front of my café, and my workers and I had to flee and hide at a nearby mosque. We were scared for our lives,” he said.

Mariga is originally from Vihiga County, but has lived in Kawangware for more than 15 years and has come to love it.

He got married here, and is raising his four children in the bustling neighbourhood, which teems with a cosmopolitan mix of people from all corners of the country.

He knows some of those who looted his café.

“Just before the violence broke out, one of them came up to me and said, ‘Sammy, you have gotten too comfortable here.

"You have stayed here for too long, and this is Kikuyu territory, not Luhya. It’s time to leave.’ But I am not about to go anywhere,” he told the Nation.


Nasa supporters try to gain access into a shop in Kawangware 56 October 28, 2017 during their anti-election protests. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

In his opinion, the polarised political situation in the country is to blame for the simmering tension in Kawangware, the fires of violence stoked by self-serving politicians and business people, who, he says, have gone beyond just inciting violence, and are now arming the youth with pangas and paying them to wreak havoc in the area.

“I know these boys, they would never pay Sh300 from their own pockets to buy a panga. Someone is arming them,” he said.

Outside of the election cycles, he lives in peaceful coexistence with his neighbours.


He has firm friends among the Kikuyu, his perceived ethnic rivals, and fluently speaks the language.

“We have visited each others’ rural homes in good and bad times. My Kikuyu neighbours have come to Vihiga with me to attend funerals.

"I have been to their homes in central Kenya for weddings. I don’t understand why we must fight,” he said.

In Kawangware 56, predominantly occupied by the Luo and Luhya, Kikuyu business owners and residents are suffering the same fate as Mariga and his ilk, just a few minutes’ drive away.


A woman reacts during anti-election protests in Kawangware that turned violent. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A resident who refused to be named for fear of victimisation said that on the same evening that Mariga’s business was being looted, armed Nasa supporters flooded the streets and went door-to-door in Congo area, targeting businesses and houses owned by Kikuyus, and razing many to the ground.

A two-storey bar owned by a prominent Kikuyu businesswoman was among those targeted, and its charred remains now hide behind a hastily put up iron sheet wall, protecting it from prying eyes.

“I know the owner. She has lost millions as she was unable to salvage anything from the pub.

"She had invested heavily in it; 10 large flat-screen TVs for football fans, a back-up generator and over two million shillings in stock alone.

"They also burned down around 20 rental houses belonging to her, leaving her with no source of income,” the resident said.

Kevin Osiga, a 25-year-old insurance salesman living in Congo, witnessed some of the violence.

“On Friday evening, I saw around 30 youths from 56 arrive at Waiyaki Way supermarket.

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