Joseph Lotaba - "I don't understand why my home was burnt"

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Father-of-five Joseph Lotaba woke up on 6 March morning to fire and panic as a neighbouring village in Rift Valley's Laikipia West district went up in flames. Soon, it was his village's turn to face the wrath of hundreds of attackers who were hacking people with machetes and burning homes and granaries. This was a day after violence erupted in Rumuruti - pitting the Turkana and Tugen communities against the Kikuyu - following the killing of a suspected rustler.

Calm has since returned to the area but thousands of people remain displaced. IRIN spoke with Lotaba on 26 March at a temporary camp in the Maji Mengi area of Rumuruti:

"I am from Ndagara village, not far from this Catholic church where we fled to following the violence. On 6 March, I woke up to see houses burning in the neighbouring Mogwongo village, with people screaming and running away. We used a mobile phone to call our friends in Mogwongo and they told us that thousands of people had invaded their village and were killing people and burning everything in their sight.

"Up to now I don't understand why my home was burnt. I know that there was a man from my community who had been killed the previous day and that groups of Turkana had attacked people from the community that killed the man. I know that what happened in my village was a revenge attack, but I did not take part in any violence, why was my house burnt?

"As the attackers approached, I quickly gathered my wife and children and told them to get ready to flee. I also managed to get my livestock before the attackers arrived. They burnt my home, my 4,000-litre water tank and all the maize I had in the granary.

"I think a total of 15 homes were burnt in my village, fortunately, no one I know was killed but I know several people who remain in hospital. After we arrived at the church the [Kenya] Red Cross [Society] people later arrived and assisted us with relief food.

"However, life is becoming harder by the day. I am not used to being displaced. I would like to go home where I had ploughed my land ready for planting. But what am I going back to? There is no security and I have nothing to plant as I lost everything in the attack. Some of us have begged friends and relatives to take us in; but they will soon tire of supporting us.

"What we need at the moment is food, tents to put up temporary structures where our houses used to be and seed to be able to plant. Otherwise we will miss out on the planting season; as you can see the rains are already here with us.

"Our children remain out of school, what will we do with those who are supposed to sit examinations this year?

"All along I have always known poverty exists but it had never hit me; now all of a sudden I have no home, I have no clothes except what I am wearing, no food and nothing with which to rebuild. I would be willing to do even temporary menial tasks for pay but there is no one willing to employ me.

"I appeal to our government to come to our aid and help us rebuild our lives. My house was built using 16 pieces of iron sheets but I would be happy to get even seven pieces to put up a structure for my family.

"I know we will need a lot of help over the coming months but my biggest headache right now is where to get seed to plant because if I don't I can see that my family will go hungry later in the year."

Source: IRIN