Friends and colleagues,
Many of you have called or e-mailed asking for information and sending your thoughts and prayers to the Carolina for Kibera (CFK) staff and volunteers who are on the ground in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya. Thank you for your solidarity and support.
To our knowledge CFK staff and volunteers have suffered only one relatively minor injury as a result of the recent ethnic violence. However, large numbers of volunteers of all ages have had their houses burned and looted. There are no Americans volunteering with CFK at the moment on the ground in Kibera. CFK has kept its office and clinic closed since the election. However, today we began a short-term feeding program out of our youth center.
The violence stems from the December 27 presidential election in Kenya. At first, the election seemed to be peaceful and well orchestrated. It appeared as though the main opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, had a significant lead in the early polls. The violence began after President Kibaki was prematurely declared the winner in a small, hasty ceremony at his Presidential estate. It is unclear whether or not Kibaki won the election, but elections monitors (including the Kenyan head of the Kenyan Electoral Commission) have publicly called the election results illegitimate.
Although ethnic divisiveness is no stranger to Kenyan politics, no one anticipated the level of violence that has engulfed Kibera and much of Kenya. The situation on the ground is deteriorating rapidly as each day passes. Stores in Nairobi are looted and people, particularly the poor, are running out of food. Food prices are soaring. Large swaths of Kibera are burned to the ground. Criminal opportunists have joined the fray and there are incidents of wanton violence. Yesterday we received reports that a group of community members repelled a gang of thugs from looting and burning our youth center.
It should be noted, however, that those perpetrating the violence in Kibera number perhaps in the hundreds. Over 700,000 people, half of whom are under the age of 15, reside in the slum. Nevertheless, the level of hatred and divisiveness throughout Kenya today is unprecedented. People are afraid, and those with the means are fleeing from Kibera and other multi-ethnic communities racked by violence. Each day of violence besets the next and further solidifies more ethnic enmity.
The violence must stop now. Efforts to unite Odinga and Kibaki and encourage these leaders to lead and bring a halt to the violence have thus far been futile. None of these leaders have been on the ground in Kibera since the violence began.
In the face of this current tragedy, we must take stock of where we are as an organization. Some commentators suggest that these events signify a hopelessness of development and progress in Kenya. We who have labored on the ground with our brothers and sisters in Kibera see it much differently. We initially started CFK as a small soccer program with a hundred youths from every village and every ethnic group in Kibera. A key goal was to help promote ethnic cooperation and support the education of remarkable young leaders living in some of the most austere conditions imaginable. The violence reminds us that development depends on good governance and security. But our charge is still very clear, and even more important in light of the current bloodletting. CFK staff and volunteers are the forces and voices of positive change that will help create and sustain an equitable and peaceful society.
We will post updates about new developments to our website. If you are interested in learning more, below is a powerful UN article that features CFK and Binti Pamoja member Fatuma Roba. Her two-minute radio interview is particularly powerful. Also included is a link to a front-page article about CFK and Kibera from the Raleigh News and Observer and an insightful op-ed in the Financial Times from long-time CFK supporter and dear friend Michael Holman. Below is a graphic video of the violence in Kibera from CNN.
Please keep our brave leaders and volunteers on the ground in your thoughts and prayers in the days ahead. It is likely to get worse before it gets better. If you are so inclined, we could as always use your financial support.
President and Founder
Kimberly Chapman Page
Chair, Board of Directors
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