3 September 2010

Kenya: Calm Returns After Clashes Over Rent

Nairobi — Families of the victims of Thursday's violence in Nakuru are slowly coming to terms with the aftermath of the riots.

In Kivumbini estate, relatives and friends of 26-year-old Nicholas Omondi gathered at the family home to condole with his mother.

"I woke up early to do my washing as Omondi went away to look for work as usual. Little did I know that it was the last time I would see him alive," said the 43-year-old mother of four.

Omondi was a casual labourer and left behind a widow and two children aged two and four. The town erupted into violence on Thursday after tenants resisted eviction by the municipal council over rent areas. One person died and 11 others were injured in the fight.

On Friday, leaders held a series of meetings to resolve the dispute as police kept vigil to avert further confrontations.

Authorities blamed the clashes on politicians inciting the tenants of the low cost housing estate. The council claims tenants owe it Sh175 million in rent arrears.

Area MP Lee Kinyanjui condemned the incident which he attributed to information breakdown between the civic authority and tenants.

"It is regrettable that there was a breakdown in seeking dialogue to ensure that the two parties agreed on modalities of recovering the outstanding debt," said the Roads assistant minister when he visited bereaved families.

He promised to arbitrate the dispute, adding such violent clashes could turn investors away from the town.

The chairman of Citizens for Democracy party, Mr Francis Karanja, accused the council of using excessive force to evict the tenants.

At the Nakuru Provincial General Hospital, a 33-year-old man who was shot in the head was fighting for his life in the intensive care unit.

Chief Nursing Officer John Ocholla said 11 people were brought to the hospital with gunshot wounds, six of whom were treated and discharged while the rest were admitted.

Of those admitted, three had to undergo emergency surgery and two were taken to the general wards with leg injuries. Workers at the Jumuia Guesthouse were still counting their losses after looters descended on the hotel.

"They petrol bombed two rooms and stole cash and other items. Two German tourists had to leave because they were traumatised by what happened. They were locked in the toilet the whole time," said manager Sylvester Muli. He estimated the loss to be over Sh2 million.

Initial reports had indicated that two people had died but the area police boss Johnston Ipara said only one person was killed.Mr George Owino, secretary of the tenants' association, accused the council of fraud.

"We want the minister and the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission to investigate the council because they are trying to force us to pay wrong arrears," he said. He alleged the council was issuing them with market receipts instead of house rent receipts.

"We want to meet with the Provincial Administration because we know the council does not have the correct records. We also want the figures reconciled and are willing to pay peacefully" Mr Owino added.

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