The Clash

By Ashraf Mbonimpa
Kakuma Refugee camp

The clash

Where is the peace that we looked for here? Is there any guarantee for our safety? What about happiness , hope, freedom, and a home to rebuild our lives?

It was in 2014, when this unforgettable moment happened in my life. The clash between Nuer from South Sudan and Burundians. The two refugee communities faced head to head here in Kakuma Refugee camp. A camp that has been a home of thousands of refugees from Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, Iran, and other parts of the world. They are all here for different reasons; Making food for their families, peace, happiness, prosperity, freedom, and the opportunity to rebuild their lives in safety. I have lived as a refugee in Kakuma refugee camp for more than 15 years but have not witnessed something like this. My mother Siwa fled my home country Congo because of war. Siwa Kashindi lost his parents back in our home country Congo. She fled our home country alone as the only survivor of her family. The rebels attacked their village and burnt their houses. They entered the house and raped her. They left her on the floor crying. After they left, they escaped through the window. Siwa met other survivors too and they had to flee to Kenya to seek refuge. They were brought here by the red cross from the border. The Red Cross handed them over to UNHCR and then brought them here to the Kakuma Refugee camp. I find my mother as a brave woman because despite of being raped, Siwa was ready to give birth to me and struggled so hard so that i can survive. Life seemed so hard to Siwa because she was single-handedly raising me despite the trauma of losing her family back home.

The clash between the two above-mentioned communities erupted in Kakuma 4. One of the regions of the camp. The camp is divided into 4 regions namely; Kakuma 1, 2, 3, and 4. These regions were divided by the authorities many years ago as boundaries. These boundaries were not meant for any restrictions but to separate one region from the other. People were free to move from one region to another thus there were no restrictions. The boundaries were made to help create regions and locations so that it can be easily identified. Therefore, boundaries were made for geographical reasons. A Burundian motorcyclist knocked down a Nuer boy on his way from Kakuma 1 to Kakuma 4. Just beside the road, there were small shops of a man from Nuer. People were sitting there. When they saw the accident, they rushed and they grabbed him by his shirt and the motorcycle fell down. There were around 12 men and 2 women. They threw blows to his head; others grabbed thorn sticks and struck him with it. He was bleeding profusely. He was trying to defend himself but he couldn’t succeed, because the opponents were many. The Burundians and Congolese who were passing by joined to save the motorcyclist from the beating. It erupted into a serious fight where the other groups also joined in and the fighting commenced.

It turned out that the Nuer people were targeting the Burundians and vice versa. The motorist was seriously injured and was rushed to the hospital. The fight spread into the communities. What changed it to a more serious fight was that the two were living in the same area. This made them attack each other easily. It became difficult for the Nuer to distinguish between Congolese and Burundians because of the same language and physical appearance. The Congolese were also involved in the fight. So Congolese and the Burundians joined together to fight the Nuer.

Normally the population of the Nuer is thrice the combined population of Burundians and Congolese. Every motorist on the road was beaten up. This made all Congolese and Burundian motorists had to stop riding and join the fight. The Nuer called themselves from all the corners of the camp to one place similar to Burundians and Congolese. It was chaos all over and this spread in the entire camp. It was a war!. Many people were injured and many lost their lives from both sides. It was a war of revenge and vengeance. The news reached us here in Kakuma1. Imagine our community is surrounded by the Nuer. We were all afraid that they would come and attack us. The worse thing is that we are few burundians compared to the Nuer. At night, we took all the women and children then hid them in one place.

Men and boys were divided into different groups and posted in all corners of the community to provide security. We were given pangas so that we could defend ourselves in case we were attacked. It was such a difficult moment for me. I was shivering and sweating because I had never held a panga so my heart was beating faster. I was feeling butterflies in my stomach and goosebumps. My whole body was sweating and trembling. I could see fear in the eyes of others. in war and even experienced that moment in my entire life. What was going on in my mind was, what would I do if they attacked us? Imagine carrying a weapon and you do not know how you are going to use it. I looked at the faces of my fellow boys and all I saw was fear. Women who were hidden were praying. Miraculously the night passed without an attack.

In the morning, the government of Kenya and UNHCR intervened and called the two communities for a peace negotiation. The negotiations went well and the war ended. They fought using pangas, bows and arrows, they went to the extent of renting guns from the local community. The local community normally uses their guns to protect their animals from rustling. Therefore, they have guns. The fight was mostly at night where during the day, both communities could assemble in their respective hiding spots to plan for the night attack. Both communities lost many people from that fight. I really blame the authorities for not intervening at the beginning phase of this war. It could have helped to reduce the tension from both communities. The main cause of this fight is vengeance from both the communities. It all happened in the name of revenge.

10 January, 2023