How Kenya’s Wretched of the Earth are abused

One of Ms Nicoletta Kambura’s neighbours, Mathare slum resident Beatrice Wanjiku gets out of makeshift bathrooms in the area. Photo/ DENNIS OKEYO

She has been in a battle of her life against HIV-related complications, and Nicoletta Kambura is not giving up. Yet far from the robust, fun-loving manager of an orphanage in Mathare’s Kosovo estate, Ms Kambura is a pale shadow of her former self.

In 2006, she was gang-raped by four men who infected her with the Aids virus, hardy 100 metres from her one-room home. She had gone to the “toilet” in Athara, one of the open fields that residents of this informal settlement run to for lack of sanitary facilities. It was 8pm, but for residents here, that is late enough to be mugged, raped, even killed by gangs that roam the slums.

They pounced

“They did not waste time. They pounced on me at once and tore off my clothes,” the single mother of two teenage boys told the Nation. She shouted for help but none was forthcoming. “I also feared that they might decide to kill me if I attracted the attention of other people,” she added.

In a place where residents rarely venture outside their shanties after 5pm, no one would dare risk coming to the rescue of another, even if it is a next-door neighbour, explains Ms Kambura. The following morning, she reported the matter to Muthaiga police station. It is the only one around for the hundreds of thousands of slum dwellers and the up market residents of Muthaiga estate.

To date, no one has been arrested for the crime as Ms Kambura continues to suffer the pain and stigma of HIV slowly eating up her soul and person. She fell sick soon after the rape. With no support from any quarter, she closed her orphanage. “I feel a lot of guilt because I left the innocent children to go into wilderness.

“I was their mother and father and I feel a lot of pain. It was forced on me and I would reverse it given a chance,” her voice trails off as emotion takes over. Like Ms Kambura, many women in the sprawling slums live in fear of rape by marauding young men whenever they step out at night.

Raping daughter

Last year, a 13-year old school girl was raped in the same field Ms Kambura met her tormentors. This time though, it was the father of the girl who was lying in wait for victims, and so ended up raping his own daughter. The man was arrested and is currently serving a prison sentence.

On Monday this week, a 10-year-old mentally ill girl died after she was continuously raped by two men who have not been arrested. The girl was walking alone late in the evening when two men pounced on her and for two days, she went missing. She was found in pretty bad shape on Friday last week and admitted to Blue House Hospital on Juja road. She died after being discharged. The mother refused to report the case for fear of reprisals.

Ms Kambura says cases of rape have become normal occurrences in Mathare. Amnesty International, the global human rights organisation asserts in a report released on Wednesday, that fear of attack has left women and girls in Nairobi’s slums prisoners in their homes. The report, Insecurity and Indignity: Women’s experiences in the Slums of Nairobi found that women are too scared to leave their houses to use communal toilets.

It details how the government’s failure to incorporate slums in urban planning has resulted in poor access to services. Consequently, gangs have taken that space to terrorise residents, with women bearing the brunt. “Women in Nairobi’s informal settlements become prisoners in their own homes at night and sometimes ell before it is dark,” said Godfrey Odongo Amnesty International East Africa researcher.

“They need more privacy than men when going to the toilet or taking a bath and the inaccessibility of facilities make women vulnerable to rape, leaving them trapped in their own homes.” The situation is compounded by the lack of police presence in the slums. For instance, Kibera with a population of a million people does not have a single police station, Amnesty says in the report.

Women especially find solace in flying toilets — using plastic bags thrown from the home to dispose of waste and human excreta. This creates yet another health hazard for the slum dwellers. With few toilet and bathrooms, and the state of insecurity, women have to bathe in full view of relatives and children. Only 24 per cent of residents in Nairobi’s informal settlements have to toilets at home.

Ms Kambura shares a one-room shanty with her sons who are both in secondary school in the middle of Kosovo area. In the house are two beds — the boys sharing one, the second for their mother. Between the beds and in the middle of the room is a table. In one corner are water containers and washbasins.

She stretches her hand out and points: “That is our bathroom.” At another end, she shows us where she keeps the polythene bags for the “flying toilets”. “Whenever I want to bathe, I simply tell my sons to sit outside for a few minutes. It is normal here. We cannot simply afford to take another risk one more time,” she says.

Amnesty says that the government’s commitment to meet the Millennium Development Goal of meeting sanitation has faltered and fails to address the specific needs of women who face the threat of violence. The government has also been criticised for failing enforce the requirement that landlords to provide sanitation.

“There is a huge gap between what the government commits to do and what is going on in the slums every day,” observes Mr Odongo. “Kenya’s national policies recognise the rights to sanitation and there are laws and standards. However, because of decades of failure to recognise slums and informal settlements, planning laws and regulations are not enforced. ”

Lack of enforcement, Mr Odongo explains, has let landlords and structure owners off the hook for failing to provide any toilets or bathrooms for tenants. But the inability to access toilets and bathrooms also boils down to the economic status of most residents many of whom are unemployed. Others do menial jobs to earn a living.

Ms Kambura for instance, treks every morning to Eastleigh estate to wash clothes. She does laundry and other household chores for a paltry pay of Sh100 a day. Armed with Sh100, her Budget reads something like this: One kilo of maize meal, Sh50; vegetables, Sh20; paraffin, Sh20; cooking oil, Sh5; and water Sh5 — bringing the total to Sh100. Other times, there is no job and she has to trek back home, tired and hungry.

The only public toilet built through CDF that serves the village costs Sh5 per visit. The thinking here is simple; Why pay Sh5 for a single visit or to shower when the same amount will afford one 20 litres of water for the entire family? “We hope one day, the government in its priorities will remember us and provide us with policemen, quicker justice and sanitation. Till then, we will continue to use the flying toilets,” she said.


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