Young Kenyan Politician Killed in Violence

In Kenya, violence sparked by disputed presidential elections killed more than 1,000 people, including the young politician Melitus Mugabe Were. He had worked hard to help orphans and his death has left dozens of children devastated.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And north of Zimbabwe, Kenyans are dealing with the aftermath of a disputed election there around the first of the year. There have been violent and deadly ethnic battles in the country, and returning to normal life is very hard. Among the victims of the political turmoil were some orphans. Emily Meehan reports on a group of children who suffered a really terrible blow during this violence, the murder of their benefactor.

EMILY MEEHAN: George Etola (ph) is a 10 year old with a surprising command of his country's politics. Here he is with his friends imitating the Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki appealing to Kenyans for patience.

GEORGE ETOLA (10-year-old Kenyan orphan): (Speaking African dialect)

MEEHAN: Politics are personal for all age groups in Kenya after two months of conflict that displaced hundreds of thousands and killed more than 1,000 people, including Melitus Mugabe Were, a homebuilder, community activist and burgeoning politician. He started Villa Teag, the Nairobi orphanage that George Etola and dozens of others called home.

Mr. KUDAK MAGUESI (Orphan, Villa Teag): I liked him because he love children and he cared about people. I feel like, like he was my father.

MEEHAN: Kudak Maguesi (ph), a small 11 year old, was the only child around the orphanage during the violence. Were was shot in the heart and the eye by gunmen who attacked him as he arrived at his home. The killing was killed a political assassination. Were, who won a seat in parliament in December, was a member of a tribe deemed loyal to the opposition.

Mr. MAGUESI: He looked after us very well, now we don't have any hope.

MEEHAN: Zaaria Omwaiee (ph) says the kids cried for days after Were was killed. She has worked as the housemother of Villa Teag since it first opened in 2003. The kids call her mom. On a buzzing orphanage balcony Omwaiee says teachers and staff are also devastated.

Ms. ZAARIA OMWAIEE (Housemother, Villa Teag): When thinking about him I just cried. Two weeks ago I was in hospital, I was admitted. Because of that I was tortured so much, and I was thinking where am I going to take these kids. He give us love so much. Now we are traumatized.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MEEHAN: Villa Teag is in a suburb called Dandora. Mugabe Were was raised there, and just finished an apartment building on the border of Dandora's sprawling dump site. From the roof you can see scavenger birds circling above garbage. Fumes of gas. Stone-houses in rows of shacks. In the middle of Dandora is a soccer field with half finished bleachers - work in progress of the late politician. His orphanage is down a shady lane in a stone building covered with Bougainvillea.

Mr. EMANUELLE UMBAI: My brother started this orphanage through community consultation. Because he had been brought up by a single mother, then unfortunately our mother passed away while we were still young, he had an idea of what being an orphan is.

MEEHAN: Were's younger brother Emanuelle Umbai (ph) has been struggling to take his place, in business, politics and as the patron of 50 orphans. He says many extended family members have lost confidence in Villa Teag now that its founder is dead. Almost 20 children have not yet returned from Christmas break.

Mr. UMBAI: Our children also saw some of this horrific deaths, so now we are trying to give them a normal life of which they still don't believe is there for them. They believe their life is going nowhere without their patron.

MEEHAN: Mugabe Were's family members are trying to find new sponsors. In the meantime, the mood at Villa Teag is anxious. Staff appeal to God, and the children in frayed navy blue uniforms appeal bashfully to my microphone for food, clothes and security. 10-year-old Emanuelle Ogigo (ph) finishes every sentence with a humble thank you.

Mr. EMANUELLE OGIGO (Orphan, Villa Teag): My name is Emanuelle Ogigo. This school is so very good to us. And will love it. I just feel very bad because I doesn't want to leave this school. Thank you.

(Soundbite of children rapping)

MEEHAN: At the end of their lunch-break, the kids rap about life as an orphan. It's tough. They say they miss home and their parents.

(Soundbite of children rapping)

ORPHANS: (Singing) I miss my family. I miss my school.

MEEHAN: Like many Kenyans, these kids didn't know how much harder life could get. For NPR News, I'm Emily Meehan in Nairobi.

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