KENYA: IDPs Remain Cautious as Leaders Preach Peace

Posted on 25 April 2008. Filed under: Governance, Humanitarian, Insecurity, Politics, Refugees/ IDPs |

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced in post-election violence in Kenya

ELDORET, 25 April 2008 (IRIN) – Ndirangu Mwangi, 26, one of 14,000 people camping in the Rift Valley town of Eldoret’s showground, was less than encouraged after Kenya’s political leaders visited the town as part of a “national healing” initiative.

“We are worried about the future, we lost everything during the post-election violence and we don’t know where we would restart our lives if we were to return home,” Mwangi told IRIN.

Reacting to speeches by President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga at the Kipchoge Keino Stadium in Eldoret, Mwangi said even if peace were achieved to facilitate their return home, it was important to strengthen existing laws to ensure an end to the impunity with which their property was damaged or looted.

Widespread violence in the Rift Valley following disputed election results led to the death of more than 1,200 people and the displacement of 350,000.

Kibaki and Odinga, who finally agreed to share power in late February, stressed unity and reconciliation, asserting that they were now working in harmony and were determined to resolve the issues facing all those affected by the violence.

The two leaders visited the internally displaced persons (IDP) camp at the showground before attending the public rally at the stadium.

“We want to resolve this issue once and for all,” Odinga said. “Eldoret is the face of Kenya as it has many tribes living here – we have the Kalenjin, the Luo, Kikuyu, Maasai, Kamba, Luhya, Turkana etc; we want peace and friendship to prevail among all the people.”

For his part, Kibaki said: “Let us all resolve today to live together as one; as your leaders, we have agreed to work together and we are committed to working together in order to stay together as Kenyans.”

Focus on the future

“We heard them saying we should live together as one,” said Lawrence Kibue, after listening to a radio broadcast of the speech in a camp in Burnt Forest, 40km north of Eldoret, “but what we were really hoping for was a solution that would enable us to go back to our farms.”

Rosemary Kuria, 40, an IDP at the Eldoret showground, said the visit by Kibaki and Odinga gave hope to IDPs that their problems would now be prioritised.

Photo: IRIN
A woman runs from a fire started by opposition surporters during the post-election violence in Eldoret

“They came here and even entered our tents; they saw the water that lodges in our tents when it rains and they saw that many of us sleep on the floor without any floor sheeting or mattress; Kibaki assured us that our problems will be sorted out, that is why I’m optimistic,” Kuria said.

However, Christopher Kipruto, a resident of Eldoret North constituency, said he feared IDPs may not be welcome home yet.

“The IDPs have cause to fear; during the post-election violence, they know what they did to us and they know what we did to them; unless the animosity among us is resolved, their return may not be smooth; land remains a key issue that needs to be addressed before we can get to the return phase,” Kipruto said.

Lasting solution

William Ruto, Agriculture Minister and MP for Eldoret North, said all residents of Uasin Gishu district wanted a lasting solution to the problems arising from the post-election violence.

“The people of Uasin Gishu have said we don’t want to fight each other again; but the residents of Uasin Gishu have three issues they are asking: many people were arrested during the violence for carrying pangas [machetes] and sticks yet to date there is no evidence to support that they were involved in crimes committed at that time. Why are they still being held, these people should be released?

“The other issue is that some chiefs and assistant chiefs were also suspended during the crisis for allegedly not being able to curb the violence, in my opinion it is the PC [provincial commissioner] or DC [district commissioner] who should have been suspended; the chiefs are small people, the people are asking that these chiefs should be reinstated.”

The third issue, he said, was the high cost of fertiliser which had made it difficult for farmers to plant. He said the government should take measures to ensure the price of a bag of fertiliser, now retailing at Ksh4,000 [US$64.50], was reduced to enable farmers to plant and help avert a food shortage in the future.


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One Response to “KENYA: IDPs Remain Cautious as Leaders Preach Peace”

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As Kenya’s politicians toured the country’s battle-scarred west, walking among the uprooted multitudes, their message was clear: You will be able to go home soon. We, your leaders, will help you.

But in the hardest-hit areas, there is no clear path home. More than four months after a disputed presidential election unleashed weeks of ethnically tinged bloodshed, some 157,000 people are still living in camps.

The challenge facing Kenya’s government is immense, even after a historic power-sharing agreement stopped much of the killing.

“We have decided as a government that people should go back where they were evicted from,” President Mwai Kibaki said Saturday as he toured a camp in Naivasha, the final stop on a three-day “peace tour” with Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

“We want a Kenya of peace,” Odinga added, “where everyone can live where they want.”

Kibaki and Odinga—once bitter enemies, now reluctant partners—promised a swift resolution to the displacement during stops in towns including Eldoret, Molo and Naivasha. The region experienced some of the worst bloodshed in the weeks after the disputed presidential election on Dec. 27; more than 1,200 people died and 300,000 were displaced.

But for many Kenyans, the leaders’ promises were empty.

Some had their land taken over by neighbors in the days after they fled their homes, so they have no homes to return to. Others say ethnic hatreds are still boiling, making it too dangerous to attempt to go home.

“If we go home now we will be killed,” said Christine Ndinba, 43, a member of the Kikuyu ethnic group who lives with her four children at the Naivasha Stadium camp with 3,000 other people.

“We are not ready to go back and they are not ready to accept us,” she said of rival ethnic groups.

Person Harun Mwangi, 52, said he will never return to Eldoret, where he watched as his two children were among dozens burned alive in a church where they were taking shelter.

“It is better that I become a beggar in Nairobi than to go back to my farm and see the people who killed my children,” he said earlier this week at the sprawling Eldoret show ground, where 16,000 Kenyans are still living.

“This is no way to live,” Kibaki said as he crouched to peek into a tent at the Eldoret camp.

The election, which Kibaki and Odinga both claimed to have won, laid bare frustrations over poverty, corruption and long-standing ethnic rivalries in Kenya. Kikuyus, the tribe Kibaki belongs to, are perceived to dominate others, including the Luo, Odinga’s ethnic group.

In many regions, the violence brought a bloody end to decades of coexistence among Kenya’s ethnic groups, transforming cities and towns where Kenyans had lived together—however uneasily at times—since independence from Britain in 1963.

Ken Wafula, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in the Rift Valley, acknowledged that ethnic tensions are making resettlement difficult.

“Three weeks ago a woman who was accompanied by police officers attempted to collect some the property she left behind in her farm, but they were chased away,” he said. “The police car was burned.”

The violence tarnished Kenyan’s reputation for stability in a region that includes Somalia and Sudan. Kenya is a key U.S. ally and a regional economic and military powerhouse. With the violence escalating, the rivals agreed in February to share power, with Odinga taking the new position of prime minister.

But then the men wrangled for weeks over how to divide their coalition Cabinet; even now, they appear to be jockeying for power. During the three-day day tour, Odinga jostled with Kibaki’s vice president over who was more senior.

Odinga denounced Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka for taking the microphone directly after him Thursday—an apparent protocol snub. “What we know is that in the coalition government, it is the prime minister on one side and the president on the other. There is no one else between us,” he said in explaining his frustration.

Meanwhile, the men vowed to find a lasting solution to the displacement, saying they will speak to various groups including elders and female leaders to resolve the crisis.

The Kenyan leaders must now try to heal a divided nation and restore one of Africa’s most promising economies. Kenya, one of the most tourist-friendly countries in Africa, has lost up to $1 billion because of the turmoil.

Isaac Moiberi, whose hand was chopped off during the violence, said he was disappointed in Kibaki’s speech Saturday.

“What we expected was an announcement that we will be resettled elsewhere,” said Moiberi, who fled to the Naivasha camp after being attacked in his hometown of Narok. “I stayed in hospital for three weeks, I barely survived the attack. I can never go back.”

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