Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
|A demonstrator in Nairobi with a message for former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who is mediating talks to resolve the Kenyan political crisis|
NAIROBI, 19 February 2008 (IRIN) – “We are all affected”
While world attention has focused on the fallout from Kenya’s post-election crisis in the country itself, the region, which is highly dependent on the east African state for goods, transport links and services, has felt the effects too.
Before violence erupted after the disputed December 2007 election, Kenya was the region’s hub, with many people in neighbouring countries travelling frequently to the capital, Nairobi, for medical treatment, holidays, trade and education. IRIN spoke to a cross-section of people in Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, Uganda and Tanzania and Sudan to gauge how the crisis was affecting them:
“Most consumables in Rwanda are imported, so delays in delivery from Kenya mean shortages, which translate into price hikes, which of course have an effect on our pockets,” a young Rwandan executive, who requested anonymity, told IRIN. “The sooner Kenya can return to a normal state of affairs, the better for us all in the region.”
A retired Burundian diplomat said Burundi had suffered as the country depends on Kenya’s coastal port of Mombasa for most of its imports. “Personally, the irregular Kenya Airways flights are a matter of concern as I can no longer travel to Nairobi as frequently as I want,” he said. “A lot of people are being inconvenienced in this way and also prices of imported goods have gone up.”
Uganda, perhaps more than other countries in the region, has felt the impact more acutely, given its landlocked status.
“We were severely affected when the fuel trucks couldn’t get across the border – prices of petrol went as high as US$7 per litre and so suddenly,” said Caroline Mbote (not her real name), who runs tourist accommodation on an island in southwestern Uganda’s Lake Bunyonyi.
“We use diesel to fuel our boats to ferry tourists and goods to and from the island. Because of the high prices of fuel, although it was the high Christmas season, we made very little money,” she said.
Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
|Irate youths demolish a wall in Nairobi during a protest against the election outcome|
Mbote said many Ugandans had children at school in Kenya but were now too afraid to send them back, especially after hearing that some Kenyans were hostile towards Ugandans.
“The medical facilities here are far inferior to those in Kenya, so if Kenya is at war or having security issues, it poses a big problem for us in that way as well,” she sad. “Whatever it takes, we all need peace in Kenya for this region to be stable.”
A retired businessman in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, said: “Our President [Yoweri Museveni] has been castigated for quickly endorsing [Kenyan President Mwai] Kibaki’s government, but one has to understand where he was coming from. People in southern Uganda have a deep mistrust of leaders from the ethnic Luo communities, whom they associate with the ethnic communities in northern Uganda that produced presidents like [Milton] Obote and [Idi] Amin, who presided over the deaths of close to one million Ugandans between them.
“The fear among many in the south here is that a Raila [Odinga] presidency would strengthen ethnic Luos here and also in Southern Sudan, creating a regional Luo powerbase that would threaten the status quo, especially in Uganda,” he said. “There is even a fear that it could strengthen the rebel LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] movement.”
A Somali aid worker, who declined to be named, said: “The Kenyan crisis has scared us all. Kenya is the only safe haven for this region and it must be preserved at all costs.”
He said many aid agencies that cover Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and other countries in the region were based in Kenya. “What will happen to their work and the people they help? If things get out of hand it will be a disaster not only for Kenya but for the greater sub-region.
“As a Somali I am even more affected by the current problem than many others. Kenya has been home to many of us and we love it. I honestly don’t even want to think about or contemplate the possibility that they will not find a solution to the problems Kenya is currently facing.
Photo: Allan Gichigi/IRIN
|Many Kenyans have been displaced by post election violence|
“There has to be a political solution because the alternative of all-out disintegration is too horrible to contemplate. Every day I pray that the politicians will learn from history and from their neighbours and realise that greed and intransigence will lead to doom for them and those they claim to represent.
“Look at Somalia – because so-called politicians could not find a common ground, millions of Somalis are refugees in their own country or outside, living miserable lives. Kenya is too good to be lost because a few politicians could not find a compromise. Kenya is the only house in our neighbourhood that is not on fire, let’s keep it that way,” he added.
Mathias ole Kissambu, a Tanzanian economist and businessman based in the northern town of Arusha, said some businesses in the town had benefited from the influx of Kenyans fleeing violence at home, but “the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages such as this”.
Kissambu has a son studying at Moi University in Eldoret, a town in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province, which bore the brunt of the post-election violence.
“I fear for my son’s safety when the university re-opens but what do I do? He is in his final year, I am caught in a dilemma, to withdraw him or to put him at risk completing his studies,” he said. “I know many Tanzanians who have withdrawn their children from Kenyan primary and secondary schools, what about us with children at university level?”
Regarding business, Kissambu said some sectors, such agriculture, had suffered. “The price of maize, for instance, has gone up here in Tanzania from 20,000 shillings [$20] to 35,000 [$35] per bag since January,” he said. “I would have sourced maize for sale here in Arusha from Eldoret but I dare not risk sending a truck on the Kenyan roads any more, it might be burnt or destroyed.”
Kissambu had spent six years in Kenya and advised the country’s leaders to realise that “Kenyans are Kenyans regardless of their different tribes. Insisting on a president coming from one community should stop because Kenyans are Kenyans; how can one person be accepted by all other tribes except one?” Kissambu opined.
|The solution to Kenya’s problems no longer lies with Kenyans alone…Kenya’s ruling clique should understand that Kenya will never be the same and major legal and constitutional reforms are absolutely necessary|
“Look at Tanzania; the current president and the immediate former president come from small communities but they are accepted by all Tanzanians; when in office, they don’t favour their tribes, they serve all Tanzanians equally. Kenya should emulate us so that it does not degenerate into a situation like the one in Rwanda a decade ago.”
“Kenya must take advice”
A Somali businessman, who wished to remain anonymous, told IRIN: “Kenya is sick, very sick today. A sick person cannot choose the type of medications for his/her illness and will depend on the advice of others. The advice of Somalis to Kenya is to listen to all those who are genuinely trying to help.”
He said Somalis had not had the world attention like Kenya has had, and, “although the current situation in Somalia has no parallel in the world, no one is talking about it.
“The solution to Kenya’s problems no longer lies with Kenyans alone and those Kenyan leaders who are dismissing the good advice of others should know that Kenya has been offering solutions to the conflicting parts in Sudan, Somalia and others. Kenya’s ruling clique should understand that Kenya will never be the same and major legal and constitutional reforms are absolutely necessary to change the course Kenya is taking now.
“Let’s all pray that the leaders will come to their senses and stop the country sliding into the abyss,” he said. “Unlike Somalia and Sudan, Kenyans cannot sustain a long drawn-out conflict. If the current mediation efforts fail, Kenya will be much worse than Somalia. More likely it will become another Rwanda and that is something I never want to see.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
Photo: Shanduka Group
JOHANNESBURG, 1 February 2008 (IRIN) – South African Cyril Ramaphosa has joined the mediation team led by Kofi Annan to deal with Kenya’s post-election crisis.
Once billed as the man most likely to succeed Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa, Ramaphosa, 55, has the reputation of being a tough negotiator and a skilful strategist. He and Roelf Meyer, from the former National Party, played a key role in negotiating the end of apartheid and a new constitution in the early 1990s.
The negotiating skills of Ramaphosa and Meyer, both lawyers, acquired a towering reputation and soon after the African National Congress (ANC) took office in 1994 they were called to mediate the peace process in strife-torn Northern Ireland from 1995 to 1997.
“It was his ability to drive people right to the edge and make the stakes really high, so that [differing] parties have no choice – and it was that quality that drove the negotiations [in South Africa in the early 1990s],” said Mark Gevisser, political commentator and author. “He has ice in his veins – besides, he has also really learnt the art of finding language to express what both sides want without fudging the issues.”
After founding the National Union of Mineworkers in 1982 and building it into South Africa’s biggest trade union, Ramaphosa was elected secretary-general of the ANC in 1991 and subsequently led the party’s negotiating team during transitional talks with the National Party. He opted for a career in business soon after Thabo Mbeki was anointed Mandela’s successor and continues to play a prominent role in the private sector.
“Cyril is a very clear thinker and is very committed to bringing about a peaceful resolution,” said Meyer, former Minister of Provincial and Constitutional Affairs in the government of national unity that took office in 1994, who has worked closely with Ramaphosa. “He has the ability to see differences almost immediately, and the way forward.”
Jeremy Cronin, an ANC and South African Communist party leader, said Ramaphosa’s role in promoting the peace process in Northern Ireland had been complimented time and again by Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader.
Cronin noted Ramaphosa’s toughness, “which might really be what is required in Kenya, and Cyril’s ability to bring a sense of appreciation of the big picture of what really is at stake” and said Ramaphosa also had a “tremendous ability to listen – he has the right mix of patience and steely resolve.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
The post-election violence that has gripped Kenya for the last one month has started taking toll on the economy. The Scandinavian countries namely Norway, Sweden and Finland have already suspended aid worth millions of euros to one of the key government programmes-Government Justice Law and order Sector Reform (GJLOS) programme being implemented by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. The programme was initiated in 2005. Government departments to be affected by this move include the judiciary, the police, prisons, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission.
Sweden, the major donor to the programme has confirmed the suspension awaiting current peace initiatives being spearheaded by the African Union. “We are not going to enter into new contracts with the government following the current political crisis”, said Swedish ambassador Anna Brandt, expressing concern at the violence that has taken an ethnic dimension. Several donors have also declared that it will not be business as usual in Kenya as long as the chaos persist. It may be recalled that only President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has so far congratulated Kibaki over his controversial win of a second presidential term.
Meanwhile, Britain has shipped back its military equipment that had arrived at the port of Mombasa for the UK military training. Every year, British soldiers come to Kenya for military drills following an agreement with the government. “We have a memorandum of understanding with the British government where its soldiers come to train in the country. The equipment they had brought was to replace the older ones”, said military spokesman Bogita Ongeri. For the last 50 years, the British Army has used the eastern Kenyan towns of Archers Post and Dol Dol for military training with about 3000 soldiers arriving in the country annually. But following the post-election crisis in Kenya, the British government has decided to recall the equipment.
Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
|Post-election violence has caused the deaths of more than 1,000 according to reports|
NAIROBI, 28 January 2008 (IRIN) – Increasing violence and tension in several towns in western Kenya continue to hinder the provision of basic services such as health, education and transport, in addition to causing untold suffering to thousands of people displaced since the unrest began in late December.
Since 26 January, violence has paralysed Nakuru, the Rift Valley provincial capital, and Naivasha, in the same province. The violence spread on 28 January to Kisumu, Kakamega and Turbo, paralysing public transport and disrupting schools.
Jeanine Cooper, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Kenya, said: “I think we have hit a higher level of uncertainty in terms of humanitarian action and ability to respond,” adding that Nakuru and Naivasha had been considered “safe areas” and that the clashes there “raised the question of which other areas are really safe.
“We are working to improve the sharing of information so we are not left with situations we’ve seen such as a hospital running out of supplies or a camp that empties overnight.,” she told IRIN.
“A solution in the political arena [between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga] is not necessarily going to address all the underlying issues, resolve the humanitarian crisis or end the violence.”
Anthony Mwangi, the public relations manager of the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), said on 28 January that the organisation was conducting an assessment of the situation in Naivasha, where tens of deaths have been reported.
“The number of those displaced is running into thousands; we can’t give a figure because the displacement is still going on as Naivasha is still volatile today,” Mwangi said.
He said KRCS was helping in the retrieval of bodies, ferrying the injured to hospitals and providing aid to the displaced, who have sought refuge at police stations and at the town’s prison.
KRCS had reports of a resurgence in violence in Kakamega and Kisumu but the organisation had yet to establish the extent of the humanitarian fallout.
Hezron Makobewa, director of a Kisumu medical organisation, the OGRA Foundation, said on 28 January: “Kisumu is at a complete standstill today, all roads are barricaded and no-one can enter or leave the city. The events in Naivasha and Nakuru at the weekend seem to have ignited violence afresh here.”
He said gangs of youth had barricaded roads, checking the identities of passers-by. “People are leaving their homes in droves but it is difficult to get out of town,” Makobewa said.
He added that the gangs were using the barricading of the roads as a diversionary tactic. “While they engage the police at the road blocks, other gangs are moving door to door flushing out people who they beat up or even kill,” he said.
Makobewa said the number of displaced in Kisumu had gone down to a few hundred but he feared the figure would rise drastically after the resurgence of the latest violence.
He added that parents were getting their children out of schools in fear.
A resident of Kisumu, who requested anonymity, said a gang had raided a local secondary school and a watchman was killed after the police were called in. He added that another man had been lynched at the local bus station.
Near Turbo, a town on the Eldoret-Webuye road, residents said a trench measuring 1m deep and 1m wide had been dug on the road near a shopping centre known as Jua Kali. The road links the country to neighbouring Uganda.
“We are now cut off from Eldoret, and this has pushed up the price of most goods as no vehicle can get across the trench,” a resident said.
In Kakamega town, the capital of Western Province, sources said 10 houses had been burnt and hundreds of displaced people had sought refuge in police stations. A hostel that used to cater for students at the nearby Western University was among the buildings razed to the ground.
According to government figures, the post-election violence has claimed the lives of at least 680 people and displaced another 255,000. However, the local media estimates that more than 1,000 people have died.
Violence erupted in parts of the country soon after the Electoral Commission of Kenya announced President Mwai Kibaki as winner of presidential elections held on 27 December 2007.
African Union-mandated mediation efforts, led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, are ongoing, with the team meeting various stakeholders.
The mediation team visited a number of sites for the displaced at the weekend in the Rift Valley province, most affected by the violence.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
|Women line up to receive food aid at the Nairobi showground|
NAIROBI, 22 January 2008 (IRIN) – Thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) living on the site of an annual trade fair in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, have vowed to stay put, despite a government directive to close the camp.
“I am not leaving this place if I don’t have a secure place to relocate to,” Catherine Simba, an IDP from the western Kenyan town of Kakamega, told IRIN on 22 January at Jamhuri Park, the temporary home for at least 3,000 people displaced by post-election violence in parts of the country.
Simba was reacting to a government directive to have the camp closed. District Commissioner Evans Ogwankwa visited the camp on 21 January and said the government’s position was that the IDPs must leave.
“I’m not happy staying here, but I would also not want to go back to my looted and destroyed home near Kakamega town; I want to be relocated to a secure area,” she said.
“How can you take us back to the lion’s mouth, it will swallow us!” Simba exclaimed, alluding to the clashes that have rocked parts of the country since President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of the 27 December 2007 presidential elections. Opposition leader Raila Odinga has disputed the outcome, claiming rigging denied him victory.
Officials of international and national humanitarian organisations helping the displaced have started the identification process of IDPs willing to return home or relocate to other parts of the country.
According to Rev John Shikuku, a coordinator of the IDP camp’s secretariat manned by the National Alliance of Churches, only a few IDPs have expressed their willingness to leave the camp.
“Some say if they got help, they could go to their rural areas of origin; others want to go to parts of the city other than where they had rental homes previously,” he said. “It is good that the Kenya Red Cross Society has pledged to give those returning home a month’s food ration, but where are most of these people going? Their homes were looted or burnt.”
Shikuku said the National Alliance of Churches would remain at the IDP camp until all displaced people had been relocated. He said a meeting of government representatives and those of the aid agencies involved in helping the IDPs at Jamhuri Park would take place on 23 January to fine-tune the relocation plans.
A Red Cross official said the first batch of IDPs was expected to leave the camp on 23 January.
“What we are doing is re-identifying the IDPs in terms of where they want to go in order to facilitate their transportation,” the official, who requested anonymity, said.
Philip Mokua, a father of five, whose home and business in Kibera in Nairobi, reputed to be Africa’s largest slum, was destroyed, told IRIN he wanted to be moved back to his hometown, Kisii, in western Kenya.
“All I need is a little help to enable me get all my five children back to school in the rural area while I plan how to restart my life. I lost everything in the violence,” Mokua said. “I don’t think I can return to Kibera now. What would I be going back to? I have nothing there and no one can guarantee me security if I was to go back.”
Meantime, charitable organisations and individuals continue to provide food and non-food aid to thousands of residents of Kibera, which bore the brunt of the post-election violence in the city.
The aid distribution is taking place outside the Jamhuri IDP camp, with thousands of slum dwellers lining up to receive items such as maize meal, cooking oil, beans and blankets.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
|Properties on fire during post-election clashes in Eldoret|
NAIROBI, 18 January 2008 (IRIN) – Kenya’s breadbasket Rift Valley Province has experienced some of the worst ethnic clashes since December’s disputed polls. But there is nothing new to the violence in this volatile region.
More than 220 people have been killed in the province since the elections, according to police figures, including at least 30, many of them children, who died when the church in which they had sought refuge was torched on 1 January in a village near Eldoret.
Hundreds of homes and farms have been set on fire and recently harvested crops stolen.
The violence has prompted almost 170,000 people to flee to makeshift camps and, for those able to do so, to friends and relatives elsewhere in the country. Others have nowhere to go.
Most of those affected are Kikuyu, the country’s largest and most powerful ethnic group, and that of the controversially re-elected president, Mwai Kibaki.
Long-unresolved issues related to the shifting ownership and tenure of (and large-scale evictions from) the province’s more fertile land tend to erupt into violence around the time of elections as campaigning candidates pledge to correct past “injustices” to win support.
Root of the problem
The roots of the Rift Valley land rows lie with the former colonial power, Britain; post-independence land policies; and the tendency for all things political to be viewed through the lens of ethnicity. Clashes over land use and ownership have been fuelled by politicians for their own benefit since the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1991, say analysts.
Under British rule, vast arable tracts of the Rift Valley were designated as White Highlands, reserved for European settlers. The pastoralist communities, mainly Kalenjin and Maasai, were simply moved away.
|UNOSAT map of active fires in a part of Rift Valley Province showing likely areas of post-election arson and clashes, 4 January 2008|
In the run-up to independence in 1963, Kenyan political parties argued over whether the land should be returned to the indigenous population under a federalist system of government or kept firmly under the control of a centralised state.
Those who favoured the latter option, in the form of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), which went on to form a government under president Jomo Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, prevailed.
KANU “urged central control of the region in an effort to forestall local legislation restricting land transfer to those born in the area and to maintain the foothold of the party’s Kikuyu supporters in the Rift Valley land market”, Jennifer Widner explained in her 1992 book, The Rise of A Party-State in Kenya: From “Harambee!” to “Nyayo!”
At independence, many settlers decided to return to Britain. Kenyatta was keen to reassure those who remained and did not repossess their land. Instead, land was bought from those who were willing to sell, using a loan from the British government, and sold to Kenyans.
The Kikuyu fared well from this arrangement. According to Widner, by 1971, more than 50 percent of the acreage under cultivation by large-scale farmers around the Rift Valley town of Nakuru was held by Kikuyu.
This was partly because there was a large Kikuyu squatter population in RVP that had been displaced from neighbouring Central Province by European settlers. Many Kikuyu also lost their land when they took up arms against the colonial regime during the Mau Mau rebellion.
“Using the political and economic leverage available to them during the Kenyatta regime, the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru groups, but especially the Kikuyu, took advantage of the situation and formed many land-buying companies. These companies would, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, facilitate the settlement of hundreds of thousands of Kikuyu in the Rift Valley,” wrote Walter Oyugi in Politicised Ethnic Conflict in Kenya: A Periodic Phenomenon.
According to Oyugi, other new entrants included Kisiis, Luos and Luhyas. Foreigners also acquired more than 400,000 hectares of land in the first four years of independence, despite a ban on such transfers, according to Widner.
The province’s earlier pastoralist inhabitants, such as the Maasai and groups collectively known as Kalenjin, were quick to protest. In 1969, Jean Marie Seroney, a leading Nandi politician – Nandis are a Kalenjin sub-group – issued the Nandi Hills Declaration, laying claim to all settlement land in the district for the Nandi.
|A woman running from a fire started by opposition surporters during the post election violence, Eldoret|
His demands went unheeded. Taking a leaf out of the British colonialists’ book, the Kenyatta government used a policy of divide-and-rule to neutralise such opposition by parcelling out land to other ethnic groups and thus winning their allegiance. Daniel arap Moi, the then vice-president who went on to rule Kenya for more than two decades, “secured the settler farms of the Lembus Forest and the Essageri Salient for his own small subgroup in the face of competing bids by the Nandi”, explained Widner. Moi is a Tugen, another Kalenjin sub-group.
Land (and votes) for the boys
For decades, corrupt political patronage allowed cabinet ministers and other influential personalities to acquire public or common land in Rift Valley and elsewhere in Kenya, some of which had been used for generations by pastoralist communities.
According to the (2004) Ndung’u Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Illegal/Irregular Allocation of Public Land set up by Kibaki, dozens of politically connected people had been unlawfully allocated public land.
Another source of bitterness has been tendency for large tracts of land in Rift Valley, especially those owned by absentee landlords, or where ownership is disputed, to lie idle.
“Some of the ‘telephone farmers’ hold that land to get collateral and don’t use it. If you drive through Rift Valley, you see a lot of land that is fallow but it belongs to somebody who has a title deed for it. People are not benefiting from that land and so many Kenyans do not have any land to get subsistence crops from,” John Oucho, author of Undercurrents of Ethnic Conflicts in Kenya (2002), told IRIN.
Precedents for unrest
In Divide and Rule: State Sponsored Ethnic Violence in Kenya (1993), the NGO Human Rights Watch argued that Moi’s government had four main reasons for fostering ethnic clashes: to make a case that a return to multiparty democracy would lead to chaos; to punish Kikuyu, Luo and Luhya voters who were pro-opposition; to terrorise and intimidate non-Kalenjin and non-Maasai into leaving the province so that Kalenjin and Maasai could take over their land; and to support renewed calls for a federal system of government to empower Rift Valley’s original pastoralist inhabitants.
That the state had a direct hand in election-time RVP clashes is well documented in the 1993 Kiliku Report by the Parliamentary Commission on Ethnic Clashes.
Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
|Internally displaced people arriving at the Nakuru showground to seek shelter after their homes were destroyed in post-election violence|
A fresh wave of dispossessions in the province took place even after Kibaki succeeded Moi in 2002, despite Kibaki’s election manifesto promising to assist people displaced from the province during previous clashes.
“Government-sponsored evictions have also aggravated ethnic tensions and in one area, the Mau Forest, led to the displacement of roughly 15,000 people,” according to ‘I am a Refugee in My Own Country’: Conflict-Induced Internal Displacement in Kenya, a report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), a Geneva-based organisation set up by the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Although the evictions were designed to protect water catchment and environmentally sensitive areas, they were “characterised by violence, forced displacement, and other human rights abuses”, according to the report, released in December 2006, which also noted that many of those forcibly moved held legal title deeds.
And while the evictions were recommended in the Ndung’u report, resettlement provisions in the same document have been largely ignored, according to IDMC.
Bishop Cornelius Korir of Eldoret Cathedral, which has been a sanctuary for many of those displaced in Rift Valley since the latest elections, said this inequality must be addressed if there is to be lasting peace in the region.
“You have rich fellows who took chunks of land. You have poor people who have nothing. The gap between the poor and the rich is growing. Most of the people doing violence are young and poor and they are being misused by the leaders. If the structures are not set for equality of distribution, this problem will grow,” he warned.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )
Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
|A woman tries to salvage the little that is left of her property in Nairobi’s slums after properties were set ablaze in post-election violence|
NAIROBI AND NAKURU, 16 January 2008 (IRIN) – Amid the usual piles of fetid rubbish on the streets of Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum, there was clear evidence of the recent political violence in the blackened buildings and boarded-up shops. A row of kiosks was reduced to a pile of rubble and cinders; several larger buildings were now mere charred shells.
The tension was palpable, even more than a fortnight after incumbent Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of a presidential election the opposition insists was rigged. A truck-full of riot police cruised the area, passing a donkey cart laden with household possessions. People were on the move, fearing another week of violence. The opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) had called for three days of mass action, starting on 16 January.
Thousands of Kibera residents have sought refuge in neighbouring Jamhuri Park, a showground normally used for trade fairs now transformed into a makeshift camp for the displaced.
Even here, the atmosphere was tense, with police trying to stop people stealing and fighting. Seraphin Okoth Okuta, 40, argued with a teenage girl over a pair of donated shoes. Both had grabbed one shoe from a pair and neither was prepared to give way, until a policeman persuaded Okuta to concede.
Okuta came to Jamhuri Park to get clothes because her landlord in Kibera’s Kisumu Ndogo area had locked her out of the room she had rented for 17 years.
“My landlord is a Kikuyu. He chased me away from the house. He said he doesn’t want a Luo living in the house. He refused to let me take my possessions,” she explained. Now she and her three teenage children were sleeping on a neighbour’s floor with one blanket between them.
She was also trying to raise funds to bury her eldest son, who she said was killed in the riots that followed the election.
Photo: Allan Gichigi/IRIN
|People queuing up in their hundreds to vote in the 2007 general elections in Kenya|
Analysts point out that the problem of ethnicity in Kenya emerged during the colonial period and has worsened since independence as it has become a key factor in national politics.
“Ethnicity per se, in the absence of its politicisation, does not cause conflict. There is evidence to suggest that where ethnic conflict has emerged in Africa, there have always been political machinations behind it,” wrote Kenyan academic Walter Oyugi in Politicised Ethnic Conflict in Kenya: A Periodic Phenomenon.
Politics in Kenya has long been a battleground for communities’ tussles over land and power. Parties tend to be formed along ethnic lines. Before every election, campaign rhetoric reinforces divisions between ethnic groups, with politicians pledging to protect the interests of “their” people against the threat of dispossession or impoverishment at the hands of “others”. Thus whole communities are polarised, a “them-and-us” mentality entrenched between former friends and neighbours.
Old grudges help to fuel such antipathy. In 1969, three years after independence, Kenya’s founding president Jomo Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, jailed the leading Luo politician, Oginga Odinga, after he resigned as vice-president to form an opposition party. In December’s election, Kibaki was declared the victor against Odinga’s son, Raila, in a poll that has been widely criticised for irregularities.
The poll was the most hotly contested in the country’s history and its polarising effect is apparently greater than previous, foregone-conclusion, elections. Judging by IRIN interviews with affected citizens, the rifts will take a long time to heal.
“I am a Kenyan”
Jane Njoki, a 42-year-old mother of two, campaigned for Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) in the Kianda area of Kibera. “Before the elections, there were rumours that if Raila won, Kikuyus will have to go,” said Njoki. “When the election results were announced, they started burning our things and beating people because we are Kikuyus.
“My neighbour told me, ‘You are going to be beaten by the ODM people’. I told her, ‘They can’t beat me. They don’t know I am in my house’. She told me, ‘We are the ODM’. So I ran away [to Jamhuri Park] because she could call those men to come and kill me,” she said.
A few days later, Njoki’s son was stopped by a group of young men who asked him to which ethnic group he belonged. “He said, ‘I am a Kenyan’. The following day our house went up in flames,” said Njoki.
“I will never trust a Luo again in my life. I can’t express what has gone on in my heart. I can’t live with you for more than 10 years and instead of hiding me you are the first person to threaten me,” she said.
“If I could be president of this country, the first thing I’d do would be assess those people who don’t want to live with others and keep them in their own province and make it a country of its own. And those who want to live together, let them live together,” she said.
In another showground 150km to the northwest, in Nakuru, local volunteers and international aid workers have helped about 37,000 people displaced by post-election violence.
Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
|Susan Maina was forced to flee for safety with her family from Burnt Forest area|
Most have moved on to stay with friends and relatives but there is a static population of about 3,400, almost exclusively Kikuyu, who have nowhere else to go. Among this core group when IRIN visited the camp was the Maina family, who before the election had farmed land in Burnt Forest, in Rift Valley Province, which has long been a powder keg of land disputes between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin, who largely supported Odinga.
Sitting in the middle of the showground’s sports field, on sacks containing all the possessions they could salvage, the Mainas, Kikuyus, recounted how the election had changed their lives for ever.
Rumours of impending violence abounded in Burnt Forest in the run-up to the polls, but it was only when Kibaki’s controversial victory was announced that the Mainas and others took them seriously.
“These people were our friends,” said Susan, the fifty-something mother of the family, of the Kalenjin neighbours, who, she said, organised themselves into groups armed with “arrows, machetes and clubs”.
“When they realised their side was losing, they started preparing, hatching plans to attack,” she said.
Just as in Kibera, Kikuyu homes in Burnt Forest were targeted, their occupants chased into nearby fields before just-harvested crops were stolen and buildings set on fire.
The scattered Maina family regrouped early the next day and ended up in the grounds of the local police station, with several thousand other people.
Their sense of sanctuary, said Susan, was fragile, because the police station was surrounded by the “others”, their weapons pointed at the displaced families, and because some of the police officers were also Kalenjin, who when off-duty, mingled with the attackers, she said.
Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
|Internally displaced people seeking shelter at the Nakuru show grounds|
“At one point we were made to kneel, raise our arms and beg for mercy,” said Susan.
Eventually, after about two weeks, security reinforcements arrived and many of the families managed to make their way to Nakuru. Susan did not return home first, but her son Benson, 22, did.
“Everything was burnt down. They took the crops we had just harvested and our dairy cows,” he said, estimating the loss at about 150,000 shillings (about US$2,300).
Susan said she would only consider returning if Kibaki remained in power and if the government could guarantee their safety. “Otherwise we will remain displaced indefinitely. We have no roots anywhere else.”
Asked if they could ever reconcile with their attackers, the reaction from the Mainas was a mix of yes and no.
“It depends on the other side,” said Simon.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
(New York) – An independent investigation of the presidential elections is needed to avert further violence in Kenya, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch urged the government to end unnecessary restrictions on the media and peaceful assembly.
“Mounting evidence of serious election fraud has helped to ignite violence throughout Kenya,” said Georgette Gagnon, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “An independent and transparent review of the vote tallying is urgently needed.”
Kenyan and international election monitors have found widespread evidence of vote-counting irregularities in the December 27 presidential poll in which incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was deemed the winner. Human Rights Watch called upon Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to endorse – and international governments to support – a transparent, independent review with international participation of the tallying process, accompanied by a clear timeframe to complete the review.
Human Rights Watch expressed concern about the violence ensuing after the election and the government’s heavy-handed response. Post-election violence has wracked areas of Nairobi, Mombasa, Eldoret in the Rift Valley, and Kisumu in Nyanza, among other areas. Media reports have cited up to 350 deaths. Vigilante groups have targeted and attacked Kikuyu, the ethnic group of President Kibaki. There have been horrific incidents, including the burning of a church in western Kenya containing dozens of Kikuyu, including women and children who had sought refuge there.
Opposition supporters have also been victims of the crackdown by the security forces. Opposition protests, which have included violence and looting, have been met with excessive use of force by the police and military. The United Nations now officially estimates that the number of Kenyans internally displaced by post-election violence is 180,000. Kenyan authorities should ensure that all displaced persons and others in need are able to access humanitarian assistance. Human Rights Watch also said that an independent and impartial investigation into the post-election violence was needed so that all those responsible are held accountable.
The government has banned live political broadcasting and protest rallies. Human Rights Watch urged the Kenyan authorities to immediately lift unnecessary restrictions on press freedom and peaceful assembly.
“The Kibaki government has responded to the violence with a military crackdown and restrictions on protests as well as the press,” said Gagnon. “Political leaders in Kenya and concerned governments should unite in a call for an end to violence.”
Kenyans voted peacefully and in record numbers in parliamentary and presidential elections on December 27. In the parliamentary elections, 99 of the 210 seats were won by the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). Vice-President Moody Awori, and 14 of President Kibaki’s top ministers lost their seats.
The presidential vote count appeared to be following the same pattern with ODM leader Raila Odinga leading the count. However, in an abrupt turnaround, the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) announced that Kibaki was in the lead. The ODM and international election observers raised concerns about poll numbers, which the government ignored. As protests mounted, the electricity was turned off in the ECK election headquarters and ECK commissioners were escorted by police from the building. Immediately afterwards, ECK Chair Samuel Kivuitu declared Kibaki the presidential winner with around 230,000 more votes than Odinga. The government then broadcast on television a clip showing Kibaki being sworn in at State House close to midnight in a hurried private ceremony.
The ECK chair was subsequently quoted in the media saying that he did “not know whether Mr. Kibaki won the elections.” He said he was “under pressure” to announce a result quickly despite appeals by election monitors to delay until apparent irregularities were investigated. Four of his ECK colleagues also said they were “uneasy” with the presidential outcome and admitted to “weighty” concerns about the process.
The European Union Electoral Mission expressed grave doubts about the legitimacy of the presidential results. Immediately following the election, it stated “the tallying process lacks credibility and … the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) has not fulfilled its responsibilities to create such a process.” The EU mission reported “some irregularities that cast a doubt on the accuracy of the final results that were announced.” The European observers cited Molo constituency, where 25,000 votes were fraudulently added to the tally sheet in favor of Kibaki. Others have also reported fraud, including an elections officer who admitted that election sheet returns have been doctored to favor Kibaki. Other contentious issues include abnormal voter turnouts in the strongholds of both Kibaki and Odinga, and the lack of access to EU observers in some tallying centers, especially in central Kenya, Kibaki’s stronghold.
The Kibaki government has so far dismissed calls for an investigation, telling the ODM to lodge any complaints with the courts. However, the Kenyan judiciary is widely perceived as not being independent. The current chief justice was present at the recent swearing-in ceremony of Kibaki. Earlier in his term, Kibaki removed a number of senior judges – including the then-chief justice – and replaced them with individuals viewed as less independent.
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|Scenes like this burning slum on the outskirts of Kericho have prompted several thousand Kenyans to cross the nearby border into Uganda|
KAMPALA, 4 January 2008 (IRIN) -Food relief for an estimated 2,000 Kenyan refugees who crossed the border into east Uganda when they fled post election violence has started to arrive, government officials said.
Musa Ecweru, a Ugandan minister in charge of refugees and disaster preparedness, told IRIN that an estimated two tonnes of maize meal and about 600 kilograms of beans were delivered on 4 January to the refugees at the make-shift reception centres set up in the compounds of St Jude and Koitangiro primary schools along the border.
He said: “We are using the two primary schools in Busia and Malaba as we assess the situation and determine whether we have to move them further inland as required by international law.
According to Ecweru, the government has experienced problems transporting food because of the scarcity of fuel following the blockade of routes from Kenya’s main port of Mombasa to Uganda. “I looked around and mobilised some fuel to deliver the food. We hope the situation improves so that we can be able to deliver this food more easily,” he said, adding that other agencies have also been brought on board to help.
Many of the displaced tell gruesome tales of violence back in Kenya, he added, including one mother of three who watched on helpless as two of her children were hacked to death and her shops were burnt down during fighting in Bungoma, in Kenya’s Western Province. “I saw a situation of desperation in this lady exacerbated by anger and what she describes will never leave her memory for her entire life,” Ecweru said.
Dubbed one of Kenya’s closest-ever elections, the 27 December presidential polls ended with a controversial win for incumbent Mwai Kibaki, but opposition leader Raila Odinga rejected the results, triggering violence across Kenya.
Much of the fighting has been committed by civilians and has so far generally targetted members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group and others that support him politically.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
|Some the 2,000 people who fled their homes in and around the western town of Kericho for the safety of a Roman Catholic Church had time to take their household possessions with them.|
NAIROBI, 3 January 2008 (IRIN) – Thousands of Kenyans displaced by post-election violence in the west of the country were taking refuge in police stations and church grounds with little or no access to humanitarian assistance four days into the worst unrest seen in the country since a 1982 failed coup.
Many have no homes to return to, because they were set on fire in the wave of violence that greeted the Election Commission of Kenya’s announcement on 30 December that incumbent Mwai Kibaki had won the presidential poll three days earlier.
Much of the violence was committed by civilians and generally targetted members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group and others that support him politically.
In some areas, security forces were accused of excessive zeal. According to various media sources, in the city of Kisumu, which lies on the shores of Lake Victoria, around 100 people have been killed, mostly shot by police and other branches of the security forces.
Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) public relations manager Anthony Mwangi said in western Rift Valley Province “hundreds of thousands of people are in need of food, shelter and medical assistance”.
Many of the displaced lack “necessary water and sanitation, which can cause serious health hazards”, he said, adding that crops were destroyed in the violence, causing food security problems for many people.
Motobo Roman Catholic Church, in a poor suburb of the western town of Kericho, is surrounded by the smouldering ruins of neighbouring shacks, according to people working there.
|Church grounds at Motobo|
The church grounds have become a makeshift home to some 2,000 people from the neighbourhood and nearby villages, according to a teacher now helping the displaced, who asked to be identified only as James.
“Our facilities are strained. There are few toilets and no water is running in the pipes,” he told IRIN by phone.
“We don’t have much medicine and are running short of money to buy fresh supplies,” he said, adding that many of the roads in the area had been closed by youths from local communities who were demanding money from motorists.
“The Red Cross said they cannot get through,” he said.
On this point, Mwangi said the KRCS had been promised support from security forces to clear blocked roads.
UN sources said police had escorted aid convoys along the main road in the region, which in previous days had been blocked in many places by armed gangs.
“Maybe they could get supplies to us by helicopter,” said another person helping the displaced in Motobo, who asked not to be named.
He added that priority needs included foodstuffs such as maize, rice, cooking oil and salt.
“We have enough for a few more days. We got a local shopkeeper to open up his store but we have no more money because banks were closed,” he said.
“The police are in town. Sometimes they send someone here but they just come and then go. We don’t have security,” explained James, appealing for at least a couple of security guards to be deployed.
Sources in Motobo said the police in Kericho did not even respond to phone calls. When IRIN tried to contact a senior police official to comment on this and on reports that around 3,000 people were sheltered in the town’s police station with no sanitation facilities, the official declined to take the call.
Medical assistance in Motobo was limited to a single clinical officer who returned home every evening to protect his property.
James added that those now staying in the church grounds had been warned by local youths that the premises would be attacked at night.
On New Year’s Day, up to 50 people who had sought sanctuary in an Assemblies of God church in Eldoret died when a mob set it on fire and attacked those who tried to flee with machetes, according to leaders of the church.
UN sources said the Kenyan government is set to release 1,800 tonnes of food from a depot in Eldoret to KRCS. But until main arteries are cleared of roadblocks, it will be hard to distribute this to where it is needed.
In Kisumu, “people are starting to run short of food and prices are rising,” said Provincial Commissioner Paul Olando. “There is no fuel and motorists are unable to move. There are people barricading the roads and even daring the police to shoot them.”
He said there were about 1,000 people who had sought refuge in police stations around Nyanza province and who wanted to leave but were unable to do so.
“These people have no food, no medicine and they cannot bathe,” he said. He said a bus company had on 2 January refused to carry 500 displaced people from Kisumu to Nairobi fearing that the vehicles could be set alight on the way.
He said the provincial administration was trying to persuade fuel transporters to resume work, but they were reluctant.
The price of bread had doubled from 30 to 60 Kenya shillings (about one US dollar) a loaf, he added.
Olando said his administration had convinced supermarkets to open on 2 January and they were immediately overwhelmed by large numbers of customers trying to stock up on food.
“They are still open today [3 January] but owners want to close down because they are apprehensive that what is happening in Nairobi will have a bearing on Kisumu,” said Olando.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga called on his supporters to stage a rally in Nairobi on 3 January to protest alleged poll rigging, but the government banned the meeting sparking clashes with police.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
MALABA, 3 January 2008 (IRIN) – Johnstone Kimili still does not understand why it happened as he describes the violence in western Kenya that forced him to seek refuge in neighbouring Uganda.
“I am a pastor and had gone to church that Sunday [30 December] morning. There was nothing that indicated violence would break out,” he told IRIN at a makeshift camp in the Ugandan border town of Malaba.
“The trouble broke out immediately after the results of the presidential polls were announced; everything changed within 20 minutes,” he said.
“Within minutes, my two shops had been burnt down and they took everything – even the doors and windows. I lost property worth 600,000 shillings [about US$9,000] – including the clothes I was wearing.”
Fleeing the rampaging youths, Kimili abandoned his home of 12 years in the tiny western Kenyan township of Malakisi and headed for Malaba, along with his family.
“I do not understand why they did this; we voted for Kibaki because we like him, not because we hate Luos,” he said. “Perhaps they want their land back.”
Dubbed one of Kenya’s closest-ever elections, the 27 December presidential polls ended with a controversial declared win for incumbent Mwai Kibaki, but opposition leader Raila Odinga rejected the results, triggering violence across Kenya.
Ugandan officials in Malaba said about 2,000 Kenyans had crossed into the town since the announcement of the poll result. “We have registered 778 people but about 1,000 more are staying with relatives or in hotels around this area,” George Alfred Obore said.
“We have set up two reception camps and are appealing for blankets, mosquito nets, mattresses and medicines, especially for children,” he told IRIN on 2 January, ahead of a meeting with the local disaster preparedness committee. “We are still receiving people.”
The two camps were set up at St Jude and Koitangiro primary schools. At St Jude, staff from the Uganda Red Cross had been registering the displaced civilians and offering some aid. “Based on the ongoing registration, the most urgent needs have to do with sanitation, beddings and food,” local leader Joseph Okiror said.
Uganda’s Disaster Preparedness Junior Minister Musa Ecweru, who visited Malaba on 2 January, said his government was arranging food aid for the displaced Kenyans.
“We have the food; we only need to find trucks to deliver the food,” he said after an assessment meeting with local leaders. “We hope the situation normalises soon.”
Speaking to IRIN earlier in Kampala, Ecweru said his ministry was liaising with other humanitarian agencies to help the affected people.
Ugandan sources said hundreds of other displaced families were in the border town of Busia and Lwakaka area in the Mount Elgon region.
Felix Esoku, chairman of the Tororo district disaster management committee, said there were also plans to move the displaced to Tororo, 12km away from the border, if the numbers swelled to over 3,000.
Since the violence erupted, the usually bustling border town of Malaba has been quiet – just like the road from Kampala to Malaba, where traffic was very thin.
On the day Kimili fled, gunshots could be heard on the Kenyan side of the border as security officials tried to contain looters vandalising shops and grabbing property.
Police sources in Malaba said two people were killed in the skirmishes, while several others sustained injuries.
According to local border officials, there has been very little traffic from the Ugandan side to the Kenyan side since the violence broke out. There was however movement of people from Kenya to Uganda, including the displaced seeking refuge within Malaba area and dozens of families driving across the border.
Sources said the displaced in Malaba were mainly from the Kikuyu ethnic community and that scores of Asian families also crossed the border, including 500 who reached Jinja, further west of Malaba.
“The impact has been devastating for this small town,” said Moses Okware, a local resident in Malaba. “For example, hundreds of money changers used to do business on the more than 10 buses that ply the Kampala-Nairobi route daily. The buses have since stopped moving.”
Hundreds of vehicles, including trucks carrying fuel and goods to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Southern Sudan that used to cross the border daily, also temporarily stopped moving – triggering a major fuel shortage in Uganda.
“The longer it [the violence] lasts, the worse things get for us in Malaba,” Okware added.
The waiting continues
Despite assurances that they are safe, the displaced Kenyans in Malaba say the people behind the violence are still threatening them.
“One of them came into this place today; we don’t know why,” Lucy Kimanthi, an elderly lady lying on a mat in a classroom at St Jude camp said. “Why are they doing this?”
Local MP and Ugandan junior health minister, Emmanuel Otaala, met the displaced Kenyans and appealed for calm and understanding. Kenyan officials too addressed the groups, repeating similar appeals.
“The main worry for Uganda is that
|if it continues, there will be an economic crisis.|
,” a customs official at Malaba told IRIN. “It is a problem of being so landlocked. Already, it has impacted on the fuel situation in the country – which will in turn affect other sectors.”
For Kimili, the priority is for peace to return to western Kenya so he can go back and rebuild his business.
“I am just 31, so there is still life to be lived,” he said. “I want to return to work again. The politicians should reconcile their differences so that we can get on as one country.”
Meanwhile, he worries about the conditions in St Jude camp. “The Uganda Red Cross and government officials are doing their best, but sleeping on mats, poor feeding and poor sanitation is bad for the children,” he said. “This should really end.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Photo: Michael Shade/Wikimedia Commons
|A view of the Rift Valley near Eldoret|
NAIROBI, 3 January 2008 (IRIN) – Two families found themselves caught up in post election violence in Moi’s Bridge, an area between Eldoret and Kitale in western Kenya’s strife-hit Rift Valley Province. They told IRIN their stories.
The area is predominantly Kalenjin (an ethnic grouping including the Nandi, Marakwet, Pokot and others). But a significant Kikuyu population also lives there. According to the Kenya Red Cross Society and other sources, the violence in Rift Valley Province mainly pits members of the Kalenjin community against the Kikuyu, the tribe of controversially re-elected President Mwai Kibaki.
On the night of 29 December – the day before the election results were announced and promptly rejected by the opposition, the first attacks on Kikuyu houses and homesteads around Moi’s Bridge began, according to residents of both ethnicities contacted by phone from Nairobi.
Jane* (*all names changed), a 38-year-old Kikuyu teacher, had lived in Moi’s Bridge for 14 years. She says a Kalenjin mob broke down the gate of the school compound and looted her house as she fled with her three boys. “They were screaming,” she said of the mob. They took everything “even beds”, she added. Jane was taken in by Kalenjin family friends nearby who agreed to shelter her and the children. “We just ran away with the clothes we were wearing.”
Mary, 25, is a member of the family that took the risk of taking her neighbours in. “We look at them as human beings,” she said. “The children had nothing to do with it… you look in their eyes – you start crying. It’s affecting us all, from this tribe or that tribe.”
Staying hidden inside Mary’s family house, everyone had to whisper. They did so in Swahili, a lingua franca in many parts of East Africa, but a second language for most Kenyan ethnic groups, each of which have their own mother tongue. If passers-by heard it being spoken aloud, said Jane, they would know there were “foreigners” in the house.
From Sunday (December 30), tension and pressure from the Kalenjin community increased, Mary said. She said patrols of Kalenjin men and boys as young as 12 were moving “like a mob” in the area. If they heard any language other than Kalenjin there would be questions – or worse, she said. “They have pangas [machetes] and these crude weapons… so you fear for your life.”
Realising that her hosts had “became scared by the threats”, on Tuesday (1 January) Jane took her family away during a lull in the tension to stay with relatives in Kitale, a larger town about 40km away, from where she described her ordeal to IRIN.
Jane said: “It is not us who caused it [the election controversy]… not the common mwananchi [people]. I stayed with those people for 14 years… I heard even my students were involved [in raiding her house].” While grateful for the sanctuary granted by Mary and her family – “good people, I trust them” – Jane says she can never go back. “It’s not possible.”
Fear of attacks and reprisals remains intense. “We sleep in turns,” Mary said, mentioning unconfirmed reports of nine killings on 2 January. “If the other community can find a way to get weapons, we are all dead.”
Some people were sleeping outdoors and several Kikuyu families were sheltering with their possessions at the local police station, according to both Mary and Jane. Jane complained that police were rarely seen outside the station and were paid by business people to protect property stored at their post. Access to transport, shops and mobile phone credit are very limited, she said.
It was quite a “cosmopolitan” area before, said Mary, where children grew up in a mixed ethnic community, using Swahili and English among themselves. Jane says she blames political leaders, “I am not a politician… but it’s now between the communities.”
Now Jane just wants “people to calm down”. As for any revenge: “Let God do it!”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
|A barber shop burns in Nairobi’s Mathare slum|
(IRIN) –Kenya is in the throes of a humanitarian “national disaster” amid post-election violence that has left scores dead, tens of thousands displaced beyond reach of immediate assistance and many more destined to be dependent on aid for several months to come, according to the Red Cross.
“The country has been riddled with insecurity over the last few days and there are many areas we cannot access,” Kenya Red Cross Secretary General Abbas Gullet told reporters in Nairobi on 1 January after conducting an assessment by helicopter to western parts of the country.
Video footage shot during this mission showed smoke billowing from homes and farms, crowds of displaced civilians seeking sanctuary in churches and police stations, and usually busy main arteries empty of traffic and dotted with roadblocks manned by gangs.
Gullet said his organisation’s 48 branches had put in place contingency plans for the elections but that “no-one imagined the worst-case scenario we seem to be having now.”
In one of the most brutal episodes of violence since the incumbent Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of the December 27 poll – amid cries of fraud by the opposition and international concern about the vote tallying process – at least 30 people who had sought sanctuary in a church in the western town of Eldoret died after a mob set the building ablaze, according to reports from the BBC and AFP, among other news outlets.
AFP, which estimated the overall number of dead in the wake of the polls at 300, quoted one senior police official as saying the events around Eldoret and nearby areas “looked very much like ethnic cleansing.”
Around the area of Burnt Forest in Rift Valley Province, according to Gullet, some 20,000 to 30,000 people, predominantly from Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group, were holed up in church and police premises. An official government statement carried by local media estimated that there are 73,500 displaced people countrywide.
Most of the displaced have no access to food, water, health services or shelter, he said.
Families flee to eastern Uganda
The main road heading west from Eldoret leads to Uganda. A Ugandan immigration official at the Malaba border post told IRIN that dozens of families, mostly Kikuyus, had entered Uganda on 31 December and 1 January. The official said she thought many others had left Kenya crossing unmanned points of the unfenced and porous frontier. Another source at Malaba said he had seen only one car crossing from Uganda to Kenya on 1 January.
Members of Uganda’s parliament from constituencies in the border area have appealed to the government in Kampala to send aid to the region to meet the needs of any further refugees.
Fuel in Uganda arrives through Kenya and many petrol stations in Kampala had run dry while prices in other parts of the country had doubled.
Vigilantes and no-go areas
Of those still in Kenya, “a few hundred thousand will need [humanitarian] assistance for some time… many people who were food sufficient are becoming food dependent,” said Gullet.
Between Burnt Forest and Eldoret, 30km away, “around 30 checkpoints have been set up by vigilantes,” he said.
“If you are not of the right ethnic group, it’s no go,” explained the Red Cross official.
“People are being targeted and it is known which ethnic group is being targeted,” said Gullet. When asked to clarify, he said in the areas he visited, “it’s largely the Kikuyu ethnic group that’s being targeted.”
Gullet said that in some parts of the country even Red Cross workers, clearly identifiable as such by the emblem on their jackets, had also been challenged to declare their ethnicity.
The Red Cross video showed hundreds of people at Eldoret airport, which lies 20km from the town itself, who had been there “for the last few days, surrounded by 3,000 people from one ethnic group,” he added.
During the brief assessment flight, Gullet estimated he saw “hundreds” of homes and farms on fire.
Photo: Anthony Morland/IRIN
|Citizens responded generously to a Red Cross appeal for food, often braving supermarket queues for several hours before taking supplies to the organisation’s headquarters on the outskirts of Nairobi|
Assistance and lack of access
“The people need assistance, but we cannot access them by road and we cannot airlift because the only viable aircraft are helicopters and they can only carry two tonnes,” he said, adding that the road blocks had led fuel supplies to run out in many towns.
Visiting Moi University Hospital in Eldoret, the Red Cross team saw many patients with gunshot wounds and others who had been injured by arrows. Several doctors who live in the town were unable to reach the hospital because of fears for their safety.
“The hospital is overwhelmed with the number of casualties. They have set up tents outside to shelter the less serious cases,” said Gullet.
Plea to leaders
He went on to issue a plea to Kenya’s political leaders to provide security to ensure humanitarian access and to lift stringent restrictions imposed on the news media just after Kibaki’s victory was declared on 30 December.
He also called on presidential candidate Raila Odinga, the opposition leader from the Luo ethnic group who insists he was cheated of election victory, “to speak out to the masses and say that this senseless killing is unacceptable.”
Prices of basic food have shot up in some areas and The Red Cross has been distributing food to people displaced from some of Nairobi’s slums thanks in part to donations from citizens responding to the agency’s public appeal.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
|Hundreds of families from Kiptagich village in Molo, Decmber 2007, are camping outside the DO’s office|
(IRIN) – Revenge attacks, rumours, inaccurate media reports and provocative public statements by politicians have fuelled hostilities in Kenya’s New Molo district, where clashes have displaced thousands of people and caused dozens of deaths, according to a government official.
“As a result of the tension among the three communities in the district, opportunists have taken advantage of the fluidity of the situation to fuel hostilities,” Mohamud Salim, the district commissioner, told a UN delegation in Molo town.
“The problem now is that many people have fled their homes,” he said. “We do not have an exact number of the displaced as we are still collecting the data but many of the IDPs [internally displaced persons] are now in at least 20 sites in and around Molo town.”
Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) estimates that at least 3,000 families, or 15,000 people, have been displaced in the violence. At least 500 IDPs have sought refuge at a church compound, a few metres from the DC’s office.
“I fled my home more than a week ago together with my husband and four children. We slept in the open the first night at Keringet police station,” Ann Wacu, 24, said. She is one of the IDPs at the Apostolic Church compound.
Clashes erupted in the district in late September, following accusations and counter-accusations among the three communities, the Kalenjin, Kikuyu and Kisii. Since then, at least 24 people have been killed, hundreds of houses burnt and thousands of people displaced.
Salim said the problems facing the IDPs included poor sanitation, lack of adequate shelter and food.
Political observers trace the tension and suspicion among the three communities to 1992, also an election year, when politicians incited the groups against each another, promising them the land of their neighbours, who they attacked before fleeing.
“I don’t call them tribal clashes because these people have co-existed together peacefully for a long time,” Salim said. “The current tension is due to the tribal mentality that took root in 1992 and has made the communities lose trust and respect amongst one another. When someone commits a crime, that person should be dealt with as an individual, not the tribe.”
KRCS, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF-Spain) and local government officials are providing relief aid to the displaced, most of whom have fled to urban areas in the district.
In a bid to reduce the violence, public meetings with local leaders have been held while security has been beefed up with an increase in the number of police in the district.
Jeanine Cooper, head of the Kenya office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who led the inter-agency mission to Molo, said the purpose of the visit was to support efforts towards conflict-resolution and peace-building on the ground.
“Insecurity is a product of violence and fear, so even when you don’t have violence, the same displacement of people could occur because of fear,” she said. “As the UN, we’ll put together a joint programme on conflict and displacement for the areas affected by conflict in the country and this trip will guide what we do in the programme.”
She said the situation in Molo required both short-term solutions, such as emergency response to the IDPs’ needs, and long-term interventions, such as peace-building and civilian protection.
“We hope to design a programme in the next few weeks to tackle the short-term needs as well as put in place plans for the long-term interventions,” she said.
Related Stories:Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
NAIROBI, (IPS) – As with political candidates everywhere, women running in this month’s general elections in Kenya are doubtless keeping a close eye on the media to see how they are being portrayed by news outlets. Then again, these women may simply be concerned about whether they are portrayed at all.
Reporting trends in the previous polls, held in December 2002, suggest aspirants have cause for concern in this regard.
In a 2004 master’s degree study dealing with print coverage of women candidates during the last campaign, ‘Gender Portrayal in the Mass Media’, researcher Lucy Cheluget-Cherogony writes that women aspirants “were ignored more and more as elections approached” by the two main newspapers in the country — the ‘Daily Nation’ and ‘The Standard’.
Articles about women candidates also tended to be confined to the inner pages of the newspapers, which feature family and general social issues, she notes.
A 2004 report by the African Woman and Child Feature Service (AWC Features), ‘A Journey of Courage: Kenyan Women’s Experiences of the 2002 General Elections’, made similar findings: “…between October and December 2002, only three news articles putting women in the context of the election appeared in the national newspapers.”
“And because journalists are supposed to seek for ‘senior’ sources and because women occupy fewer powerful and elite positions than men do, women featured less prominently than men in the media coverage of the elections.”
A total of 1,015 candidates ran for parliament in 2002, 44 of them women (about four percent of the total, although women make up 52 percent of the Kenyan population). None of the five presidential candidates was a woman. For the Dec. 27 vote, 269 of the 2,548 legislative candidates are women (approximately 10.6 percent of the total) — and one of the nine presidential candidates.
If the quantity of coverage given to women was a problem, then so was the quality. Cheluget-Cherogony notes that reporting tended to disregard “the most pertinent issue of women candidates’ leadership capabilities”. Instead, it focused on their “feminine qualities”.
Martin Munguti of the Media Council of Kenya, an independent body, believes inadequate coverage of female politicians is partly a reflection of their own failure to seek the limelight.
“In a way I blame women for not going for the attention. If they sought media attention they would get it because the code of conduct gives them the chance,” he told IPS, in reference to a media code of conduct drawn up in conjunction with news organisations. The code requires the media to give women fair treatment; a recently enacted media bill also holds out the promise of better coverage of women.
Notes media lecturer and researcher Kamau Mubuu of the University of Nairobi, “Men look for coverage. They are even ready to pay for it if that is what it takes.”
“But women will wait for journalists to look for them. This makes it harder for the women candidates to find their way to the media,” he said in an interview with IPS.
The male-dominated nature of Kenyan society also leads journalists to “…believe that men make news and not women. So they are not keen in looking for women politicians unless the women stand out,” observed Mabuu.
But do efforts to engage the media necessarily work? The AWC Features report suggests otherwise.
“AMWIK (the Association of Media Women in Kenya) held meetings with editors of the various media houses (concerning the last election) to lobby them to give women aspirants space. Although the editors promised to do this, no deliberate effort was made towards this by any of the media organisations,” the study recounts.
The picture is not uniformly bleak, however.
‘The Standard’ is devoting two pages every Wednesday in its weekly ‘Election Platform’ pullout to coverage of women aspirants in this month’s ballot, who will also be given an equal shot at coverage elsewhere in the paper, Deputy Managing Editor Zipporah Musau told IPS.
While training journalists at the Nation Media Group in election coverage, columnist and senior editor Macharia Gaitho advised reporters to focus on the issues espoused by women candidates when covering their campaigns — rather than succumbing to stereotypes about female aspirants.
But as concerns the publicly-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation — the broadcasting service that reaches the majority of Kenyans — there appears to be no specific initiative to ensure fair reporting about women candidates in the current campaign. “We just run women stories as they come,” Josephine Karani, a television producer at the station, told IPS.
Women politicians themselves can also help reshape views of gender in the media, as this journalist can attest.
When profiling Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua in 2003 after she was appointed to cabinet, I asked her a question about her family at the end of the interview. “Do you put the same question to men?” she replied, adding “If you don’t ask them, then don’t ask me.”
As it happened, I had put the same question to male politicians — but Karua’s point was, in a sense, well made.
The minister’s approach has earned her what may — in an ironic twist — still be the ultimate compliment for a woman politician in Kenya: being described as a man (albeit with tongue in cheek).
‘Daily Nation’ columnist Clay Muganda once described Karua as being “the only man in Kibaki’s Cabinet” because of her willingness to stand up for President Mwai Kibaki. (Karua is the sole woman in the 32-member cabinet; of the 222 posts in the last parliament, recently dissolved, 18 were held by women.)
“It is a stereotype, I know,” Muganda commented to IPS, laughing, and saying he considered himself fortunate that Karua had not called him or written to complain of the statement. “I had braced myself for her protest, but I was relieved when I heard nothing. I assume she took it as — well — a compliment.”
“It is an expression to recognise women who are really tough. Even Indira Gandhi used to be described like that, just to appreciate her astuteness. You see it is men who are associated with such qualities. What better way to describe a woman with similar qualities?” (END/2007)
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