Back from the Brink

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on May 27, 2008

(by Sarah Clark, WorldMag.com) NAIROBI, Kenya – Property destroyed. Homeowners displaced. Innocents killed. Food prices rising. Kenyans have experienced all of that, along with accusations of ethnic cleansing, in the four months following last December’s general election. International media covered the loss of life and displacement of over 350,000 following accusations of vote-rigging, but since the signing of a peace accord between the leading political parties on Feb. 28, the world has moved on to other stories.

The peace accord by President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga created expectations of “a grand coalition” government. Tension rose and fell as the country waited six weeks for the announcement of a coalition cabinet. Those displaced by violence waited for assurances that it was safe to return home, and every delay in implementing the peace accord caused Kenyans to collectively hold their breath.

With last month’s announcement of a 42-member cabinet-amid worries of rising food prices, drought, and possible famine in parts of the country-the government shifted its attention to the 140,000 homeless, landless, and jobless people living in makeshift camps throughout the country. Those who survived four months of burning houses, charred churches, and wounded or dead men and women are finding it hard to forget, but that’s what the coalition government is asking Kenyans to do through a program called “Rudi Nyumbani,” or “Return to your home.”

Party leaders believe that if they can reconcile, so should average Kenyans. “If Raila and I can cooperate, why would you keep isolating yourselves, instead of all marching in the same direction?” Kibaki told residents at one displaced camp. But one woman said her neighbor shot arrows at her during January’s violence, set fire to her home, and stole her cattle: “How can I live next door to him while he is milking my cows?”

With little to do and less chance to voice their concerns, the displaced are restless. James Kamau, a “resident” at one of the largest camps outside Nairobi, complains, “At my house I sat in my chair but here I borrow benches from my neighbors. I sleep on the ground. And it is not because of any mistake I have done, it is because of them [Kibaki and Odinga]. Their problems have come and affected me.”

Martha Waithera, an elderly women affected by four different clashes in the past 30 years, sounds hopeless as she says, “Did we make a mistake voting for them? If we had known we would be beaten, we wouldn’t have voted.”

Residents in the camp now have an added challenge-resettlement. On May 3, the government launched a program of resettlement that is not likely to sit well with many of the internally displaced. Caleb Ngaria, displaced from his home in Nakuru town and living at a camp there, puts it this way: “As long as they visit and talk with us, that will help bring people together. But if they tell us to go back, it’s like they are just pushing people out. Where will they go? Many people lost their things when they ran away, and the people we used to work for now are our enemies or are afraid to hire us. Even if you get a house, you need things for the house and food too.”

Many of the displaced worry about returning to their former homes and facing those who attacked them because of their ethnicity or politics. A single mother living in a camp with her two young children (who asked not to be named for fear of further violence) knows how hard it would be: “After seeing people cut and killed, I can’t go back. If I go back, I’ll always be thinking about the things I saw. I’d have to go someplace else.” She and others in the camp hope the government will help them find new places to live.

Kenya has not fallen into ethnic and political chaos, but Kibaki and Odinga face an uphill climb as they attempt to recover peace, develop economic stability, and restore property rights.

-Sarah Clark is a writer living in Kenya

Copyright ©2008 WORLD Magazine, May 31, 2008 issue.  Reprinted here May 27th with permission from World Magazine. Visit the website at www.WorldMag.com.

Questions

1.  Read the Background on Kenya below.  Name the two candidates who ran in Kenya’s December presidential election. 

2.  a) What has happened in the aftermath of December’s presidential election?
b)  How many people lost their homes and jobs as a result of the violence after the marred  election?

3.  When was a peace accord signed between the opposing candidates?

4.  How is the coalition government attempting to get Kenyans to move forward after the recent violence between the followers of each candidate?

5.  Why are Kenyans who were displaced by the fighting finding it difficult to get their lives back to normal?

6.  What actions do you think President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga should take to foster reconciliation among the people?

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Background

KENYA:

  • Kenya, a former British colony of 34 million people, is one of Africa’s largest and richest countries.  Kenya has also been one of the most stable countries in Africa. 
  • Two days after the Dec. 27, 2007 elections, protests and riots erupted across the country as millions of people grew restless waiting for results in the most competitive presidential contest in Kenya’s history.
  • Supporters of the two main candidates, President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, seemed equally confident of victory — Odinga’s party formally declared him president while President Kibaki declared victory and called for an immediate swearing-in for a second term.  Observers say the election was marred by rigging on both sides.
  • In the days following the election, violence erupted during protests against the announcement of Preisdent Kibaki’s victory, because protesters believed the election to have been rigged.
  • Violence escalated and at first was directed mainly against Kikuyu people – the community of which Kibaki is a member – living outside their traditional settlement areas…. Some of the Kikuyu also engaged in violence against groups supportive of Odinga, primarily Luos and Kalenjin.  More than 1,000 people were killed as a result of the violence.
  • On February 28, 2008, Kibaki and Odinga signed a power-sharing agreement called the National Accord and Reconciliation Act, which established the office of prime minister and created a coalition government.
  • The power-sharing Cabinet, headed by Odinga as Prime Minister, was eventually named on April 13, after lengthy negotiations over its composition; it was sworn in on April 17.

Resources

For background information on Kenya, go to the CIA World FactBook here.

For a map of Kenya, go to WorldAtlas.com.

Visit President Kibaki’s website at statehousekenya.go.ke.

Currently no information is posted about Prime Minister Odinga on the official government website. Visit Raila Odinga’s website at raila07.com.