Kenya: Struggling for peace


JF-Expert Member
Feb 11, 2007
Kenya: Struggling for peace

By Karen Allen
BBC News, Nairobi

When Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki signed a peace deal on 27 February, ending Kenya's post-election violence, people took to the streets to celebrate.

The agreement, hammered out by Kofi Annan after weeks of political wrangling, paved the way for a grand coalition government. It was a breakthrough in a part of the world where traditionally winner takes all.

Kenya, of enormous strategic influence in the "war on terror", found itself under pressure from the international community to secure a deal that would quickly restore its status as one of Africa's most stable states.

Eventually the rivals relented and signed a deal that brought the country back from the brink of civil war.

Violence in Kenya sparked fears of a civil war

Six months on and the coalition is still intact, the western backers have sighed with relief but the fissures that fuelled the violence are still there.

Tens of thousands of displaced people are still in tented camps.

Others have been forced to return to their "homelands", chased away after the election because their grandparents were not born in the place they chose to farm.

This is one of the biggest challenges the new coalition government now faces.

Violence probe

"We are under pressure to behave like a coherent nation… but the truth is those issues remain very much unresolved," says political commentator Parselelo Kantai.

Commissions of enquiry have been established to examine the circumstances of the disputed election and the violence that quickly followed.

But many Kenyans have little faith that their recommendations will be adopted, given past experience of such tribunals.

Land, ethnicity and the distribution of power are key areas that Kenya's politicians ignore at their peril.

Around 600,000 people were displaced due to the unrest

Land lies at the heart of Kenya's historic grievances. Three-quarters of the population still lives in rural areas, many relying on what they grow to survive. But land is also about ethnic identity and ancestry.

Joseph Wanjama is a living example of that. He is among the many people chased away from the Rift Valley Town of Kericho back in January. He is Kikuyu - a member of President Kibaki's tribe. An entire community held responsible for an election widely seen as a fraud.

Mr Wanjama's home is now a tented camp in the town of Nakuru.

But he agreed to venture back for a few hours to Kericho - the place which he fled. It was not his ancestral heartland but he had made a life for himself there, employing dozens of people from outside his own tribe.

Within minutes of arriving in what is still a tense town, we find members of the rival Kalenjin community now occupying his business.

And the staff quarters where dozens of craftsmen once lived are now partially destroyed and being looked after by a Kalenjin friend.

"They tell us it isn't over yet," Mr Wanjama whispers. "If we come back, something bad will happen."

This is not paranoia, it is the aftershocks that follow when a country, once a model of peace, crosses the line.

Land reform

In many places communities are forbidden to return, their tormentors saying that only once amnesty is granted to those accused of post election crimes will real peace be restored.

Extra security has been put in place to try to entice communities back. But it is not working.

About 1,500 people died in clashes after December's presidential poll.

Many Kenyans harbour dreams of land reform.

There are huge expectations that a wholesale distribution of land may be in the pipeline - a dream nurtured by politicians at election time.

Managing such expectations will require courage and statesmanship on a massive scale.

For Prime Minister Odinga, it is time to deliver some hard truths.

"We need to be frank with our people," he said.

"What we need to come up [with is] a system whereby land is used as a means of production… it should not be used for speculative purposes. It's only that way that we will develop this country."

Land is one of the most fertile areas for corruption. Deeds are often sold to people for the same piece of land and in Kenya land has long been a form of political patronage. Reversing this will be like trying to turn a tanker around.

Proud people

Now more than ever before, Kenyans are craving more political engagement with their leaders - calling on them to take their messages of reconciliation to the field rather than remain in the comfort of the capital.

In Yamumbe camp for displaced people near the town of Eldoret, Rosemary Wambui is in charge of the cleaning rota. These are proud people and though they may be confined to tents, there are standards to be kept.

Yamumbe is a satellite camp, a little closer to the farm Ms Wambui was forced to leave six months ago. But she is exasperated by Kenya's politicians.

"They're already talking about 2012," she explodes.

That is the date for the next round of elections.

"They just want us to unite but how can we be reunited when they are divided over 2012."

There is a real fear that Kenya's leaders will take their eye off the ball, get distracted by political ambition rather than address the realities on the ground.

There was a lot of talk about "one Kenya" during the honeymoon period that followed the peace deal. A Kenya where you put your nationality first and your tribal loyalties last.

But Bernard Ndege paid a heavy price for practicing that principle. A member of the Luo community - Mr Odinga's group - he saw all of his eight children burnt to death when their house was set alight in the town of Naivasha.

It was clearly a reprisal attack for the thousands of Kikuyus who had been killed or displaced in the weeks before. Yet the bitter irony of Mr Ndege's story, is that he voted for someone from a different community in the parliamentary vote and a fellow tribesman in the presidential vote.

He has now been forced to retreat to the place he was born on the shores of Lake Victoria.

He is a lonely and isolated figure who would vote the same way again if there was an election tomorrow.

But he is angry that no politician has taken responsibility for what happened: violence promoted from the top with hate speech and cash, and executed at the grassroots to deadly effect.

"My family perished from an election related incident but people were elected on that account have never come back and said this happened because of us," he says.

Kenya is now going through a period of quiet self reflection. A vast coalition cabinet is trying to hold the country together in this transitional phase.

An emboldened parliament and press is now under pressure to hold the executive in check and deliver on one of the key promises - a new constitution by the middle of next year.

Kenya may be on a path towards restoring normality, but it is not yet out of the woods.
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