Hundreds flee from homes in Kenya as power-sharing fails to halt mob violence

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The Independent Online

Kenya's much heralded power-sharing agreement between President Mwai Kibaki and his bitter rival, Raila Odinga, has failed to end the violence in the country's Rift Valley region. In the week since the deal was signed, armed mobs have gone on the rampage, burning houses and forcing more people to flee.

Hundreds of people have arrived at displacement camps across the country every day, according to the Kenya Red Cross.

At a camp in Naivasha, 55 miles north-west of Nairobi, people spoke of fresh attacks in Narok. Further north at a camp in Nakuru, new arrivals reported attacks in the tea-picking town of Kericho.

President Kibaki opened parliament yesterday, urging MPs to put the past two months' troubles behind them. "Please forget the history of what has happened," he said. But for the thousands of Kenyans who have been displaced since the deal was signed, the post-election violence, which has so far claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people, shows little sign of abating.

Mariam Wambui thought she had survived the worst of it. A Kikuyu living in Kericho, a town in western Kenya with a large Kalenjin population, Ms Wambui lost her business, a small shack from where she bought and sold clothes, when a mob of Kalenjins burnt it down soon after the election. While most Kikuyus in Kericho fled to the relative safety of nearby Nakuru, Ms Wambui and her two daughters, Mary, 15, and Yvonne, 17, decided to stay. After the first wave of violence in January things began to calm down. "I thought things would be OK," she said.

When the power-sharing agreement between Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga was signed on the steps of Harambee House in Nairobi last Thursday, Ms Wambui thought she would be able to restart her business. She left her house early on Monday morning, hoping to find a new shack from where she could sell her clothes. By the time she came home in the evening her house had been burnt to the ground. Two neighbouring plots, also belonging to Kikuyus, had been burnt down too.

"I don't know what to say. I am short of words to explain," Ms Wambui said on Wednesday morning when she arrived at the Nakuru showground camp, clutching three heavy plastic bags filled with the family's belongings. "After the agreement I was expecting peace – but I don't see it."

Nor do any of the other roughly 16,000 people living in the camp. Few are prepared to consider returning home. Instead, they want to be resettled in Central Province, the Kikuyus' ancestral homeland – even though many have never set foot there or have any family in the region.

Some 40 miles west of Nakuru, along roads with potholes the size of bathtubs, lies Kericho. Almost all Kikuyus who once lived here have now left, chased out of their homes by mobs of young Kalenjin men.

In a restaurant in Nyagacho, a slum area where Ms Wambui lived, Rubenson Bett, a Kalenjin elder, calmly explained why the Rift Valley was better off without Kikuyus. Referring to them as "invaders" and "outsiders", Mr Bett said: "Our brothers from Central Province believe they are so superior in everything. They have invaded Rift Valley. The influx of these people here means the indigenous Rift Valley people will, in 50 years, be squatters in our own motherland.

"They better settle them in Central Province. Kikuyus cannot be trusted. A Kikuyu is a Kikuyu, whether he is a bishop or whatever."

The violence in the Rift Valley, he claimed, was started by Kikuyus. "We preach peace but we react angrily when we are done otherwise," he said. "We didn't kill the Kikuyu around here. The only thing that happened to them was their houses were burnt." If those who were displaced began to return home, there would be further trouble, Mr Bett said. "The [power-sharing] deal just meant ceasefire," he warned. "We cannot guarantee them security if they come back."

Kalenjin elders in the Rift Valley have been accused by human-rights groups of organising militias to drive out Kikuyus. Mr Bett said he regularly spoke to groups of young men in Kericho, warning them to defend themselves against Kikuyus.

A group of young men gathered outside a nearby barber's shop echoed Mr Bett's views. But one, Tony Kirui, 23, a business management student, said quietly he hoped the Kikuyus would return. "One tribe cannot survive on its own," he said. "I want them to come back, then we can start again."

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