Kofi Annan launched formal talks last night between Kenya's President, Mwai Kibaki, and the opposition leader, Raila Odinga, after another day of violence which included the murder of an opposition MP.
The scale of the former UN secretary general's challenge was made clear by scenes in Kibera, Nairobi's largest slum. Two gangs, one made up of Kikuyus, the other of Luos and Luhyas, faced off against each other across a railway track, both sides armed with machetes, clubs and sticks.
"We have now a border," said Fred Ruffi, 24, pointing a metal pole at the line of paramilitary police down the slope separating the two sides. "That is their land, this is ours," he said.
Gangs from different tribes have terrorised Kibera before, but never, residents said, has it been this bad. Talk of revenge is frequent. Both sides cite cases of friends and neighbours killed or raped by the other. No shops or kiosks were open in Kibera yesterday, and schools were closed. The normally busy paths and tracks were empty, save for men with weapons. "They are killing our people," Mr Ruffi said. "Why should we not revenge?" As he spoke, gunfire rang out just yards away as the paramilitary police tried to disperse the crowds by firing in the air. News agencies reported at least seven deaths in Kibera and 12 nationwide.
The death toll since violence broke out following the announcement of Mr Kibaki's re-election on 30 December has reached at least 850. More than 250,000 have been made homeless.
The divide in Kibera has split families and left many homeless. Junior Dunstan and his friend Kevin Bore, both 21, live in the area now "owned" by Kikuyus. They are both Luhyas. "We can't go back to living on that side," Mr Dunstan said. Nor can they go back to college. Both men are 10 months into a year-long catering course, but their classroom is on the other side. "I want to one day own my own restaurant," said Mr Bore, "but this is making things very difficult." The violence in Kibera had been in response to the murder early yesterday of Mugabe Were, a newly elected opposition MP. Mr Odinga said the death was politically motivated.
In the lakeside town of Naivasha, 50 miles north of Nairobi, there were further skirmishes. Security forces fired rubber bullets from two military helicopters to disperse armed men taunting families seeking sanctuary at a police station.
Mr Annan said he hoped to solve "immediate political problems" within four weeks. He also called for the negotiators to settle disputes over land and resources, which have underpinned many clashes. Such a task, he said, could be completed within a year. "There is only one Kenya," he said. "We all have multiple identities but I hope you see yourselves as Kenyans first."
Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga made little attempt at conciliation in their speeches. Mr Kibaki said the violence had been "incited", a clear attack on the opposition, while Mr Odinga said that the elections were "deeply flawed".