Scale of Kenya's refugee crisis begins to emerge

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The Independent Online

The first batch of aid arrived at displacement camps across Kenya yesterday as the scale of the unfolding humanitarian crisis began to emerge following a week of unprecedented violence.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced and at least 500,000 are in need of assistance in "every pocket of the country", according to the Red Cross. More than 350 people have died in clashes triggered by the disputed re-election of President Mwai Kibaki.

Raila Odinga, the beaten presidential candidate, yesterday rejected Mr Kibaki's offer to form a government of national unity, despite renewed diplomatic pressure from the US and the UK. Gordon Brown said: "I think Mr Odinga and Mr Kibaki both recognise that unless they make a change, unless something happens that brings them together, the prospects for Kenya are very poor indeed."

But Mr Odinga's supporters say he has good reason to refuse the apparent compromise. The President, they say, has broken promises on power-sharing before. At the last election in 2002, the two men were on the same side, uniting to defeat the hand-picked successor of Daniel arap Moi. Mr Kibaki was the senior partner, Mr Odinga the younger, more charismatic campaigner. After Mr Kibaki was sidelined for much of the campaign after a car crash, Mr Odinga became the campaign's most prominent face and played a major role in the opposition's victory.

Prior to the election the men had forged a memorandum of understanding. Though never made public it was widely believed to have promised Mr Odinga a position as prime minister under a new constitution. Once in power though, Mr Kibaki decided he did not want to lose any of his executive powers.

The two men found themselves on opposing sides when the Kibaki-approved constitution was put to the vote. Mr Odinga defeated the government in a referendum and left the government. "Any agreement I reach with Mr Kibaki's camp this time has to be guaranteed by an international mediator," Mr Odinga said.

While the politicians have failed to end the violence, ordinary Kenyans have been doing what they can. Buoyed by radio and television campaigns urging Kenyans to "Save our Country", thousands have been donating to the Red Cross, delivering food to relief centres, and serving as volunteers.

Kenya has long been a haven of peace and stability for refugees fleeing from conflicts throughout east Africa. Now it is Kenyans on the move, thousands fleeing west to Uganda, hundreds moving south to Tanzania, and hundreds of thousands displaced within their own country.

Up to 4,000 of the displaced are now finding shelter at the International Trade Fair in Nairobi's Jamhuri Park. It is a bizarre setting for a refugee camp. The Red Cross hands out bags of ugali maize flour and cartons of milk to more than 1,000 new arrivals lining up alongside the lush green lawns of Nairobi Polo Club. Inside the complex, paved roads are lined with palm trees. In the showground, more than 1,000 people sleep beneath the wooden benches.

The Agricultural Society of Kenya Centenary Museum, next door to the showground, is packed with women and children. A display in the corner describes the process of making tea, from plantation to cup. Along the far wall a mural displays the history of Kenya from colonialism through to independence and "food security for all".

Vitalis Oduor, 27, fled with his family from Kibera yesterday. He had a small kiosk where he sold fresh vegetables. A group of boys burnt it down and stole all the vegetables. His mother, sister, wife and daughter are sleeping in the museum; he sleeps over the road in the Sky Top restaurant. He has no idea when, if ever, they will be able to return.

"We used to say 'Kenya hakuna matata' (Kenya no problem). Right now there is a lot of matata," he said.