Mary Macharia will never go home again, even though a year has passed since ethnic tensions flared into violence after Kenya’s deeply flawed presidential election.Macharia’s 3-year-old daughter, Joyce Njoki, was among dozens of people she saw “burned to ashes” when a mob set fire to a church where hundreds were taking refuge in one of the crisis’ most horrific acts of violence. Macharia herself suffered burns over most of her body.
“Our leaders are the ones who instigated this whole thing and now they are pretending everything is back to normal,” Macharia, 40, told The Associated Press from a displacement camp where she lives outside the Kenyan capital.”I cannot live next to my enemies,” said Macharia, who spent eight months in the hospital receiving skin grafts and can no longer farm because her injuries are so debilitating.The tensions that were laid bare during one of the darkest moments in Kenya’s history are still festering, a year after its election on Dec. 27, 2007 unleashed weeks of ethnic violence that killed more than 1,000 people.
The evidence is everywhere: in the displacement camps where tens of thousands of people still live; in the divided towns where ethnic groups had lived side-by-side since independence from Britain in 1963; and in growing disillusionment with a coalition government accused of ignoring the roots of the crisis.”The lives of most Kenyans are no better today than they were a year ago,” said Ben Rawlence, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This is not the new chapter that Kenyans hoped for.”
The coalition government between President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, who became prime minister under the deal, has held together, but observers say it has not done enough to address the causes of the violence or to root out corruption.The fighting erupted after ballot counting showing the challenger Odinga in the lead swung dramatically in Kibaki’s favor amid allegations of election fraud.Long embittered by the political and economic dominance of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe, voters from among Kenya’s 41 other tribes — including Odinga’s Luo — staged protests and riots that quickly escalated into horrific violence.After much wrangling, Kibaki and Odinga agreed to put politicians believed to have organized and funded the fighting to go before a special tribunal — keeping the cases from being sent to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
But not everybody has hopes for justice.
In past years, government commissions set up to look at ethnic clashes have taken years to complete reports that then gathered dust. And observers say the time it took for the two leaders to agree on a trial points to deep antagonism that makes it difficult for them to govern together.
Still, many diplomats praised the men for at least trying to move the country forward, despite their differences.The American ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, said the tribunal was just one sign that the coalition government could make changes.”An enormous amount has happened,” he told The Associated Press. “The structure for change is being put in place.””Grand coalitions are never love affairs,” said the German ambassador to Kenya, Walter Lindner, at a recent news conference in Nairobi.
There are indeed some bright spots.
Tourists are returning to Kenya’s safari parks and Indian Ocean beaches. The coalition government is holding despite the obvious strains. And national pride exploded over the election of Barack Obama — whose father was Kenyan — as U.S. president.
But Kenya faces a long road to recovery.
The rioting and ethnic clashes exposed deep divisions over land and economic inequality that have been ignored or exploited for political gain for decades. While the power-sharing deal ended much of the killing, Kenya lost up to $1 billion because of the turmoil.The Kenyan Red Cross says nearly 60,000 out of 350,000 displaced remain in camps. Less than half have gone home; nearly 130,000 are simply unaccounted for — either living with friends or family or moving from town to town.In many areas, especially in western Kenya, the violence brought a bloody end to decades of coexistence among Kenya’s ethnic groups, transforming the ethnic makeup villages, cities and towns. Some worry the change may be permanent, boding ill for democracy in this once-stable African country.
James Mugwiri, 56, lived for 19 years with his family outside Eldoret — the site of the church blaze that killed Macharia’s daughter. But Mugwiri, a Kikuyu, fled his 12 acres when the killings began, and lived for months at a sprawling fairground in Eldoret where guards kept watch for marauding gangs.He finally felt safe enough to return to town, but he has given up on reclaiming his land. He feels betrayed by the coalition government — which he had great hope for — saying the two men are happy now they have solidified their power.
Instead of going back to his farm, Mugwiri rents a home for $100 a month so he can flee again with no strings attached.
“What happened to us has forced us to live like birds on trees, ready to fly away in case anything happens,” he said.The government has given many of the displaced 10,000 Kenya shillings — about $130 — to resettle, an amount government spokesman Alfred Mutua acknowledges is a token sum.”The government is not in a position to compensate people, what people are being given is a token to help them maintain their daily needs,” he told the AP. “People always want more money,” he added. “It’s a token of appreciation. But it is also costing us. Ten-thousand shillings given to all these families is a lot of money.”
He did not detail how much money the government has given out, saying it was still being calculated. He did not return further calls for comment.Rose Wanjiru Karanja, 32, who lived for nearly a year in a camp in Naivasha, said the money was an insult.
“We are being ferried like goats,” she said from the back of a pickup truck, where some 70 women and children were traveling to a parcel of land they bought by pooling their government money.”We are going to build a slum. We owned farms and now we are going to build houses that are 10 feet by 10 feet. Even prisoners get better treatment — they eat well, they are driven in buses,” she said.
As for politics and the power of the vote, Karanja has no hope.”Now they are looking for our votes and they are living well, but they should not be forgiven,” she said of Kenya’s politicians. “They should be taken to the Hague.”