Harvesting And Destroying Our Crops

Charles was one of the main suppliers of arrows and machetes in the violence that rocked Kenya’s Rift Valley last year. Eighteen months later, he and his Kalenjin tribe have not buried the hatchet.Some of the worst violence that followed the disputed December 27 polls was carried out by the Kalenjin tribe against the country’s dominant Kikuyu tribe and little in the way of reconciliation has taken place since.”We are ready to fight any time the alarm is raised, we have the weapons and we know how to use them,” said Charles, 35, who asked for his real name not to be revealed.A small lamp sheds a feeble light on his emaciated and determined face, as he gazes towards the Kerio valley, a remote part of western Kenya where few roads, no mobile telephone network and few police patrol can reach.

“For the Kalenjins, land is inheritance and you can’t share it with a foreigner,” he said, referring to the Kikuyu tribe of President Mwai Kibaki, who was maintained in his job by an internationally-backed power-sharing agreement despite widespread accusations that he rigged the results.During the post-election chaos, at least 1,500 people were killed nationwide, and the Kalenjins attacked Kikuyus whom they consider to have settled their ancestral lands.”We have decided to give peace a chance, but if the Kikuyus cannot honour their agreement, then we will go another way and anything can happen,” warned Peter Kipkurui, a tribal elder and farmer.

“The Kikuyus came to settle here, they should respect our community.”The deal brokered by former UN chief Kofi Annan last year brought an end to the fighting but its implementation has stalled on several key issues.Many Kalenjins feel they got the rough end of the stick and explain they will only accept the Kikuyus’ continued presence in their heartland under certain conditions.”If the Kikuyus try to vote like the local community wherever they are, it will be better and people here won’t have any more bad feelings towards them,” said Francis Samoei, a 48-year-old local farmer.Francis and many of his local tribesmen flatly deny any responsibility for and sometimes the very existence of what happened in early 2008. “It’s not people from this place who perpetrated that, they came from far,” he said.In a nearby camp for displaced Kikuyus, local leader Peter Maina worries that his community continues to be demonised, and says there are insufficient guarantees for them to go home.

“These Kalenjins don’t consider us their equals anymore. They just want us to leave so that they can remain alone, that’s why they keep on harvesting and destroying our crops,” he said.”They told us that we need to forget about what happened, that it was Satan who did all that chaos.”

In Gitwe, a small village near the city of Eldoret, the segregation has been institutionalised, down to the school system.Anthony Mwangi has never seen his former Kalenjin classmates since the violence. They now go to a “Kalenjin only” school on a nearby hill. His school, which was partially destroyed, is now a school for Kikuyu pupils like himself.

“The Kalenjin are afraid and guilty of what they did during the violence,” said Anthony, a well-built 17-year-old in a beige uniform.Gitwe school’s head teacher, Peter Ashimosi, says the psychological impact of the violence is still felt by the children and warns that the lack of interaction between the communities risks engendering more problems.”Before the violence, the school was a mixture of ethnic groups. The children were mixing freely, there were no tensions at all,” he said.

“It’s believed that the one’s who burned the schools are from houses down the valley (Kalenjin), so the Kalenjin parents feared retaliation and pulled out their children,” he explained.Across the ridge from Gitwe, is Lomok school having only Kalenjin pupils and teachers. Ann, a teacher, lamented that the “segregation will affect overall peace.””The pupils will just learn that it is wrong to live with other communities,” she added.Veronica Wanjiru, 16, expresses the distrust that continues to take root in Kenya’s Rift Valley.

“They didn’t come back because they knew what they did: they burned houses, our school, they killed people,” said the young Kikuyu girl, who still lives in a camp with her grandmother.

“I had two good friends that I miss. But even if they come back, I won’t be so close to them because I can’t trust them any more.”

Ruben Kebatta explains that he will not let his 14-year-old twins interact with Kalenjins anymore: “We are still very bitter; we lost a lot of property and lives,” he said.”May we dwell in unity, peace and liberty.” The words of the national anthem the Gitwe schoolchildren sing under the Kenyan flag every morning have a hollow ring, with no reconciliation in sight.Charles doesn’t begin to make any apology for the 2008 violence and his complaint that his tribe is systematically discriminated against seems to carry the promise of more unrest.

“If the people didn’t fight last year, we would not have a power-sharing government, we would not have justice, just a stolen victory… I think it was necessary for the people to fight.”

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