Four months have passed since Kenya’s rival political leaders shook hands and formed a government of national unity, but for some of the victims of the post-election violence there is still a long way to go before their lives return to normal.
About 600 000 people fled their homes to escape the ethnic violence that erupted after the disputed election results were made public. At the height of the violence there were 350 000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in various camps around the country.
The majority of the IDPs have returned to their homes, but some are still afraid of losing their lives. ”If I go back I will be killed,” says Susan Wambugu (24) from Uasingushu in the Rift Valley Province, the epicentre of the violence.
”We are going to meet the same people who evicted us from our houses after living peacefully side-by-side for decades. It shows that they are not our friends anymore. They will still do what they did to us.”
Wambugu, who is now in Mathare Chief Camp on the outskirts of Nairobi, thinks the government should not force people to return to the areas in which they lived prior to the crisis.
She wants to settle in an area where her tribe, the Kikuyu, is in the majority. ”My tribe inhabits the central province and that is where I want to go,” she said.
Wilfred Ndolo, director of resettlement for the Kenyan government, insists that the government is doing everything it can to help the victims. But he also acknowledges that some IDPs do not feel it is safe to return and says the government remains ready to help them when they decide to go back.
”We do not want to force people into an environment where there is an issue with security,” said Ndolo. ”If the IDPs decide to go back to their homes we will assist them with transport and a month’s worth of food.”
One obstacle the IDPs face is that some communities are making the release from custody of youths responsible for the violence a precondition for allowing IDPs to return home.
There are reports that in the Rift Valley Province local residents are demanding that these youths be granted amnesty in exchange for accepting the return of the displaced families.
Some youths have also threatened to abduct returnees and use them as hostages.
The government says it is not willing to negotiate on these terms. ”If the crime is serious then the law has to take its course,” said Ndolo.
Peter Kenneth (28) is a father of three whose house and business were destroyed in the post-election violence. He says that he feels it is safe to go back but he is waiting for the government to compensate him.
”We are not feeling good about staying here. Our life is totally zero,” said Kenneth. ”Peace is prevailing, so if the government gives us financial assistance we will go back today. We have children who are supposed to go to school.”
But John Nderitu Wachira, chairman of IDPs in Eldoret in the Rift Valley Province, is critical of the government’s attitude to the victims of the violence.
”We hear through the media that the government is doing something but it has done nothing to help us,” said Wachira. ”We are stuck here. We left our houses with only our clothes so how should we go back? We have nothing to rebuild our lives.”