/ 13 January 2009

Tens of thousands of Kenyans still afraid to go home

Kenneth Kamua Njuguna stands in the Kenyan camp for the internally displaced he has called home for the past year, and holds up his left arm to reveal a network of scar tissue.

A gang of Maasai warriors hacked Njuguna with machetes, clubs and spears at the height of the violence that swept Kenya after disputed elections on December 27 2007, then left him for dead in a bush.

Njuguna (34) was lucky. A group of women fetching water found him and took him to hospital.

Still suffering from his injuries, he fled his home town of Narok in the western Rift Valley province, where the worst violence took place, to the camp on the outskirts of Naivasha, near Nairobi.

Njunguna, from the Kikuyu tribe, is just one of tens of thousands of Kenyans who have chosen to live in camps and rely on humanitarian aid rather than return home.

”I survived this time, but if I go back I will not survive again,” Njunguna says, his quiet voice trembling as he recalls the attack.

More than 1 500 people died in clashes between rival tribes in the months following the elections.

The clashes were prompted by Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga’s accusation that President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) had rigged the elections.

The violence spread quickly, with tribes using the elections as an excuse to grab land.

Hundreds of thousands fled as murder, revenge attacks and the razing of homes and businesses swept the country.

Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe, seen as unwelcome settlers in the Rift Valley, suffered most in the first wave of violence as they came under attack from Luo, Kalenjin and Maasai youths.

Calm returned after several months and a deal negotiated by former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan created a power-sharing government and installed Odinga as prime minister.

Now the government says it is safe to go home, but many do not believe them.

An estimated 100 000 people have moved to transit and return camps, but the 200 Kikuyu left at Naivasha, which once housed more than 10 000 people, have no intention of following suit.

They are waiting for the 10 000 shillings ($128) per family the Kenyan government has been paying out in compensation.

Nine self-help groups comprising about 30 000 people have already pooled this money to buy land.

The largest of these groups — more than 14 000 people — now lives in Shalom City, a remote 50-acre patch of land at the end of a rutted dirt track in the Rift Valley.

The occupants of Shalom City moved en masse in October when government began talking about closing down the camp where they were staying.

”The government wanted people to go back, but there was the issue of security,” says Peter Kariuki (28), the chairperson of Shalom City.

”Security is not provided by the police, but it is between me and my neighbour.”

The conditions these people live in show how strong their fear of going home remains.

Shalom City is indistinguishable from a refugee camp.

Ragged and filthy children run wild as their parents queue in the baking sun for deliveries of maize and cooking oil from the UN World Food Programme, the Kenyan Red Cross and private well-wishers.

Most of the tents scattered across a green hill overlooking a river are falling apart, allowing the wind and the rain to buffet the occupants during spells of bad weather.

But, as rough as life is, the residents of Shalom City say they feel safer where they are.

They may have a point.

Two independent commissions, set up as part of the Annan deal, have warned that violence will reoccur at the 2012 elections without serious reform.

One of commissions’ key recommendations was to create a local tribunal to try the unnamed politicians and businessmen accused of funding and orchestrating the violence.

The government has until March to set up the local tribunal, or the list of the accused will be sent to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

However, many displaced have little faith that justice will be done in a local tribunal.

Christine Ndinda Mbithi (43) lives in the Jikaze self-help settlement — like Shalom City little more than a private camp for the internally displaced — with 700 other people.

Mbithi, a member of the Kamba tribe and the PNU, fled Narok with her seven children after her hardware store was burned to the ground.

She believes more violence is inevitable.

”It will happen again if the offenders aren’t taken to The Hague,” she says. ”Only if these people are dealt with will we have peace.” – Sapa-dpa