Mid-January in the slums of Nairobi: despite a ban on protests, partisans of the Kenyan opposition expressed their anger over the disputed re-election of President Mwai Kibaki in Dec. 2007, which left their opposition leader Raila Odinga trailing behind.
The vote count was tainted by accusations of fraud. For most Kenyans, who survive on less than two dollars a day in one of Africa’s richest nations, the election result was unfair.
Protests have been severely repressed with the police going as far as using bullets and tear gas to disperse protesters. Each day new bodies are found in ravines. “The elections were rigged, people were cheated and now we’re banned from protesting,” says an angry resident.
Acts of vandalism and revenge are multiplying. Dozens of injured people arrive at the hospital each day. Some are victims of the police crackdown, while others have been attacked by their own neighbours. The political conflict has in turn rekindled the ethnic conflict. “Members from other ethnic tribes killed members from my community. I’m fleeing to save my skin,” says one of the residents.
Kenya’s 42 ethnic tribes have co-existed for decades. But today, the violence has spread across the country. The Kikuyus, the ethnic tribe of President Kibaki, are being hunted down by the Luos--opposition leader Odinga’s tribe and its allies.
In the western part of the country, the apparent calm conceals political tensions and old ethnic conflicts.
Thick clouds of smoke are often seen rising from the Rift valley. In this fertile region, farms, especially those belonging to the Kikuyus, have been burnt down by the Kalenjins, traditional inhabitants of the Rift.
According to a resident, ‘The church has been trying to speak to these people, but all they do is drink alcohol.”
David, who lost everything in this crisis, blames his neighbours for his plight: “If you ask my neighbours, they claim people who burnt down my house came from somewhere far off. But people living far away don’t know this area, they can’t distinguish between the house of a Kisi and a Kalenjin. That is why we hold our neighbours responsible for our loss.”
Worried about his future, David is waiting for peace to be restored before he starts reconstructing his home and returning to work.
The Rift Valley’s economy has come to a stand still. Even the production of tea, an important export product, has almost stopped due to lack of workers.
On the other side of the main street, the Kalenjins inhabitants discuss the ongoing violence and political turmoil. Two days ago, one of their members was killed. In retaliation, they killed 16 people from the other tribe.
An elderly resident justifies these killings: “We’re attacking the Kisi and the Kikuyus, responsible for rigging the election. In 1957, Queen Elizabeth and the British wanted to handover the power to Odinga’s father but he never got the position. And today, his son has been denied victory. This is political manipulation. It’s enough. This is our land, our home.”