NAIVASHA, Kenya – As Kenya’s politicians toured the country’s battle-scarred west, walking among the uprooted multitudes, their message was clear: You will be able to go home soon. We, your leaders, will help you.
But in the hardest-hit areas, there is no clear path home. More than four months after a disputed presidential election unleashed weeks of ethnically tinged bloodshed, some 157,000 people are still living in camps.
The challenge facing Kenya’s government is immense, even after a power-sharing agreement stopped much of the killing.
“We have decided as a government that people should go back where they were evicted from,” President Mwai Kibaki said Saturday as he toured a camp in Naivasha, the final stop on a three-day “peace tour” with Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
“We want a Kenya of peace,” Odinga added, “where everyone can live where they want.”
Kibaki and Odinga – once bitter enemies, now reluctant partners – promised a swift resolution to the displacement during stops in towns including Eldoret, Molo and Naivasha. The region experienced some of the worst bloodshed in the weeks after the disputed presidential election on Dec. 27; more than 1,200 people died and 300,000 were displaced.
But for many Kenyans, the leaders’ promises were empty.
Some had their land taken over by neighbors in the days after they fled their homes, so they have no homes to return to. Others say ethnic hatreds are still boiling, making it too dangerous to attempt to go home.
“If we go home now, we will be killed,” said Christine Ndinba, 43, a member of the Kikuyu ethnic group who lives with her four children at the Naivasha Stadium camp with 3,000 other people.
“We are not ready to go back and they are not ready to accept us,” she said of rival ethnic groups.
Person Harun Mwangi, 52, said he will never return to Eldoret, where he watched as his two children were among dozens burned alive in a church where they were taking shelter.
“It is better that I become a beggar in Nairobi than to go back to my farm and see the people who killed my children,” he said earlier this week at the sprawling Eldoret show ground, where 16,000 Kenyans are still living.
“This is no way to live,” Kibaki said as he crouched to peek into a tent at the Eldoret camp.
The election, which Kibaki and Odinga both claimed to have won, laid bare frustrations over poverty, corruption and long-standing ethnic rivalries in Kenya.
Kikuyus, the tribe Kibaki belongs to, are perceived to dominate others, including the Luo, Odinga’s ethnic group.
Ken Wafula, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in the Rift Valley, acknowledged that ethnic tensions are making resettlement difficult.
“Three weeks ago a woman who was accompanied by police officers attempted to collect some of the property she left behind in her farm, but they were chased away,” he said.
“The police car was burned.”