Victims of Kenya's last election still in limbo

AP News
Posted: Feb 25, 2013 12:03 PM
Victims of Kenya's last election still in limbo

GWA KUNGU, Kenya (AP) — Alex Ndungu is the latest victim of the harsh mountain winds that blow through the rows of straw huts in Gwa Kungu, a village where those displaced by violence following Kenya's 2007 election remain even as the nation readies for another election.

Alex died of complications resulting from pneumonia and anemia. He was only 9 months old.

The 624 people living at Hope Camp, 230 kilometers (140 miles) north of Kenya's capital Nairobi, are a sad illustration of the lingering effects of the tribe-on-tribe violence that rocked Kenya after its presidential election five years ago.

The attacks with knives, spears, machetes and firearms went on for weeks. More than 1,000 people died and more than 600,000 people fled their home after tribes turned against one another following a dispute over who won the December 2007 presidential vote.

Kenya holds another election on March 4 without having fully solved the plight of hundreds of thousands of victims from the previous poll, including those still awaiting financial restitution for their losses, and hundreds of people remain in squalid conditions in camps.

There are signs violence may again return this election season. The Kenya Red Cross says violence that killed more than 200 people and displaced nearly 120,000 across Kenya late last year had political overtones.

Nearly all the refugees at Hope Camp are from the Kikuyu tribe of President Mwai Kibaki. They were attacked following the flawed elections by the Kalenjin tribe, one among the many tribes that supported the opposition leader at the time, the current Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Eating a full meal a day or taking a bath is a luxury for the camp's residents, many of whom owned their own homes and prospered before the violence erupted five years ago.

Damaris Wanjiku Mathu, Alex's mother, said she believes he became sick because her hut has holes that let the rain water in, and the straw provides little insulation against the cold.

"And he was malnourished because we don't get enough food," she told a reporter. She and her husband earn a combined $3 a day working as laborers in the nearby farms, she said.

Election violence in Kenya is common and cyclical. David Mungua Maigwa, 53, a resident of Hope Camp, said he has been evicted from his homes multiple times — in 1992, 1997 and 2007 — all because of election violence.

The U.N. special expert on human rights and the internally displaced said in a report last year that the lack of accurate and efficient systems of registration and data collection resulted in a situation where many internally displaced people or IDPs, were not included in aid programs. The U.N. says more than 300,000 Kenyan IDPs were not registered with the government resettlement program, meaning they will not get any government assistance.

One of the top two contenders for president, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, is accused by the International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity for the 2007 violence. So is his vice presidential running mate, William Ruto.

Kenyatta is accused of orchestrating revenge attacks against Odinga supporters. Ruto is accused of orchestrating violence using warriors from his Kalenjin community — which supported Odinga — against members of the Kikuyu community. Since that election, Kenyatta and Ruto have formed an alliance against Odinga. The two shook hands and embraced during a prayer meeting in Nairobi on Sunday and pledged to concede defeat if they lose next week's election and to use the court to resolve disputes.

Many internal refugees fear they will be forgotten when the new administration takes over. They also fear they will no longer be on the radar to receive government assistance to rebuild their lives after their property was either burned or stolen, even though government has adopted laws to handle the IDP issues.

The coalition government that was created to end the previous post-election mayhem, and which gave Odinga the premiership and Kibaki the presidency, ends with this year's election. The government's resettlement program operation Rudi Nyumbani, or Go Back Home, was supposed to start in May 2008 and end one month later. Instead it has dragged on for years.

Margaret Wairimu Wanja, the leader of the residents association at Hope Camp, fears the next government will not be obligated to attend to the IDPs.

Food supplies in the camps have been intermittent and unreliable. Most refugees live in houses made of sticks and cloth sacks. Hundreds of people have died in the camps due respiratory related conditions and complications from infections due to a lack of medical care, said Michael Wainaina, a national official with the Association of Internally Displaced People.

Mathu, little Alex's mother, is not optimistic that the remaining displaced people here will get proper assistance. Alex died late last month. He won't be the last to perish in Hope Camp, she said.

"Many more will die because of these conditions," she said.