Friday, February 13, 2009

Kenya: Working towards ethnic harmony in Rift Valley

Mary Wakonyo returned home in July 2008

Mary Wakonyo, 101, was born in Central Kenya but moved to Sugoi location near Eldoret in Rift Valley Province with her six children, after her husband died in the 1950s.

Wakonyo, from the Kikuyu community, had lived peacefully with her mostly Kalenjin neighbours until January 2008, when post-election violence forced her to seek shelter in a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Eldoret town.

"I returned home in July [2008], despite having vowed that I would not come back to this place where I nearly died," she said. "My neighbours and other people from Sugoi came to the showground where we were camping and requested us to return home.

"I was assured that my neighbours did not harbour any hard feelings against me and that the area chief and other leaders would ensure our smooth return home."

Wakonyo and two grandchildren lived with a neighbour while her house was rebuilt by local youths with funding from telecommunications company Safaricom.

She has since settled in the one-roomed, wooden-walled, iron-roofed home. Her grandchildren sleep in a tent she brought from the IDP camp.

"All but one of my children have died, so I take care of these two grandchildren, one of whom is mentally challenged," she told IRIN. "While at the IDP camp, I rejected an offer to go to a home for the aged in Nairobi; I returned because I need to be here for them.

"I wish my grandson could get a job, that way I won't have to worry too much."

Wakonyo is one of hundreds of former IDPs in Rift Valley who have returned home following efforts by the government and its humanitarian partners to resettle them.

In parts of the vast province, such resettlement and peace-building efforts have been successful but in others, returnees are still in temporary camps, referred to as "relocation" or "transit" sites, either awaiting the reconstruction of their homes or just afraid to return home.

Such returnees go to farm during the day and return to the temporary camps in the evening, believing there is safety in numbers.


Njenga Miiri, Nakuru District Commissioner, said there were still some "hotspots" where reconciliation and peace-building efforts had yet to take root.

"Nakuru was heavily affected by violence; all divisions were affected although it is a highly cosmopolitan area," Miiri said. "The town was divided into two zones - ODM [Orange Democratic Party] and PNU [Party of National Unity] - and we hosted several hundred IDPs following the chaos."

Reconciliation, he added, had initially been impeded by disjointed peace-building efforts.

"I have since attempted to streamline these efforts and we have made progress in some areas, but hotspots like Kampi ya Moto and Rongai areas remain a concern to us," Miiri said. "Our target is to pacify the whole district, hopefully by the end of this year."

Benson Kibet, 32, a resident of Kampi ya Moto, 25km east of Nakuru, told IRIN many residents had failed to attend reconciliation meetings for fear they could be implicated in the violence.

"A lot of people who fled have returned home; we work with them daily and share a lot of things but we don't turn up at the chief's baraza [reconciliation meetings] because we do not want to be wrongly accused of having participated in the violence," he said.

Kibet said sporadic incidents of ethnic violence had been reported in the area, the latest being the burning of a Kikuyu woman's home in December 2008.

"We do not know the exact circumstances that led to the burning of the house but some young men could have set it ablaze following their failure to receive resettlement packages from the government. It could also have been people wanting to incite violence," he said.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a few districts in the province have fully reintegrated IDPs, but many still remain in relocation camps.

In Eldoret East constituency, Phylis Korir, headmistress of Sugoi Girls High School, who has been involved in the reconciliation process, said all students who had fled because of the violence had returned, a sign that their parents had also returned home.

"Together with the local leaders, we have aggressively participated in reconciliation in this area; even the youth and local women's groups have participated in peace-building," she said. "The school is even buying beans from one of the returnees who has resettled in his farm nearby."

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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