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Kenya – recovery or road to ruin?

14 May 2008

Ishbel Matheson, MRG’s Head of Policy and Communications, reports back from a trip to Kenya to research the situation of minorities following the recent violence.

From the moment I landed, the effects of the recent convulsive violence were felt. Politics are an obsession. When the evening news comes on, busy restaurants and bars fall silent. Everyone is trying to figure out whether the Grand Coalition government, bringing together the opposition ODM and President Kibaki’s PNU, is going to last. Although it is early days – it looks pretty fragile.

Already the opposite wings of the coalition have publicly contradicted each other, on key issues such as how to bring the perpetrators of the violence to justice. Every detail of senior politicians movements, and statements, are pored over. For example, when the new Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, went to ‘sell’ the new government in his heartland of Western Kenya at the weekend, it was immediately noted that no senior PNU official accompanied him. How much of a partnership is this government, in reality, Kenyans are asking themselves.

They are, however, anxious that the terrible ethnic violence doesn’t return. On a drive up through the Rift Valley, from Nakuru to Eldoret, the landscape was scattered with sobering reminders of what the violence cost – in human terms. Burnt-out shells of buildings – shops, sheds, homes – dot the side of the road. Farms have been abandoned. Here, the Kikuyu ethnic group was targeted by the Kalenjin. Scores of lives were lost and tens of thousands displaced. Although the largest ethnic group in Kenya (and one which has been dominant politically and economically since independence), the Kikuyu are a minority in this part of the Kenya.

Weeks have passed since the last violence, but no one feels secure. 20,000 Kikuyu are still camped in Eldoret’s showground. The government is threatening to forcibly relocate them back home, but many are simply too fearful. They say there must be talks with Kalenjin village elders first, to get guarantees about the return of property and security. On the Kalenjin side, there are calls for those arrested in the wake of the violence to be freed as a gesture of reconciliation – something the Kikuyu see as completely unacceptable. Depressingly, although everyone agrees that tribalism in Kenya has got completely out of control, and that the political class are mostly to blame, there has nevertheless been a hardening of ethnicity. One Kikuyu told me the main message his community drew from the violence is that “the Kikuyu weren’t strong enough…we won’t be caught out like this again”. It is simply too early to say yet whether Kenya is on the road to recovery – or to ruin.

This article reflects the sole opinion of its author and does not engage MRG’s responsibility.