FEATURE-Violence we fled was planned, say Kenyan refugees 26 Jan 2008 11:00:49 GMT
By David Lewis
MULANDA, Uganda, Jan 26 (Reuters) – Irene Njoki suspected things might go wrong long before Kenya’s election results were announced, unleashing a wave of violence that has convulsed the country and shocked the world.
“They said, whoever won, we would have to leave,” the heavily pregnant mother of two told Reuters in a camp for Kenyan refugees in eastern Uganda.
“A few days before, they burned some tyres and then said: ‘We will burn you like we are burning these’.
“It definitely seemed like it was planned,” she added as she washed her family’s one remaining set of clothes in the makeshift camp which had sprung up in the bush.
Within minutes of the Dec. 30 declaration of President Mwai Kibaki’s victory, rejected by his opponent Raila Odinga, Njoki’s house had been set on fire and her family stoned.
Coming from Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe but living in Nambale, a town in predominantly Luo and opposition-supporting southwestern Kenya, her family spent the next few days hiding at a police station before fleeing across the border.
Nearly a month after Kibaki’s contested victory was announced, the post-election violence that has killed about 700 people and displaced 250,000 continues, adding to the crisis in a country that once seemed a haven of stability.
More than 6,000 Kenyans, mainly Kikuyus, have fled to eastern Uganda. Some have moved into the tented settlement at Mulanda, 35km (22 miles) inside Uganda. Others have preferred to stay near the border to keep an eye on events or what is left of what they own.
Most, however, believe the violence that forced them to flee was not spontaneous.
“It was definitely as if it had all been planned,” said Stanley Kamau, a young Kibaki campaigner from the Kenyan border town of Busia.
“Before the elections they (the Luos) said: ‘It is our turn’. They told us no matter what, they were going to take power,” he said.
During campaigning, Kamau led many pro-Kibaki youth rallies and said he could not return to Kenya as Luo counterparts who had done the same for Odinga would be waiting for him if he tried to go home.
The government accused the opposition of orchestrating attacks on Kikuyus. Similar charges were made by independent groups monitoring the violence.
“We have evidence that (opposition) ODM politicians and local leaders actively fomented some post-election violence,” Georgette Gagnon, acting Africa director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said on Thursday.
After conducting research in and around the Rift Valley town of Eldoret, where some of the worst bloodshed took place, HRW said officials and elders incited and organised violence.
They spoke of war breaking out and organised youths into groups, which looted and burned down Kikuyu homes, HRW said.
Few Kenyan refugees in Uganda stayed long enough to witness some of the more sophisticated attacks reported to have involved providing transport and weapons for gangs.
They are, nonetheless, convinced that for many the elections were used as a way to settle old scores.
“They have used the elections to settle a grudge,” said a Kikuyu refugee who asked to remain anonymous. “The Kikuyu became rich and bought land and now Luos are telling us to go back home to Central (Province) where we belong.”
Although ethnic tensions and land issues have long been deeply divisive in Kenya, they have never blown up on the scale seen in the past few weeks.
As a result, Kenya was seen as a haven of stability and progress, surrounded by conflict and the chaos in Sudan, Somalia and countries in the Great Lakes region.
The burning to death of 30 people in a church and the sight of gangs armed with machetes attacking those from an opposing tribe have stirred memories of Rwanda’s genocide in 1994, the bloodiest killing of recent times.
As the violence continues, both sides remain entrenched in their positions and have threatened one another with court action, despite a symbolic handshake at a meeting between Kibaki and Odinga on Thursday.
Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived in Nairobi earlier this week to try to negotiate a solution. However, for the refugees who experienced the violence, reconciliation was not a priority.
“Luo-Kikuyu relations may get better one day. But Kibaki shouldn’t share power with Raila. Even though they say he stole the election, it must have been the will of God,” said Njoki. (Editing by Daniel Wallis and Andrew Dobbie)