Healing scars of Kenyan violence


Kenyans pin their hopes on the International Criminal Court.

A peace meeting between members of the Kikuyu and Kalenjin tribes in Eldoret, Kenya, where some of the worst clashes occurred.

In view of the vast polythene-domed flower farms on the edge of Naivasha town, Rift Valley, Kenyans gathered in their hundreds of thousands.

It was a three-day outdoor church service and a controversial self-proclaimed prophet, David Owuor, said he was performing miracles with a little help from God. The man with a dreadlocked beard has a huge following in Kenya and so the government has a sked him to assist with reconciliation — the country needs it badly. People have been asked to bring along any weapons they used during last year’s post-election violence plus any items they looted.

The result looks like a macabre car boot sale; a vast array of kitchenware, mattresses, roofing sheets, milk churns, a photo of the French 1998 World Cup winning team, a guitar, a stack of machetes and poisoned arrows, plus an evil-looking club with nails sticking out of it.

“I’ve come to repent and return my weapons,” said Willis Onyango, after handing over a machete which he said he had bought to defend himself but never used, and a bicycle pump.

It is not yet clear what will happen to all these weapons but Willis has an idea.

“I want my machete to be given to the displaced people so they can use it for farming.”

More than a year and a half since the end of the violence several thousand people are still displaced — still living in tents, fearing to return to the communities from where they were chased.

Victims of violence

An hour’s drive along the Rift Valley in a small, beautiful village where a church once stood there are now 36 graves.

Each is marked with a simple white cross on which the letters R.I.P have been painted in black.

Many of them are marked “UNKNOWN,” as the people who were seeking refuge in Kiambaa’s church were burnt beyond recognition.

Two of the graves are for Edith Githuku, who was 44, and Samuel Githuku, who was just four.

“I can forgive but I cannot forget that they did bad things to me,” says Joseph Githuku, who is still struggling to come to terms with the loss of his wife and son.

He says some of his other children survived by escaping through a church window and they have since seen some of the men who torched the church in the village.

Joseph’s family is Kikuyu and he lives in a Kalenjin community.

Despite the horrors of January 1, 2008 he says he has no choice but to stay.

“This country is ours and the constitution says a person can live anywhere in Kenya. The community says it is their land but we bought it from the white settlers after independence. So we can’t run away to a place where we have nothing. I have nowhere to go. I will be here until I die.”

Whilst he says he can forgive, Joseph also wants justice. Especially for the politicians who, he says, instigated the post-election violence.

But Joseph has little faith in Kenya’s judiciary. “This country is for the rich, but the poor have no justice because of the corruption. So we as Kenyans would like these people to be taken out of the country so that justice can work and the truth can be seen,” he said, suggesting that briefcases full of money might influence the courts. Some of the residents still feel tense, fearing the same violence could erupt again.

“When we talk we are not free with each other. The warm relationship we used to have is not there now,” said Elizabeth Wangui, whose son was badly burnt in the fire.

“They have not cleansed their hearts or sought forgiveness and so I still have a lot of fear,” she added, before saying that if she had somewhere else to move to she would leave the village immediately.

In a nearby village, Tabitha is barefoot, extremely muddy and full of smiles now that her home is no longer a tent.

She is rebuilding the house which was burnt and looted with mud, sticks and metal roofing sheets.

Her new home was made possible not by the Kenyan government but by the International Organisation for Migration with Japanese funding.

“I feel perfectly safe now. We live in harmony and we are even able to borrow salt from each other,” said Tabitha, pointing to a new wall that her neighbours from the rival ethnic group had helped her build the previous day.

Tabitha also wants there to be justice.

“I would like to see the law upheld. But I would rather see it happen in The Hague than here,” she said, referring to the home of the International Criminal Court.

“In Kenya it would be sidetracked and then disappear.”

Like many Kenyans, Joseph and Tabitha believe the big fish could all too easily get off the hook in Kenya, and they pin their hopes on the ICC.

Locked in a vault there is an envelope containing a list of the key suspects — the result of a commission of enquiry into the post-election violence.

Although the list has been kept a secret it is widely believed to include powerful businessmen and cabinet ministers.

“In matters of justice when the offence has been committed you must face the music, you must dance to it — whoever you are,” Kenya’s Justice Minister, Mutula Kilonzo, told me before admitting that he believed some of his fellow ministers were themselves running away from justice.

Mr. Kilonzo argued that referring the case to the ICC would have been an admission that Kenya was a failed state and so he had wanted to convince his cabinet colleagues to set up a local tribunal with international judges sitting on it.

Cabinet rejected the idea and instead chose the local courts in which the Kenyan public has so little faith.

Back in Kiambaa village Joseph Githuku struggles on his own to bring up his surviving children. He sets off for work with a drum full of anti-mosquito spray strapped to his back. He is helping his neighbours from the rival Kalenjin tribe in the fight against malaria and seems determined to build bridges.

“We are trying to show them how to live together to make peace between the Kikuyus and the Kalenjins,” said Joseph.

When I suggested that he was a peacemaker, Joseph replied with a smile and a laugh: “I’m a peacemaker with a certificate.”

Kenya needs more peacemakers like Joseph. The country has not healed.

Unless some people face justice for last year’s horrific events, the fear is the violence could all too easily erupt again. — © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 8:06:54 AM |

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