Wounds Of Post-Election Violence Still Raw In Kenya

W: Two boys push a wheelbarrow outside an IDP camp for members of the Kikuyu tribe in Eldoret, Kenya

hide captionIn this photo from June 2009, two boys push a wheelbarrow outside a camp for members of the Kikuyu tribe chased off their farms by members of the Kalenjin community in Eldoret, Kenya. Eldoret was the site of some of the worst tribal clashes after the country's December 2007 presidential elections.

Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo wants to build a case against the top instigators of post-election violence in Kenya, and he is urging Kenya's government to try the rest.

Ethnic clashes killed more than 1,000 people and displaced many more. The violence began with elections in December 2007 and continued into 2008.

But Kenya's coalition government has failed to pursue the guilty, or to comfort the innocent. Many ordinary Kenyans say they welcome intervention by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

It is harvest time in Kenya's fertile Rift Valley. Women sell bags of chopped sugar cane and neat stacks of potatoes piled high on makeshift tables on the shoulder of the road.

It's a total about-face from the way things were early last year. Back then, crops died in the fields. People were killing each other. And the Rift Valley was on fire.

Ken Wafula, head of the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Eldoret, says there are people who feel that what happened was "right."

But to everyone else, what happened felt terribly wrong.

'We Were Not Feeling Mercy For Anyone'

Kenya's 2007 presidential election put the country's ethnic groups on opposite sides of a machete, depending on which candidate they supported. Kenya's majority Kikuyu tribe backed the incumbent, President Mwai Kibaki, while the indigenous Kalenjin tribes of the Rift Valley supported then-challenger Raila Odinga.

When the election didn't go their way, Kalenjin such as David Rono were furious.

"Even up to now I'm still angry. It was not a fair election. It was just a stolen election," says the 26-year-old motorcycle taxi driver.

Rono, speaking in the privacy of an Eldoret hotel room, says politicians and other community leaders urged area men to act. So, he burned Kikuyu farmhouses; he and others put up checkpoints on the roads; they went looking for a fight.

Many of his friends died in the clashes, Rono says. When more than 30 Kikuyu women and children were burned alive in a nearby church, Rono says, he felt nothing.

"At that time, we were not feeling mercy for anyone. So we were not thinking of either the children or anybody. We had really decided if it is bad, let it be bad," he says.

The Kalenjin wanted to reclaim land they believed the Kikuyu had acquired unfairly in a grievance dating back to colonial times. But on Jan. 29, 2008, Rono had to stop. He says police shot him three times at a checkpoint.

"I was injured in my private parts. I can't sire children. I can't produce children," Rono says.

Now, Kenya's former political rivals share power in a coalition government. And Rono is just as landless and frustrated as he was before. He says his leaders should be tried at the International Criminal Court. But the Kalenjin man says he doesn't feel sorry for what he and his friends did.

"I don't see why we should be arrested or prosecuted or tried — only the leaders, because they benefited," he says.

'They Made Me A Cripple'

Yusila Cherono is another Kalenjin affected by the post-election violence. In a tidy little house between a cow pasture and a chicken coop, Cherono spends most of her time in bed. At the height of the clashes, she was working at a flower farm in a Kikuyu-dominated area of central Kenya.

That was the last time she ever ran.

Cherono says a Kikuyu mob chased her near a riverbed behind the flower farm. She never knew what hit her. The blow came from behind, and she says she immediately fainted.

When Cherono woke up, her spine was damaged and part of her hip bone crushed. Her legs are now shriveling up. She is 39 years old.

"I didn't do anything to them. I didn't offend them. I was just working for the welfare of myself and my child. What did I do to deserve this? They made me a cripple. They made me the way I am," she says.

Cherono says she is eager to meet the International Criminal Court prosecutor — as are the many Kenyans who are still stranded at a camp set up at the Eldoret showground for those displaced by the clashes.

Serious Attempt At Justice Needed

Most people affected by the violence seem to have lost faith in what the local authorities can, or will, do for them.

Nelson Wambugu is a Kikuyu photographer in Eldoret. Last month, his father went to see about some property he had in a Kalenjin-dominated area southwest of Eldoret. The coroner's report says a mob hacked Wambugu's father to death. Wambugu has yet to hear from the police. His family is now giving up their claim on the land.

"My wish would be that the government would allocate my mother some other place to reside in and dispose of that land to maybe one of the indigenous communities. But not to the murderers — they should not be allowed to benefit from that land," he says.

Human rights advocates say they are ready to hand over records of what has been happening in the Rift Valley to the International Criminal Court and to any local tribunal that is acting in good faith. Because without a serious attempt at justice, they say, Kenya may not survive the next presidential campaign.

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