A Year Later, Kenya Still Healing From Election Strife

Residents of Nairobi's Kibera slum protest results of the country's Dec. 30, 2007 elections. i i

hide captionResidents of Nairobi's Kibera slum and supporters of presidential candidate Raila Odinga protest results of the country's Dec. 27, 2007, presidential election in which Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner. Odinga charged the vote had been stolen through widespread fraud.

Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images
Residents of Nairobi's Kibera slum protest results of the country's Dec. 30, 2007 elections.

Residents of Nairobi's Kibera slum and supporters of presidential candidate Raila Odinga protest results of the country's Dec. 27, 2007, presidential election in which Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner. Odinga charged the vote had been stolen through widespread fraud.

Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images
Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki (left)) and opposition chief Raila Oding i i

hide captionKenya's President Mwai Kibaki of the Kikuyu tribe (left) and opposition chief Raila Odinga of the Luo tribe shake hands after signing a power-sharing deal on Feb. 28, 2008, in Nairobi.

Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images)
Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki (left)) and opposition chief Raila Oding

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki of the Kikuyu tribe (left) and opposition chief Raila Odinga of the Luo tribe shake hands after signing a power-sharing deal on Feb. 28, 2008, in Nairobi.

Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images)
Two women try to take a bag of flour away from a boy at a charity food distribution in Kibera i i

hide captionTwo women try to take a bag of flour away from a boy at a charity food distribution in Kibera on Jan. 9, 2008. Ethnic violence in the wake of the election ultimately left more than 1,000 dead and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images
Two women try to take a bag of flour away from a boy at a charity food distribution in Kibera

Two women try to take a bag of flour away from a boy at a charity food distribution in Kibera on Jan. 9, 2008. Ethnic violence in the wake of the election ultimately left more than 1,000 dead and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images

Kenya's coalition government is out of synch. Ethnic violence last year following a disputed presidential election ended with the two candidates settling into a power-sharing agreement. Now, one side is claiming a lack of respect from the other.

Ordinary Kenyans say they haven't got much respect this past year, either. Many are trying to forgive. Or, at the very least, they would like to forget.

On the face of it, not much has changed at the Boys II Men barbershop in Nairobi since the election. It's still in Kibera, the world's second-largest slum. And it's still full on a recent Saturday afternoon with working men getting the works. Three barbers and their customers are talking barbershop talk: girls, politics, money, politics, sports and, of course, politics.

But something has changed. The men aren't as optimistic as they used to be.

"We are trying to build our life [back] to normal, but it's not normal, the way it was before [the] election," says Nesto Ameesi, one of the barbers.

Just over a year ago, the rickety wooden benches at the barbershop were overflowing with people eagerly awaiting the results of Kenya's presidential race. There was a rare television set on the shelf, and the Kenyan Electoral Commission was on screen, counting votes.

The commission eventually called the race for the incumbent — Mwai Kibaki — a candidate from the Kikuyu tribe. But Ameesi says he and most everyone here bet on the other candidate, Raila Odinga from the Luo tribe.

"When we were waiting for the results, they announced the wrong person. It cost everything," Ameesi says.

Ethnic Rifts Linger

Riots erupted outside barbershop: looting, rape, murder. Kibera and many other areas of Kenya burned. In the end, more than 1,000 people died and hundreds of thousands were displaced in ethnic violence.

Eventually, Kibaki and Odinga shook hands and agreed to share power. Together, they vowed to steer Kenya's 42 tribes out of the embers.

But in western Kenya, the morgues still overflow with dead bodies, left over from last year's violence. And nationwide, there are still food shortages, because so many crops were destroyed or never got planted. What's more, Elvis Odoyo says, the ethnic rifts that were exposed by the election have lingered.

"It was hell. And most Kenyans, none of them have forgiven each other. The perception is that it was only Raila and Kibaki who shook ... hands," Odoyo says.

Forgive ... Or Forget

A year ago, Odoyo was working as an accountant at a local insurance company. But his company folded. He now runs a rival barber shop in Kibera that doesn't get half the business that Boys II Men does.

Like most Luos, Odoyo still believes the Kikuyus stole the election. But he and his fellow Luo merchants say Kenya's best way forward is to forget what happened.

Joseph Ogunga Juma is a tailor in the stall next door. He says he lost two sewing machines to looters.

"You've got to forgive and forget. Your yesterday doesn't determine your tomorrow," he says.

What would he do if he did know who had stolen them? "I would work on him, one on one," Juma says, adding with a big laugh, "I wouldn't forgive."

Pursuit Of Justice Key

Where forgiveness is not possible in Kenya, justice may have to do. The coalition has begun moving toward the creation of a tribunal to prosecute the ringleaders of last year's violence.

A list of names of those believed to have coordinated the violence — including some top officials — is now in a sealed envelope at the United Nations headquarters in Nairobi. And mediator Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general, says the list will go to the International Criminal Court if the tribunal fails to happen.

In the Rift Valley, about an hour northwest of Nairobi, Raquel Kabura Kanyi says Kenyans need to see the consequences of their actions.

"If the government decides not to bring these people to justice, this problem will remain forever," she says.

'We Are Left Behind'

Kanyi is a Kikuyu farmer from a town north of Nairobi. Her husband, who was also Kikuyu, drove a commercial truck.

When the Kikuyu candidate, Kibaki, took the oath of office, a mob of people from other tribes came to Kanyi's house and set it on fire. She and the children fled; she expected her husband to follow. She later learned he had been murdered, his body dumped near a dam.

"I was not able to bury my husband, because the situation was so bad. People were being killed like dogs. There was no official burying," she says.

Kanyi now lives in a row of fraying plastic tents on a dry spit of ground that she and several other families bought last year. They had been living in a displacement camp for months, and the government paid them to move someplace else.

But beyond owning the land, the people here don't have much with which to begin life anew. Most of them are Kikuyus, who as merchants or farmers don't have the capital to get back into business. They want more from their government. But former shopkeeper James Njoroge doubts that the coalition can deliver justice.

"A coalition government came together, and they forgot us, the common citizen. Now, we are left behind. We are still in the tents. The conditions here are in very bad shape," he says.

Closing The Gaps

Most of the displacement camps have closed, and the ethnic groups are separating of their own accord. People say it's safer to stick with their own kind.

David Gikonyo is a Pentecostal minister who lives in another Kikuyu-dominated community near Nairobi. He says he has only to look at his wife to know that things will get better. She is from the Kalenjin tribe, which was known to commit many of the atrocities against Kikuyus and others in the Rift Valley. While many inter-tribal marriages failed last year, he says he could never leave her.

"For me, I cannot think of divorce. She was the only wife for me," he says.

Gikonyo predicts that Kenya will one day be a nation of brotherly love — when Kikuyus are less Kikuyu and Luos are less Luo and Kalenjin are less Kalenjin. Maybe then, he says, everybody will be a little more Kenyan.

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