Kenyans Caught in Harm's Way amid Political Rift Violence following Kenya's disputed election has killed hundreds of people and displaced hundreds of thousands. The unrest has sparked a humanitarian crisis in a nation better known for helping its neighbors in crisis. International aid organizations are scrambling to get to those in need of shelter and medical treatment.
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Kenyans Caught in Harm's Way amid Political Rift

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Kenyans Caught in Harm's Way amid Political Rift

Kenyans Caught in Harm's Way amid Political Rift

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

The political impasse that has paralyzed Kenya may be the result of dubious election results in the presidential race. But it has turned to a standoff involving more than 40 ethnic groups. The two most prominent are President Kibaki's tribe, the Kikuyu, and the Luo, the tribe of opposition leader, Raila Odinga. Somewhere in the middle are millions of Kenyans who can't get out of harm's way.

NPR's Gwen Thompkins reports from Nairobi.

GWEN THOMPKINS: Timothy Maugu(ph) is a 35-year-old shoe salesman and, given the circumstances, remarkably polite. He's standing in an open field in Nairobi outside the Kibera slum where thousands of people, who are no longer welcome there, have come for food and shelter. Maugu was burned out of his house more than a week ago. He says the assailants mistakenly thought he'd voted for President Mwai Kibaki. Maugu is from the Luhya tribe and says he and his will never vote again.

Mr. TIMOTHY MAUGU (Shoe Salesman): Yeah, because you - we voted. And these are now their future. See their mom working here, children here, and babies crying here. See, we will not vote.

THOMPKINS: In just over a week, Kenya has cracked under the weight of ethnic rivalries and political hatred. And those who are just hanging on before the vote are now in free fall. In Nairobi's Jamhuri Park, a showground for prize cattle and agricultural wonderments, about 4,000 people from nearly every major ethnic group are sleeping with the monkeys in the open air. And there are show grounds like this with comparable numbers nationwide.

Ms. ANIRIN TIPLICAT(ph) (Humanitarian Aid Worker): We were even told last week that two women delivered there at the Jamhuri Park. And can you imagine the type of condition there.

THOMPKINS: Anirin Tiplicat is organizing food and medicine donations for the displaced at St. Mark's Church in Nairobi. Here's her list.

Ms. TIPLICAT: Medicine (unintelligible), rice, sugar, you know, food, diapers, you know, for the babies. You can see, we are told that in the process of running, some people have broke their legs. We need crutches.

THOMPKINS: Humanitarian aid agencies estimate that more than 250,000 people have been displaced nationwide in the violence. The World Food Programme moved a convoy of trucks across the country carrying a month's worth of food for 70,000 people in western Kenya. That area has been hard hit by post-election violence. In addition, the United Nations is diverting food from Somali refugees in northeastern Kenya to help the displaced. Back in Nairobi, people are depending on this aid.

Give Beatrice Acheyen(ph) a fish and she'll eat for a day. Rebuild her fish stand in Nairobi's Kibera slum and everyone will eat for as long as they like. Acheyen is a 28-year-old Luo vendor whose little shop burned along with the entire marketplace more than a week ago. Kikuyu vendors are associated with that market. And like so many, she was burned by association. She now looks for food everyday at Jamhuri Park.

Ms. BEATRICE ACHEYEN (Fish Vendor): If you see us coming to look for food and we are the people who are selling food for the people, it means that it's a desperate life here.

THOMPKINS: Joe Motori(ph) is a Kikuyu who sold secondhand T-shirts and sweaters at the same market in Kibera.

Mr. JOE MOTORI (Vendor): We are very worried because, at the moment, people are supposed to be looking for (unintelligible) for their children. People are supposed to be looking for - or they are taking back their children to school, pay rent. Why should I suffer? Because Kibaki's stole our election.

THOMPKINS: Motori belongs to a grassroots organization called Pamoja Trust that looks out for the poor in the Nairobi shanty towns. Today, the group called on the politicians they voted for to show their faces in Kibera and other areas hardest hit by violence. But the material effect of such visits could be minimal.

For the first time since Kenya's troubles began more than a week ago, President Mwai Kibaki went west to visit those displaced by the violence. And tonight, most of those people will still be sleeping under the stars.

Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Nairobi.

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