Aid Workers Try to Help Kenya Refugees In Kenya, aid workers are trying to help a quarter-million refugees who were caught up in the violence that swept the country after last week's election.

Aid Workers Try to Help Kenya Refugees

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

In Kenya, aid workers are trying to help a quarter million refugees. They were caught up in the violence that swept the country after last week's election. Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki now says he's ready to discuss a power-sharing arrangement with the opposition. Opposition leaders who accused the president of election fraud say they're willing to go to the bargaining table as long as there's an international mediator.

NPR's Gwen Thompkins joins us from Nairobi.

Gwen, first of all, what can you tell us about the latest developments and the opposition's response?

GWEN THOMPKINS: Well, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki did announce this weekend that he's willing to share power with the opposition through the formation of a national unity government. He made this announcement shortly after talking with U.S. envoy Jendayi Frazer, who is hoping to help mediate the situation. Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, has said that he will not accept Kibaki's invitation. He called for negotiations through an international mediator.

And it's important to realize at this point that Kibaki's offer falls into the category of stating the obvious. Kibaki's party lost so many seats in parliament last week that in order to move forward, he must be in coalition with other parties. And Odinga's party, the opposition leader, has the most seats in parliament right now. So it would be a logical choice to want to go into a government of national unity with the opposition. Odinga, who has already had experience in a coalition with Kibaki before - this was back in 2002 - he had a bad experience back then, and he doesn't appear to want to go back into business with the president right now.

HANSEN: You're in Nairobi as we mentioned, and boy, it was brought to a standstill last week during the fighting. What's the situation there now?

THOMPKINS: You know, slowly but surely, many areas appeared to be returning to some form of normalcy. You know there are people on the street. There's public transportation. You see an awful lot of people walking to and from their churches. Today has been set aside as sort of a national prayer day in Kenya as people are praying for peace. And at the same time, there are an awful lot of humanitarian organizations that are trying to respond to the needs of many of the citizens here in Nairobi who are living in the shanty towns of Nairobi. There are huge, huge shanty towns and who are without food and water.

HANSEN: Gwen, talk a little bit more about that. Talk a little bit more about the lack of food in the areas where the fighting was most pronounced.

THOMPKINS: Well, just after the election results were announced last Sunday, a week ago today, the shanty towns of Nairobi exploded. People were very angry. Kibera, which is one of the largest slums in the world - and it's actually in the constituency of Raila Odinga - that place went up in flames in many areas, people burned down food stalls and other business that were actually conduits of food and other materials to the neighborhood.

So what's happened is that in the wake of so much - not only violence against people, but also destruction of property, there's been a stop in the food flow and the water flow to many of these areas. And these areas house, you know, hundreds of thousands of people. So, you know, many of the people who've been displaced from these shanty towns have found some relieve at parks nearby.

There's a report actually that two women gave birth last week in the park. You can sort of guess how serious the situation is when people are having to give birth on open air in one of the big capitals of East Africa. So the situation is serious. Many believe here that it's going to become more serious as the days were (unintelligible) and folks have not eaten for some days.

HANSEN: Has the violence all been election related or are there other reasons?

THOMPKINS: You know many places exploded in violence. And this seemed to be, you know, a true representation of how, you know, an awful lot of people felt. I mean, this was a very close election so, you know, it's fair to say that half of the population is unhappy with the result. So you can definitely see where that announcement could have sparked a real backlash. But there are other areas of Kenya where there have been long-standing ethnic rivalries.

I'm thinking particularly of western Kenya, where many Kikuyus - and this is the tribe of the President Mwai Kibaki - they've been living there for the past 40 years or so. But they've been living among anther ethnic group called the Kalenjin. And the Kalenjin for these past 40 years have felt as if that land has been taken away from them. So when I was there last week, and I saw what appears to be a real backlash against Kikuyus there, the election definitely appeared to be a fig leaf really for the expression of long-standing tensions.

HANSEN: NPR's Gwen Thompkins in Nairobi, Kenya.

Gwen, thank you so much.

THOMPKINS: Thank you, Liane.

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