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What’s Next for Kenya?

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Kisii Warriors in Chepilat on Tuesday. © Anne Holmes

Standing by. That’s what I’m doing these days. The negotiations with Annan have helped to quiet things down a bit in Kenya. As we all wait for the results of the talks on Tuesday, people speculate that a power-sharing agreement breakthrough may be in the works. This glimmer of a solution to the political standoff seems unlikely to gel as Kibaki and Odinga are sworn enemies, and everyone knows that a hand shake means nothing in the hearts of politicians. But Nairobi residents seem hopeful that there will be peace soon. Much of the press is set to leave this week as the story appears to be fizzling out in many people’s minds. But I’m not so convinced. For one, the conversation on the ground has changed tone since the days when I arrived in mid-January. We heard a lot of political slogans like “No Raila No Peace,” “Kibaki Must Go” and so on, during the days of mass action in Nairobi’s slums. In the last ten days or so, I have heard more of “Gives Us Guns,” and “We Want Weapons!” an indication that possibly the situation has indeed gone out of the hands of the politicians who have been pulling the violence strings up ’til now.

One thing seems rather clear in my mind: Nakuru is a time bomb. It is not really a question of if it will go off, but rather when. This city is the last on the border between Central Province and Rift Valley where the population is still a mixture of Kikuyu, Kalenjin and Luo, and has been disputed territory for some time. Nakuru lies within Rift Valley and historically is the ancestral land of the Kalenjins, but at the time of independence, Jomo Kenyatta gave this land to his fellow tribesmen, the Kikuyus, and this has been a point of contention ever since. The Kalenjin seem rather committed to setting the land record straight. Last week a series of purges took place in Kericho where Kalenjin attacked, evicted and burned the properties of countless Kikuyus living there, along with Kisiis who they wished to push back into their traditional homeland in Nyanza province. I paid a visit to the Kericho IDP camp on Tuesday of last week, where an estimated 5,721 Kikuyus and Kisiis huddled around piles of furniture and plastic tents. With Kalenjins threatening to attack the camp, an evacuation was quickly organized and all the Kikuyus I spoke to were heading back to Nakuru, which set off alarm bells in my head. Not only are they returning to lands which the Kalenjin seem determined to evict them from, but also they will return with horror stories of attacks by Kalenjins in Kericho, which have in the past instigated revenge attacks. My sources tell me that the Mungiki are organizing and a strike is imminent, but it remains to be seen what will happen this week.

In Chepilat, a town that borders Kisii and Kalenjin territory, some 60 kilometers west of Kericho, a battle ensued last week between young warriors from either side, armed with bows and arrows, though no one was seriously injured. Kisiis burned Kalenjin houses and Kalenjins burned Kisii houses, making it impossible to discern who started the fight. On Tuesday, houses still smouldered and a handful of Kisii warriors lingered in the town’s central street. When I arrived Wednesday morning, the town’s people had gathered at the crossroads and lay in wait of the arrival of Nyanza and Rift Valley Provincial Commissioners (PC’s) to carry out peace talks between the two tribes. A small group of Kipsigis, a subtribe of Kalenjins, sat on the hill of the field where battles had ensued as most of Chepilat’s Kisii population slowly gathered to talk with journalists and wait for the convoy of PC’s to arrive. Sometime in mid-afternoon, the cars pulled in. Out stepped Nyanza province’s Paul Olando, and several other Nyanza MP’s, but Hasan Noor, the PC for Rift Valley was nowhere to be seen. Franklin Bett, MP from Rift Valley was apparently the only Kalenjin representative to show up. The dignitaries made speeches, which I could unfortunately not understand, and the Kisii crowd grew angry towards the end when Mr. Bett adressed the Kalenjins in their native tongue. The meeting ended in failure as the small group of Kalenjins walked away saying they were not ready for peace and the Kisiis proclaiming they would prepare for battle. The area, however, has remained calm since that day.

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Meanwhile on the Western border with Uganda, trouble is brewing. Reports of an illegal, armed militia, the Sabaot Land Defense Force (SLDF), hunting and killing the aboriginal Ogiek tribe in the Mount Elgon area abound, and the IRC is sending the bulk of its security to the nearby Kitale region in expectation of attacks. The press has tired of pictures of burning houses and men with machetes. That’s the sad truth of this business, but problems continue, albeit on a smaller scale, in villages throughout Western Kenya, and I don’t see a solution to this story in the luxurious offices where Odinga, Kibaki and Annan carry out their business. The people on the ground seem to speak very little about these negotiations. The fear now is that the warring factions may be arming themselves with guns and grenades to take these clashes to another level, something the Kenyan government would not want the world to see as its economy depends largely on tourism, which has suffered a massive blow as a result of the post-election violence.

Wait and see is the order of the day, but I predict another eruption is on the horizon in Nakuru town soon.

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A Kisii woman gets angry at a peace talk meeting in Chepilat on Wednesday when Franklin Bett addressed the Kalenjins in their native tongue. © Anne Holmes

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A local Kisii politician speaks to a crowd from Chepilat. © Anne Holmes

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A common sight these days in Kenya, here Luos make their way back toward ancestral lands with what belongings they were able to salvage when they were evicted from their homes in Central Province. © Anne Holmes

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8 Responses to “What’s Next for Kenya?”

  1. I found your blog post via Google blog search while searching for kenya security situation and your post regarding “What’s Next for Kenya?” looks very interesting to me and it is also very creative. I have an travel website of my own and I must say that your blog is really good. Keep up the great work on a really high class resource.

    On resumption of talks led by Kofi Anan, President Mwai Kibaki ruled out the possibility of accepting any deal that cannot be accommodated in the current constitution. The opposition have been pushing for the amendment of the country’s constitution to create the position of an executive prime minister to be in charge of government while the president retains the head of state status. The prime minister’s position would be taken by Hon Raila Odinga.

  2. Aric in America says:

    I found this blog by accident via MetaFilter and I just read all our your posts
    and this line from the first post struck me “We challenge, over and over again, with increasing weariness, the international media coverage that presents this as “tribal warfare”, “ethnic conflict”, for an audience that visualises Africa through Hollywood: Hotel Rwanda, The Last King of Scotland, Blood Diamond”
    I can tell you that as an American the continent of Africa in our news has never been
    summed up so well in a single quote. Don’t know what else to say…I hope the people of
    Kenya know freedom someday, it seems they more than deserve it. On a side note I
    cannot imagine 65 % of the American voting public, it is amazing how much freedom we have
    and how few of us actually give a shit.

  3. […] trading town in western Kenya an MP Lorna Laboso visited the scenes of the recent battle between Kisiis and Kalenjins. “The police are killing people, right left and centre instead of protecting them and their […]

  4. mwik says:

    but its not Maasai/Kikuyu clashes this time but Maasai/Kalenjin. Somewhere there are some Kalenjin telling the media this is their ancestral land b/c I’ve seen it elsewhere. of course, maybe they did get as far as Nakuru before the Maasai moved down from the Sudan and moved them out. But then they’d have to be killing the Maasai. another moment where its gets couched in ethnic mythology but its really more economics and land played out in ethnic politics.

    it hurts.

  5. a.m. says:

    I too think that the Rift Valley is mostly Maasai, up to Nakuru. But, we know that the Maasai have in their cultural mythologies an ancient struggle with agrarian tribes, including the Kikuyu, so there must have been overlap. I am reminded of the Masaai creation myth, that they came down from heaven on a road of cattle skins into the Rift Valley, and that all the cattle in the world belonged to them. It was just a matter of taking them back.

    I was born on the edge of the Rift Valley during the Kikuyu oathing that was taking place back in the early ’70’s. Then Kikuyus were rounding other Kikuyu men up at night and forcing them in ceremonies to make blood oaths in service to Kikuyu dominance throughout Kenya.

  6. mwik says:

    I’m continually confused by the reference to the Rift Valley as ancestral Kalenjin land–wasn’t it Maasai? at least up to Nakuru?

  7. kenn says:

    its interesting that you mentioned that Jomo Kenyatta gave Rift Valley land to fellow kikuyus. u forget that MOI- A KALENJIN!! ruled Kenya for two decades. He had the opportunity to right the perceived wrong but did not. Its convenient to blame the Kikuyu for all Kalenjin problems just like in Africa we all blame the “white man” for all African ills. Even after they all get their “ancestral lands” back” in 10 years they’l sell it to outsiders.

  8. […] – All might be calm in Nairobi, but there are indications that the violence might be far from over elsewhere. […]

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