Ten years on, no solace for Kenya poll violence survivors

04 August 2017 - 09:47 By AFP
Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, the presidential candidate of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition, addresses supporters during an election rally in Kisumu, Kenya August 3, 2017.
Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, the presidential candidate of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition, addresses supporters during an election rally in Kisumu, Kenya August 3, 2017.
Image: REUTERS/James Keyi

Ten years after her husband was killed in post-election violence and she was chased off her land, Peninah Wahito is still living as a squatter in Kenya's Rift Valley.

Like dozens of others she is waiting to be resettled after the bloodshed that erupted following the disputed 2007 vote, leaving 1,100 people dead and 600,000 displaced.

"It has been an experience of suffering," Wahito, 53, told AFP of her life in the Njoro camp surrounded by maize fields about 25 kilometres (16 miles) from the city of Nakuru in west-central Kenya.

In 2007, Wahito and her husband were living and working on a sisal plantation in the northern Rift Valley, a fertile region where ethnic Kikuyus and their Kalenjin neighbours have a long history of conflict over land.

When the opposition led by Raila Odinga -- a Luo then allied with senior Kalenjins -- claimed the election was stolen by Mwai Kibaki, the Kikuyu incumbent, decades of anger fuelled the politically-motivated tribal violence that followed.

It came as a shock to Wahito, a Kikuyu who had lived peacefully alongside her Kalenjin neighbours.

"We used to eat together, work together, but all hell broke loose in two days and everything went up in smoke," said the mother of 10.

She and her family tried to flee, but were ambushed by a mob on the road to Nakuru.

"My husband was attacked by arrows, one on the arm, another one on the stomach and two more on his back," Wahito said.

"I witnessed someone being hacked with a machete... I saw an arrow land in a woman's head and she ended up dying," she recalled. "I myself, ended up being hit by a stone that cracked my skull."

'Nothing has come to pass'

After the violence, the government announced a programme to resettle and compensate those affected, however from the beginning the fund has been criticised as ineffective and lacking transparency.

Wahito, who had been living in a camp for the displaced outside Nakuru, received only 35,000 shillings ($337, 280 euros), which quickly ran out.

The programme was riddled with loopholes, critics say: people who fled to camps were eligible for compensation, but not those who fled to the homes of extended family.

The government then bought a 450-hectare (1,112 acre) plot of land in Njoro, to resettle about 2,000 people. However that plan has been blocked by a dispute over ownership of the land.

In 2013 Wahito moved to Njoro anyway, hoping that by squatting on it, she and the dozens of other families who joined her would pressure the government to resolve the disagreement.

She's still there today, battling pneumonia and wondering when her ordeal will end.

Failed promises

Faced with anger over the delayed process, President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2015 pledged 10 billion shillings to those displaced by violence in 2007, and other episodes of unrest.

However this too has failed to materialise.

Instead, local authorities have been handing out money to communities seemingly at random in the run-up to this month's election.

Kenyans are heading to the polls once again on August 8, in a tight race between Kenyatta and Odinga. Tensions and fears of violence are rising.

"There must be fear because when you listen to the politicians' utterances (on the radio) you get worried," Wahito said.

"After the election results are announced, we never know what will happen," she said.

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