NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 9 – Members of communities that were worst hit by the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya have told IWPR that they still live in fear of attacks. Although some have returned to their homes after years living as refugees, they say they are too scared to remain there.
The concerns raised by these victims of bloodshed contradict what the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, ICC, was told on a recent visit – that communities in Kenya’s Rift Valley (RV) had reconciled and are now living in peace with one another.
When Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda toured RV on October 25 and 26, she visited a camp for displaced people in the main town, Nakuru, where she spoke to residents about the justice process for dealing with those accused of perpetrating the violence.
This region was at the epicentre of the brutal violence that erupted after a disputed presidential election in December 2007. Fierce fighting along ethnic lines left more than 1,300 dead in Kenya as a whole and 650,000 displaced, thousands of whom are still living in camps like the one Bensouda visited in Nakuru.
The ICC has charged four individuals, representing the two opposing sides in the conflict, with orchestrating the violence. Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Eldoret North Member of Parliament William Ruto, former civil service chief Francis Muthaura and radio journalist Joshua arap Sang are set to go on trial in The Hague in April 2013.
Despite facing charges in The Hague, Ruto and Kenyatta are leading contenders in the presidential election scheduled for March, a month before the trials.
When residents met Bensouda during her tour of the region, they assured her that the various ethnic groups, particularly the Kikuyu and Kalenjin who make up the majority in the Rift Valley, were now living together peacefully and had resolved their differences.
“All displaced people have gone back to their homes. We have reconciled and we are living in peace,” Anglican minister Philip Chumo from Uasin Gishu county, outside the town of Eldoret, said.
One of the people living in a camp at Nakuru told Bensouda that peace had been restored and the government was resettling people back in their home areas.
He insisted people were now moving on from the divisions created by the violence of 2008, and argued that the ICC process was just making things worse.
“We are living in peace,” he said. “We have reconciled and our wounds have healed. They should not be reopened – we should be left alone [to] now get ready for elections.”
Away from the public meeting, though, IWPR interviews with victims of the violence, particularly in Eldoret, suggested that intercommunal relations in the region remain fragile.
Wanjiru, who is a Kikuyu, fled from her farm in 2008 after her husband and two sons were killed during the post-election conflict. She came to a meeting held as part of Bensouda’s tour in the Rurigi area of Burnt Forest in the Eldoret East region, but rather than join the crowd, she watched from behind a tree about 100 metres away.
She told IWPR how hard it had been to overcome the trauma, fear and anger she harboured for those who killed her family.
“I came back to my farm two months ago. But I want to go and look for somewhere else to settle next week. I cannot stay here in Burnt Forest,” Wanjiru said, quickly scanning the surroundings to make sure no one could see her talking to a journalist.
With memories of the violence still fresh in her mind, she is too afraid to live in an area where she saw her own loved ones die and her neighbours killed and their houses burnt to the ground.
“If they see me, they will come for me, they may chase me away or even hurt me. But for sure, this is not a place to live,” she said, with tears streaming down her face.
Living on her farm, she said, she was not free to move around or interact with members of other ethnic groups.