Thursday, January 15, 2009

One year after the post poll violence…….

Kenya's worst ever ethnic violence was sparked off by a presidential election held a year ago today. A once stable and prosperous nation went from being known as a land of big cats and safaris to a country beset by brutal mob violence; a place where a church full of terrified worshippers could be set ablaze with dozens inside burnt alive. At least 1,300 people died and more than 300,000 fled their homes.
Since then, an internationally brokered peace deal to end the strife has held, and the coalition government is intact. But for many victims, the struggle to rebuild lives has barely begun. One issue is money. The other reason, especially in Eldoret which was the epicenter of the violence is fear and mistrust. There have been no more attacks but there are still verbal threats. Neighbours peep at each other through broken fences as they see their stolen property in the other’s compound. It is painful but one asks what wounds would be opened were they to claim what belongs or belonged to them.

Children’s games are now tailored between “us” and not with “them” creating a near-permanent hostility in their fragile minds. You can now hear children talk of others by their tribes which a while ago was foreign to them. Worst hit are the public schools mainly in the rural setting. Although our SOS School was not affected, our children witnessed what was going on at that time. We are very proud that our children in the village have been able to cope with the trauma thanks to the post election counseling debriefing that was conducted after the violence. They have been appreciative of each other although the subject of what transpired keeps coming up. They are encouraged to talk about it so that they can heal faster.

The plight of the internally displaced persons being repatriated back to their ancestral homes has raised questions as to how they can ever trust people they once regarded as their friends and neighbours, people they interacted with on a daily basis and with whom their children played together? Will friendships and relationships that are slowly starting to heal be broken again come the next elections?

The physical scars of the violence are still clear to see. Drive along the main, potholed road from Eldoret to Kitale and you can’t miss the burnt-out crumbling shells of former shops and restaurants, targeted and destroyed because their owners were from a rival ethnic group. The truth is that it's been quite a rollercoaster year for Kenyans. The violent fallout from the elections left them stunned. High food prices and ongoing drought has left the country in dire need for much of the year, while rising fuel prices made the cost of everyday life spiral thus affecting not only the SOS family budgets but also the greater Kenyan populace.

Most people are rebuilding, but they’re rebuilding smaller houses because they don’t have enough money. Business is slow now because people don’t have money. At least tension is now low and most people are eager to get on with their lives. Peace forums around the Eldoret town have been encouraging different communities to come together to talk about issues that were at the heart of the violence. Community leaders and elders have been leading discussions that aim to find local solutions to local problems.

Many of the displaced families around Eldoret are still living in tents and camps despite a sizeable number having returned home. These people are overwhelmingly desperate to regain their independence. They don't want to be stuck in limbo for another year. They receive food handouts once a month and this is a vital lifeline, with rising food prices putting even basic staple foods out of reach for those who lost everything when they fled their homes. Even then, sadly, they have been criticized as spongers, layabouts, and people trying to extort from the system.
Along the side of the camps, small business people are starting to re-establish their trades. But it's not easy, having seen all of their stock burned along with their stores in the violence. Local farmers are also struggling to replace tools stolen by looters and to buy fertilizer to grow a healthy crop next year.

Some of the emotional wounds are healing, while others still require a triple portion of healing balms and a continuous change of bandages.

In the picture above you see a house which was torched in Eldoret when marauders invaded a family in Kimimu Estate in Eldoret. Nothing was salvaged although the family escaped unhurt. They had sought refuge at a friend's house when it became evident that they were targeted for beloning to a different tribe.

Fredrick Ochieng - SOS co-worker Eldoret

No comments: