Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Second Crises

The following briefing was sent by Lucy Hannan, an international journalist who followed a convoy of displaced people across the country:

Thousands of people are on the move. It continues during the ‘wait and see’ period of mediation. People are seeking safety in their ancestral homeland while there is an opportunity. In many of the towns I passed through, ethnic segregation has effectively been completed. Post ‘cleansing’-violence, there is a new phase of aggression which is less overt but bold and uncompromising. Armed gangs patrol urban and rural areas, issuing threats and maintaining segregation.

Westerners are relocating West, and displaced Kikuyus moving towards Nairobi. Trucks piled high with furniture and household possessions characterize traffic flow on all parts of the route, most concentrated around Nakuru, Kericho and Kisumu. Yet major camps for the displaced have not emptied, indicating the population shift is massive and continuous; costs and logistics are inhibiting movement of the poorest; and, fear of attack and reprisals have not reduced despite the recent calm. The Showground (Kikuyu) and Stadium (non-Kikuyu) in Nakuru were still full on Sunday evening, including new arrivals.
Quote from a victim (Kisii), Kericho; waiting three days on the side of the road with house contents: ‘I live in Baraka estate, which is mixed, where there have been problems of burning and threats since the time of elections….I am married to a Kalenjin and thought I was ok. There are gangs of Kalenjin in the estate who move around looking for Kisii and Kikuyu.. Three days ago (Wednesday) they came to my house and said to my face: we don’t want to see Kisiis here, and we don’t want to hear about being married to a Kalenjin. Leave or die.’
There is a politicization of transportation and assistance for the displaced. ODM groups and individuals are assisting Luos and Luhyas to move; with donated bus lines and trucks, and funds raised from allied diaspora groups. Displaced Kikuyus are pursuing promises by the government to rebuild or relocate. One gentleman, heading a group of displaced Kikuyus in Kisumu town, said ‘we are in dialogue with the DC, and have been offered a subsidy, we are making a claim for rebuilding. We have received no money but have been told it will take 7-21 days.’ He lives in Kondele police station and runs the gauntlet through town to the DC’s office in an atmosphere of threat. On Friday a Kikuyu was beaten to death in Kisumu town. Muturi says there is a case of a Kikuyu patient driven out of the hospital, and believes he as a Kikuyu no longer has access to the bank.
There is tangible bitterness from displaced populations that the ‘other side’ variously receives more assistance or sympathy. In Kisumu, this directly affects humanitarian assistance, with political divisions and accusations of partiality between NGOs. In the present climate in Kisumu, the Red Cross, for example, is considered government-allied. All arrivals are being taken to St Stephens Church run by local NGO, church and diaspora groups, despite better Red Cross resources and capacity. Heavy rain has exacerbated poor conditions for the displaced – many sit on plastic chairs all night in wet areas. There are problems with separated children, trauma, hunger, property loss, sickness - particularly respiratory diseases and diarrhoea as a result of long periods in police stations and previous camps. A small number say they have no ‘home’ to go to.
Kisumu town
Kisumu town is in a critical transition stage and has imminent potential to become ungovernable. The government and the security forces have lost legitimacy and respect. Raila Odinga/ODM has apparent ubiquitous support. Post-election violence has been through different stages: first, protest rioting and the targeting of Kikuyu businesses and property; next, ethnically-directed retaliation attacks; then, focusing on economic privilege or ‘discrimination’ within the Luo community itself.
It has entered a ‘wait and expect’ period. There is a widespread belief among the population that ‘mediation and negotiation’ means coming to the decision that Raila must be given what he was denied, i.e. the presidency. The process of mediation, at the moment, is considered legitimate and just: but time is likely to be a factor. Like the delay of the election results - which triggered the first round of violence in Kisumu – delays over reaching an agreement could have the same effect. In such a case, the local political class will also lose credibility and legitimacy. There have already been threats against Raila’s property (Molasses Plant and Bondo home) if he is seen to ‘betray or delay’.
‘Stolen votes’, and security force killings, are a general preoccupation, across the board. Government is generally held in contempt; and security forces are unable or unwilling to carry out their work, despite public fear of gangs and criminals who have moved into the vacuum. Security forces attempting to impose any sort of control or authority – like dismantling existing road blocks or shooting criminals – is seen as state repression, or political dissent. Bringing murder charges against the policeman filmed shooting two young men dead appears to have made no difference to this perception. The trial has the potential to become very political. There is suspicion that the officer charged – a Kalenjin – is in fact a ‘fall guy’ for a Kikuyu officer and the case will be a whitewash.
Ajulu, businessman, living in Polyview estate: ‘We organized our own security groups and patrol night and day. There were gangs who said they were looking for Kikuyus, but they would just identify an affluent-looking house, demand entrance, and then take what they could get. We had to actually fight these gangs…..I now have three pangas in my house …. We have become a target. It has been difficult at times for people like me to drive a vehicle, cars have been taken….for example, from town centre to Kisani there are about six road blocks and when things are bad you get charged about 100 shillings at each, harassed and threatened.’
Young boda-boda driver who has manned road blocks and demonstrated: ‘We are waiting for Tuesday to hear the result of the talks. If Raila is not president, we will fight…. We will kill each other.’

Arrival of migrants
Returning migrant labourers are now forced to live with families that they were previously supporting. It is a ‘poor impoverishing poor’ scenario. A tea picker in Tigoni, for example, gets paid about 5 shillings per kilo, sending home about 2-3,000 shillings per month to an unemployed extended family.

A high population of Western migrant workers resided in Central Province because Nyanza is a consuming rather than producing region, with poor economic indices. Nyanza migrants were described to me as an ‘underclass’ typically without property, credit facilities, job security or education. They are returning empty-handed. Many had lived for decades in Central Province, with a secondary, nominal relationship to their ancestral land.
There is nervousness among the Kisumu population what the impact of this influx will be. ‘They are coming to depend on us and we can’t afford it. We struggle, and they will struggle for what little is here, so we will be struggling among ourselves.’

Resentment for this is put in a political context: underdevelopment in Nyanza is perceived as deliberate economic and political marginalization and the failure of the government to give Luos ‘our turn’.

It would seem necessary to devise a practical strategy to explain the mediation and power sharing process in Kisumu town during this period, by civil society rather than politicians. Local politicians and leaders are held hostage by a hardline constituency who have an enormous sense of distrust and injustice over the election results – so politicians are under pressure to ‘perform’ to expectations rather than explain, as was the case this weekend by a visiting group of MPs. Taking into consideration the reaction in Kisumu during the delay of election results, there should be concern about any perceived delay in the mediation process – particularly during News Blackout. Since the December riots, Kisumu town has gone through progessive stages of violence, including unprecedented state violence. A new trigger could make Kisumu ungovernable.
Immediate assistance for the huge population of migrant returnees would seem to be an essential component of any solution, as, apart from humanitarian reasons, in the present context, its absence or inadequacy is perceived to be deliberate marginalization; and returnees are particularly vulnerable to the state and security vacuum.

12 February 2008

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