The refugees don’t look the way refugees are supposed to look. In Londiani, in Nakuru, in Kericho they have been camped around police stations or churches with their belongings – bed frames, fridges and sacks of clothes – often piled next to their matatus or gleaming white Toyota Corollas. These are not poor people. In many cases they are Kikuyus, driven out of town by envy that has manifested itself in political and tribal violence. The refugees have cash and assets.
Last week as I left Nakuru I saw a father tying his electric oven to the back of his car before hitting the road to Nairobi. Another car had a fridge sticking out of its boot.
But this picture of the wealthy refugee (IDP if you must) doesn’t always fit with the image preferred by aid workers and journalists. For charities, it is always better to portray them as helpless and penniless the better to raise cash. And for journalists, the copy always flows more easily with a spoonful of cliches (of which I am equally guilty).
One of my colleagues saw their copy “edited” to include an extra paragraph describing how a child’s bare feet were caked with mud. Only problem was that the pic that ran with the story clearly showed the girl wearing a brand new pair of shoes.
Of course not all the displaced families are rich. Not all are Kikuyus. Not all Kikuyus are wealthy businesspeople – despite the stereotype. And many of these people have lost everything. The point is that the picture is more complex than it appears and underlines what a disgrace it is that this should be happening in Kenya. This is not Darfur or Somalia. These people have fridges.
So Kenya stands on the brink of catastrophe. Ethnic tensions have been laid bare in a month of post-election violence. Kalenjin and Kikuyu gangs are intent on taking lumps out of each other. Slums have been razed and hundreds of thousands of people sent fleeing.
“Violence continues, threatening to escalate to catastrophic levels,” is how Ban ki-Moon, UN secretary-general, summed it up today at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa.
And then an opposition MP is shot dead for knocking off a policeman’s missus.
Posted in Kenya
Tagged Kalenjin, Kikuyu
So the BBC has gone the way of The New York Times in avoiding references to tribalism. Auntie’s euphemism of choice is “inter-communal violence”. The tribalism deniers should talk to John Oduri, a Luo.
I met him in Naivasha yesterday. He had been with his brother when a mob of Kikuyus arrived at the door on Sunday. They tried to pretend they weren’t Luos but there was one way the gang could check. They stripped his brother naked. When they found he hadn’t been circumcised – marking him out as a Luo living in the lands of the foreskin-less – they hacked him to death with pangas.
Whatever the cause – whether colonial rule, land, or the inability to distinguish Ls from Rs – and whatever sparked off this latest round of violence, things are spiralling out of control. This past week has seen a series of revenge attacks as Kikuyus are bussed in to launch attacks on Luos, Kalenjins and anyone else who has killed their kin.
It may have started as political violence with ethnic undertones but now the Rift Valley has moved into a new phase of killing.
I’d like to agree with the likes of Madeleine Bunting or those who believe western reporters are dealing in dated stereotypes. And my usual position is that people all over the world are the same, driven by the same rational motives as you and me. But now I’ve met too many people like John Oduri.
The set at gate F9 in Schipol Airport is showing pictures of bodies in Kenya while we sit waiting to board flight KL565 to Nairobi. People are pretending not to watch.
I’ve cut short my Christmas break by a day to get back home and cover tomorrow’s planned demos in Nairobi.
A quick call to colleagues back in Nairobi helps reassure me that I wasn’t the only one to misjudge the level of violence following last week’s elections. I thought there would be some trouble – there always is – depending on the result, but that politics would continue much the same as normal in Kenya’s version of democracy. My friends tell me they were all taken by surprise. One pal is on safari in Amboseli – a long arranged family holiday. Another says eveyone was caught unawares. In short, no-one expected such clear vote rigging.
Tomorrow is the next flashpoint. Raila Odinga wants a million people to join him as he declares himself president. Meanwhile, members of the Kikuyu tribe – mostly supporters of President Kibaki – are making themselves scarce after more than 50 were torched to death.
People are talking about Ivory Coast four or so years ago. Comparisons with Rwanda have begun.
I never thought something like this could get even close to happening. Not in one of the corners of Africa where economic growth, multiparty democracy and a lively press had trumped old ethnic rivalries.
Kenya goes to the polls tomorrow. It’s shaping up to be the closest election in Kenyan history. Raila started with a huge lead in the polls – perhaps not surprising as he started campaigning three years ago after walking out of the government. Kibaki reeled him in, only to see Raila head out in front again. The polls now are putting them pretty much neck and neck, with Raila maybe just a nose in front.
It would be a great story if he won. I can count the number of times a sitting African president has lost an election on the fingers of one foot. Many of my colleagues are talking up the chances of a Raila victory.
But he won’t win. Kibaki’s power base is the Kikuyu tribe, packed with professionals, entrepreneurs and the civil servants he promoted. Raila’s support comes from the Luos of Lake Victoria – an almost equally formidable set of operators. But his support is also drawn disproportionately from the poor, the unemployed, and the disenfranchised. His key lieutenants have nothing like the election machine of their rival. They may be close in the polls, but I reckon that translates into a seven-point start for Kibaki.
So, when the votes are counted I predict a comfortable win for the incumbent and business as usual for Kenyan politics. (I have $100 riding on the result.) Raila’s supporters will no doubt riot, and there is a very real chance he could actually lose his Langata seat (Here’s my story about a young guy trying to keep a lid on things).
Or – given that I am writing this from a small village in the English Home Counties with a belly full of turkey - I could be totally wrong.