August 6, 2010 / 5:14 AM / 10 years ago

Kenya's Rift Valley relieved, anxieties remain

MAWINGU, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyans farming the rolling hills of the Rift Valley heaved a collective sigh of relief on Thursday as the east African nation passed a new constitution without any outbursts of violence.

Voters queue along a street to cast their votes in Eldoret, 300km (186 miles) west of Nairobi, August 4, 2010. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

The Rift Valley province in western Kenya bore the brunt of post-election violence in 2007-2008 and there were widespread fears a contentious vote could trigger further clashes between the different ethnic communities living there.

“We voted for this constitution, to see if change might take place. Life is ok, we mingle with other communities in bars but I want to see more interaction,” said 32 year-old Joseph Wainaina from President Mwai Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe.

Thousands of police had been deployed to the region to head off any repetition of the tribal bloodletting which erupted when Kibaki was hastily sworn in as president for a second term amid allegations of widespread rigging in December 2007.

Across the country, but especially in the Rift Valley, the opposition Kalenjin tribe attacked Kikuyu in areas where the two were neighbours. Reprisal assaults on Kalenjin followed.

“They came over the hill, hundreds of them armed with bows and arrows and machetes, burning down every house in their path. We ran before they got to us,” Wainaina said.

In Mawingu, scene of some of the violence, almost every one of the mud-walled dwellings have been rebuilt, sun glaring off the new corrugated metal roofs donated by aid groups as the uprooted villagers slowly returned home.

“I blame the politicians. If it wasn’t for politics such things wouldn’t have occurred. I don’t know what’s changed, why there’s peace this time,” said Wainaina, a father of three.

But for all the talk of a return to normal life, the underlying tensions that have plagued tribal relations since Kenya’s independence in 1963 remain entrenched for now. Of these, land is perhaps the most divisive issue that frequently emerges during electioneering.

A few kilometres from Mawingu, Peter Oturi, 40, frets constantly the Kalenjin are out to grab his land. The widower reconstructed his single-room house last year in the shadows of an abandoned house that once belonged to a local Kikuyu politician.

“Now that the Kalenjin are many here, they want to kick us out,” Oturi said.

“The new constitution will help (improve relations) but only if it is implemented correctly, especially the clauses about land.”

The new constitution is meant to help tackle corruption, political patronage and land-grabbing and tribalism. It also introduces greater checks on presidential powers.

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