News 2008


As Kenyans forced to camps, aid groups fear worse problems

By Katharine Houreld

Associated Press

Wed, Feb. 13, 2008

ELDORET, Kenya - Since their home was torched six weeks ago, Peter Monderu's six children sleep tangled like puppies on the cold ground.

His 9-year-old girl bears the scars of a horrific arson attack on a church that left 50 people dead, and his fearful wife startles awake at the least sound.

The Monderus are among 600,000 people driven from their homes by clashes sparked by a dispute over who won Kenya's Dec. 27 presidential election, according to a U.N. report Monday.

About half have taken refuge with family or friends. The rest are camping out - at prisons, churches, police stations and fairgrounds, such as the one where the Monderus found a haven in the western town of Eldoret.

Aid agencies fear the makeshift camps are creating more problems for the once-stable East African country.

The camps are breeding grounds for disease, violence and crime. And they sometimes fan the already-heated ethnic tensions that forced Kenyans to flee in the first place, as the poorest of the poor in one group see the displaced of another group getting international aid.

Observers do not see the camps emptying soon, after more than 1,000 people died in the fighting. Even if a political solution is found for the election dispute, some fear the settlements may mark a permanent shift in Kenya's ethnic makeup.

Much of the postelection violence has pitted an array of ethnic groups against President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu people. In western Kenya, some areas have been emptied of Kikuyus. Kikuyus, in turn, have inflicted reprisals on opposition supporters.

No Kikuyus are left in the countryside surrounding Eldoret. In the enclave of Huruma, within the city limits, Kikuyu refugees are crammed five to a room. Some 15,000 are camping on Eldoret's fairgrounds, and more arrive every day, with police riding guard on trucks piled with salvaged furniture.

According to U.N. reports, girls and women have been forced to trade sex for food and protection in camps.

Alexis Moens, emergency coordinator of the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders, said camp dwellers also suffer hygiene problems. The group is trying to monitor the camps for potential epidemics.

"Many of these people will see the rainy season in these camps," Moens said, warning that wet weather due in four weeks will worsen conditions.

Opportunities for reconciliation are few after the Balkanization of Kenyan communities that had lived peacefully together.

Residents in city slums and poor farming communities watch jealously as displaced neighbors are given shiny new cooking pots, blankets and health care, forgetting the armed mobs and charred homes those people had to flee.

In the camps, memories of atrocities are swapped around campfires, leaping larger than the flames with each retelling.

"I can't sleep," Monderu said, clutching his stomach while telling of his anxieties.

He described seeing neighbors held at machete point as jeering attackers asked who wanted peace. Those who raised their hands were cut down, he said.

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Kenya Talks Now In Private Locale

Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general, said yesterday that Kenya would have a solution to its postelection crisis later this week as the country's dueling political parties retired to an undisclosed location for what were expected to be final talks.

Few details have emerged from weeks of negotiations led by Annan, and it isn't clear what a political compromise would look like - or whether the two sides are even close to a deal.

Annan told a special session of Kenya's parliament that President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga - who says Kibaki stole the election in December - had agreed to share power in a coalition, and that the talks were focusing on the form of such a government. He also indicated that new elections may be called.

But the head of Kibaki's negotiating team, Martha Karua, later issued a statement denying the president had agreed to a transition government or new elections.