Kenya's torn tribes rebuild trust with picks and shovels
A new road between two villages becomes a vehicle for reconciliation after last year's violence.
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It's a road that has to be carved out of the hard red Rift Valley earth with picks and shovels, a road that has to be kept smooth in fair weather and foul. It's a road that must tie these two communities, the Kikuyus and the Kalenjins, together so that the ethnic violence of a year ago never happens again.
"Working on this project, we've found that we can talk together. At least we can see there is some peace going on," says Ms. Kingori, a 20-something daughter of a farmer, who still lives in a displacement camp, more than a year after fleeing from her home. "We have hope for life, even though they have made us homeless and jobless." She stops to wipe her eyes. "Eh, I think it will take a long time."
Together with hundreds of youths from the Kikuyu village of Yamumbi and the Kalenjin village of Kapteldon, Kingori and Mr. Korrir have been building that road for nearly a month, paid for and directed by the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Eldoret, a town that came to symbolize Kenya's horrific bout of ethnic slaughter last year.
The road project will facilitate commerce between the villages. But it's also one of the few successful efforts at reconciliation in a country that was torn apart when a tight presidential election degenerated into open ethnic warfare.
Today, a year after a power-sharing deal brought sworn political enemies together into a coalition government, it is projects like this that gives Kenyans hope that they can rebuild their lives and livelihoods.
In fact, many communities like Eldoret have seen precious little reconciliation. Displacement camps for the mainly Kikuyu victims of last year's rampages have been closed down, but new ones have sprung up alongside police stations, in hopes of better safety. Yet despite the massive effects on the country – including a food shortage partly blamed on the displacement of tens of thousands of Kenyan farmers during the peak planting season – Kenya's politicians have made little effort to normalize relations between communities and set the country on a path toward healing.
"To expect the Rift Valley to heal in a matter of months is quite unrealistic, perhaps that healing will take generations," says Rashid Abdi, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, who studied Kenya's post-election violence last year. "But what makes me angry is that politicians and community elders are not doing enough to quicken that healing." After a year, it's clear, "bringing about national reconciliation is nobody's business."
The violence started within hours of the announcement of disputed results from the tightly contested Dec. 27, 2007 Kenyan elections. Both of the main candidates – sitting President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga – claimed to have won the election, and claimed vote fraud by the other side. The vote largely split along ethnic lines, and so did the violence, with pro-opposition Kalenjins, Luos, and Luhyas attacking pro-Kibaki members of the Kikuyu ethnic group.