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Kenyans Work to Rebuild Shattered Lives, Communities

March 20, 2008 at 6:40 PM EDT
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The United Nations Thursday urged Kenya to prosecute those responsible for the worst of the country's recent post-election violence. Margaret Warner reports from Kenya on how citizens and businesses are working to recover from the politically fueled unrest.
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JIM LEHRER: Next tonight, Margaret Warner reports from Kenya on efforts to come back from the collapse into violence.

MARGARET WARNER: This new tent city in the Rift Valley town of Nakuru was an agricultural showground, where farmers from around the region brought their prized animals and crops.

But today it is home to 15,000 displaced Kenyans, farmers and business people alike, who were driven off their land and homes farther west by marauding gangs of other tribes. They are among the 250,000 Kenyans displaced by the recent post-election violence.

The tents are new, and there’s enough donated food and water, but life is hard and the memories are painful. And their plight today shows how challenging it will be for Kenya and its new government to bring the country back from this crisis.

SISTER ANNE, Catholic Diocese of Nakuru: Most of their property was destroyed. Their homes they treasured are no more. The animals they treasured, they are no more, even the villages. And they are still fearing because they were told to move away.

MARGARET WARNER: Sister Anne and Father Daniel of the local Catholic diocese minister to these children and their parents, who find themselves in no man’s land, told they’re no longer welcome in the Western Rift Valley and should relocate to their Kikuyu tribe’s ancestral home in the central region.

Father Daniel says that kind of ethnic separation should not be what Kenya is all about.

FATHER DANIEL, Catholic Diocese of Nakuru: This thing happens to be very political and politicized, to the extent that people are being zoned. But I don’t think this is going to work in our country. We have people who have lived together since independence, and it is something which we have to treat maybe even — as Kenyans to see the possibility of being co-existing.

MARGARET WARNER: The ethnic tensions remain so combustible that here in Nakuru, as elsewhere in the country, aid agencies have felt compelled to set up separate camps for different tribes. And despite the political deal reached in Nairobi, the residents of this stadium camp, like those in the show grounds camp just down the road, say they’re still waiting for real evidence that it’s safe to go home.

This rugby stadium is home to about 1,000 non-Kikuyu homeless, Luos, Kalenjins and Luhyas. Luo shop owner Jane Atieno is now sharing two tents with her sister’s family. In late January, a Kikuyu man came into her Nakuru shop and demanded to know her tribe.

JANE ATIENO, Shop Owner: I told him I’m a Luo. So he told me I have to move out and go away because this is not my homeland. I told him I can’t move out because I have my property here. Those people took me out of the shop. They beat me terribly. I cried and the neighbors came and helped me. That’s why I ran away and came here.

MARGARET WARNER: She says, without government help, she can’t rebuild her business or her life.

JANE ATIENO: My shop, they took everything, throwing it outside. The things like sugar, cooking oil, they were just taking and throwing them outside.

Persisting safety concerns

Peter Szapary
Owner, Wildfire Flowers
I don't think much planting has happened there. And that now, actually, is the time to plant now before the rain. And I think there will be a major -- there could be a major shortfall in terms of fresh crops like cabbages and things like that.

MARGARET WARNER: College administrator Kefa Othano, who is also Luo, says he was saved from butchery by a Kikuyu woman he knew who intervened with his attackers and told them she was his mother. But now he's worried the politicians in power in Nairobi won't do anything to save him from life in a camp.

KEFA OTHANO, College Administrator: We think that they are going to forget about them, the community, the poor community.

MARGARET WARNER: It doesn't sound as if you have much trust in political figures?

KEFA OTHANO: Yes, I don't, because that is the tradition, and especially politicians in Africa, they mostly forget about the poor community.

MARGARET WARNER: People in the camps say they've been told that sporadic violence continues in their home cities and towns. These Luos were so tired of living in camps, but so afraid to go home, that they did what their perpetrators demanded and traveled to their ancestral Luo village, Niyangoma Kogala (ph), western Kenya, but they don't sound happy about it.

Among those lining up for malaria medication at the local clinic was a former driver in Nairobi's Kibera slum, now trying to make it as a subsistence farmer, Job Okech.

JOB OKECH (through translator): My life is very hard. I don't have any income. It's hard to survive. I don't really have any way to make money to survive.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you feel you belong here?

JOB OKECH (through translator): I haven't really been welcomed because it has been a while since I was here.

MARGARET WARNER: Kenya's top exporters, the flower growers, are actively encouraging their workers to come back. Among them is Wildfire Flowers Farm in Naivasha, which exports roses and hypericum to Europe and Japan. But it's tough to get them back.

George Omoi fled Naivasha with his 4-year-old daughter and went to his mother's village after a Kikuyu gang looted his house. Last week, he returned to work, and he's living with his pastor for safety, but he doesn't know how long he'll stay.

GEORGE OMOI, Rose Worker: Right now, we're still living temporarily. You can't rent a house because the owners of the house, they don't want to give us a rent. So it's very difficult. We're just working, but 50-50.

PETER SZAPARY, Owner, Wildfire Flowers: It started on a Saturday. If you would have asked me the Thursday before if this ever would happen in Naivasha, I would have told you, "Never. Never."

MARGARET WARNER: The farm's owner, Peter Szapary, says he needs to keep skilled workers.

PETER SZAPARY: These people have come here to work. It's their life. This is where they make their income. So we have to find a way to keep these people here so that they're safe.

MARGARET WARNER: Szapary says the persistent fear among workers poses broader problems for Kenya's economy. He says that's especially true for parts of its number-one industry, agriculture, like vegetable production.

PETER SZAPARY: I don't think much planting has happened there. And that now, actually, is the time to plant now before the rain. And I think there will be a major -- there could be a major shortfall in terms of fresh crops like cabbages and things like that.

Rebuilding businesses

Nelli Karenju
Pharmacist
It is the people who are older who preach tribalism. It is not the younger generation. They don't know about tribalism. It has been actually planted in their minds. They don't know.

MARGARET WARNER: Another problem facing all of Kenya's economy is how to recover from the disruption of its transport system. During the violence, tribal gangs blocked this road from the port of Mombasa across the country and beyond.

The truck traffic is now back to normal, and so is the Nairobi stock exchange. But these brokers and other business people say it will take some time for the economy, and their confidence, to recover.

PRISCILLIA LALJEE, Village Market Mall: It definitely shook our faith, because the last two years we've been thriving in terms of business, in terms of investment.

MARGARET WARNER: Priscillia Laljee, marketing manager of an upscale mall in Nairobi, said her well-heeled clients stayed away during the violence and, now that they're back, aren't spending as freely. These upper-middle-class women, who are Kikuyu, have come back to shop, but they say their world has been shaken.

KIKUYU WOMAN: We didn't feel like we were in Kenya. We have never experienced something like that. We were so shocked.

MARGARET WARNER: These friends believe the violence is the fault of politicians who manipulate the ethnic resentments of the poor. The answer, they say, is for Kenya's new coalition government to do more to reduce poverty and for all Kenyans to transcend their tribal identities.

NELLI KARENJU, Pharmacist: It is the people who are older who preach tribalism. It is not the younger generation. They don't know about tribalism. It has been actually planted in their minds. They don't know.

MARGARET WARNER: As this Luo and her Kikuyu groom exchanged wedding vows in a Nairobi church before a multi-ethnic group of family and friends, their future seemed like Kenya's best promise.

JIM LEHRER: After filing that report, Margaret talked from Nairobi with Jeffrey Brown.

Government response

JEFFREY BROWN: So, Margaret, it sounds like a situation where many there believe that it was the politicians who manipulated some of these ethnic tensions. Given that, what is the government saying it can do at this point?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, in terms of the ethnic tensions and all these historic grievances, under the Kofi Annan-negotiated agreement, they did set up three different commission to look at what went wrong in the election, who was behind the political violence -- that's the sensitive one on that score -- and, finally, a truth and reconciliation commission to look at all of these grievances, particularly over land and over favoritism in government jobs.

The more pressing problem even though than that is what to do with these people in the IDP camps, which as you can see from our tape, the situation is already difficult, but it's going to be much worse within a week or two even, because the rainy season is about to begin. And those nice, dry camps are going to be mud baths pretty soon.

JEFFREY BROWN: You've been, of course, reporting for us all week on the political negotiations there. Are there differences between President Kibaki and the opposition leader, Odinga, in terms of what they say they can do for these people?

MARGARET WARNER: There are definite differences, and they reflect the ethnic differences, Jeff. And this hasn't come out publicly yet in a major way. But President Kibaki has said, and he's been saying continuously, "We've got to protect these people so that they can go back to where they came from if they'd like to go back."

Now, the majority of -- it's hard to get a handle on it, but the majority of the people in these camps are Kikuyu, which is, of course, President Kibaki's party who have been driven out of the Western Rift Valley. And he's been talking about building extra police stations, making sure they can go back to their little plots of lands and businesses they had there.

Odinga and his ODM party, he does happen to be a Luo, and a lot of his supporters are also of another tribe, the Kalenjin, that have been driving away these Kikuyus, say, "That's ridiculous. We can't protect these people."

When I went to see Odinga over the weekend at his home, I was actually quite surprised to hear him say, even when he became part of this government, he did not believe that the government could provide adequate security for everyone to go home. So right there you see a difference.

And when I asked him, "Well, what's the solution?" He agreed that the current camps aren't the solution, but he was talking about temporary measures, maybe transit camps, while you had some kind of ethic relations commission look at the whole matter of the relationship among these tribes.

But that's a very long-range kind of solution. And those people in the camps need a solution pretty quickly.

Seeking international aid

Margaret Warner
Senior Correspondent
If the government handles this right, that's a huge asset for them, that you do not have, in spite of all the violence, you do not have an entire society yet, at least, here that is bent on revenge against one another.

JEFFREY BROWN: Of course, the other issue out there that will affect all this is the economic problems that you've also been looking at, particularly after all the fighting over the last few months. How much do people there in the government tell you they can afford to do at this point?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Jeff, the Kenya government doesn't really have the money to do what it's going to take to repair this country on every level. And so, earlier this week, Odinga and Kibaki met with international ambassadors from Europe and the United States, China, India, and so forth, and they asked for what is the equivalent of $500 million.

And on the laundry list of how they would spend it was everything from resettling or compensating the people in the IDP -- internally displaced persons -- camps that we've seen to repairing the roads and other parts of the infrastructure that were damaged by all of this violence.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, finally, Margaret, what about the victims themselves, some of the people that you profiled in your piece tonight? What do they tell you about what they would like to see happen to the perpetrators of the violence?

MARGARET WARNER: You know, Jeff, that is one of the most interesting aspects of talking to these people. I've been very surprised.

A great number of them said to me, "I'm a Christian, and I forgive them." That rose worker, who still is afraid to go home, go back to where he lives, his 4-year-old daughter is off with mother in some remote village, he said, "I'm a born-again Christian. I am taught to forgive those who hurt me."

And he said, "I forgive them. I just want the lord to help me get on with my life. And my attackers, they have families, too." And I heard that from several of these victims.

So there's not this thirst for revenge. And if the government handles this right, that's a huge asset for them, that you do not have, in spite of all the violence, you do not have an entire society yet, at least, here that is bent on revenge against one another.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Margaret Warner in Nairobi, Kenya, thanks again.

MARGARET WARNER: Thanks, Jeff.

JIM LEHRER: All of Margaret's reports are on our Web site. She's also filed special video dispatches from Kenya. You can find it all at PBS.org.