Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has said internal refugees in camps are afraid to return home because they participated in ethnic clashes.
“Some of those who had left their homes are refusing to return home because they fear retribution for their involvement in violence,” Raila claims.
Raila defended his call for amnesty for the hundreds of people arrested during post-election violence in Kenya in December 2007 and January this year. “The majority of people who just protested and demonstrated, we have said, should be released.”
Raila made the statements to Radio France International (RFI) at the World Policy Conference last week. The conference was held in the town of Evian in Southern France. Heads of state and government were invited to the summit which Raila was given a chance to address.
Though the interview was held several days ago, there has been little discussion of Raila’s remarks in Kenyan media in light of the delicate state of ethnic relations in the country. The statement that internally displaced people (IDPs) were involved in violence is likely to be received negatively by hundreds of thousands of people yet to return to their homes after three months of looting, killing and destruction early this year.
IDPs see themselves as victims of the violence, forced to abandon property and livelihoods they had toiled many years to build.
Ethnic tensions stoked by politicians erupted in violent clashes after disputed elections in December 2007. The top contenders for the presidency were Mwai Kibaki on the PNU party and Raila Odinga of ODM. As happens with most African countries, Kibaki was supported mostly by his Kikuyu ethnic group while Raila got most votes from his Luo tribe. Raila, had earlier formed an alliance with politicians from the Kalenjin tribe and the Kalenjin voted as a bloc for ODM.
Due to uncertainties over the actual winner of the December 27 poll, Kalenjin in the Rift Valley fought the Kikuyu, destroying property, homes, businesses and motor vehicles. Entire villages were razed to the ground. Hundreds of thousands of Kikuyu, Kisii and Kamba fled ODM strongholds in the Kalenjin and Luo heartlands in the Western part of Kenya.
The Kikuyu retaliated in the last week of January 2008, leading to the eviction of tens of thousands of Luo, Kalenjin and Luhya from areas in Central Kenya dominated by the Kikuyu, Kamba, Embu and Meru tribes.
Raila and ODM continually deny organizing the violence. In last week’s interview with RFI, Raila rejected the idea that all those covered by the amnesty had been involved in violence, saying that much of the violence had been provoked by excessive police force.
By March 2008, at least 1,000 people were dead. Half a million were homeless and living in football fields, churches and schools across Kenya. A massive international aid operation was launched to feed the displaced.
Former United Nations Secretary General Koffi Annan led mediation efforts between Kibaki and Raila, resulting in a coalition government. Kibaki kept the Presidency while a new post of Prime Minister was created for Raila. However, ethnic tension remains high.
While Kibaki and his PNU party insist that everybody has a right to live and work anywhere in the republic, ODM members say that the Kikuyu should leave the Rift Valley. Riots were witnessed at the Coast after rumors circulated that Kikuyu settlers were planning to relocate there. ODM got a majority vote at the Coast.
Large numbers of IDPs are unable to return home because of continued threats from their former neighbors. Indeed, many who attempted to return have been attacked. The government is giving out Shs10,000 (US$138) to each family but the money is simply not enough to start life afresh.
Some of the refugees are pooling the money and buying land elsewhere. They have given up hope of ever returning to the Rift Valley.
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