Jul 18

Kisumu Rebuilding After Violence

A burnt out building still stands near Kisumu’s town centre.

On December 27, 2007, Kenya held its in the middle of a controversial election campaign. The two main candidates were the incumbent Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga. Now, this would seem to be a pretty typical election except for the fact that each candidate were representing quarreling tribes. Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe is smaller in population but historically, the one who has maintained government and business. Meanwhile, Odinga’s Luo tribe is known to have more members but situated lower on the economic ladder.

Some might say that economic divide isn’t the only thing keeping these two tribes apart. Like several other African countries, Kenya’s national language is Kiswahili. In this part of the country though, I’m told tribal alliances and the baggage connected to them reveal themselves in spoken accents. The native Luo language is also spoken by many people here but it could cause tension if spoken to the wrong person so it is important to be a little careful.

To make a long story short, Kibaki won and his opponents, particularly those living in Odinga’s home province of Nyanza, revolted. As a result, January saw many violent clashes between Luos and Kikuyus. The situation peaked when local Luos began setting fire to local Kikuyu businesses until Kikuyus fled to seek refuge in their home villages.

Heading north out of town, the highway is lined with damaged storefronts.

Around Kisumu, pro-Kibaki sayings like like “Kibaki Tena” (Kibaki Again) can still be seen spraypainted on the walls. Some people I spoke to about this said that even attempting to do this during the day would be to “dig your own grave.”

Violence was felt pretty much all over town and the major shopping centres came under police protection as citizens scrambled to stock up on supplies before locking themselves in their homes until things calmed down. Some areas were so badly hit that they earned nicknames like “Dafur” and “The Gaza Strip”.

If you follow Kenyan politics, you’ll know that the situation calmed down after a coalition government was formed, Raila Odinga coming into power as Kenya’s second Prime Minister. It wasn’t until 1000 people died, including two Members of Parliament and nearly 600 000 displaced before this agreement came into effect, however.

In Kisumu, there is a collection of graffiti in favour of both Odinga and Kibaki. This particular slogan echoes feelings that unless Raila Odinga was offered a major position in Parliament, the situation would have escalated beyond control.

We’re told that this is the first time Kenya has seen conflict of this nature and from the looks of it, things have calmed down considerably. However, Kikuyus have not yet returned and burnt out buildings and IDP camps still speckle the Kenyan landscape, reminding people of what they experienced a few short months ago.

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