Uprooted Kenyans Head Home in Fits and Starts

By: Katharine Houreld
By: Katharine Houreld


MOLO, Kenya (AP) -- Afternoon sunshine warms Samuel Mbugua as he hammers down a tarpaulin over the ruins of his burned and looted home. But the peace that brought him back to his Kenyan farm is as fragile as the plastic stretched over the weathered beams.

The 45-year-old carpenter is in the first wave of people that the government started helping to return home last week, four months after they were driven away in violence following the rigged Dec. 27 presidential election.

Mbugua willingly went back to the ashes of his belongings and the tangle of overgrown weeds where his neighbor bled to death from arrow wounds. With Mbugua were his wife and three children.

But many uprooted Kenyans refuse to return without better protection and a firm offer of compensation for their losses. Some trying to go home have met hostility that chased them back to the makeshift camps.

Some say they are going home prepared to fight.

"The people who did that are still walking around freely. If they hit back, we will hit harder. We have all promised we will hit harder," Mbugua said. He glanced meaningfully at a machete lying by his feet and then at the distant roof of a local chief he says helped a mob wielding machetes and poisoned arrows to burn down his home.

The election dispute took an ugly ethnic twist that pitted President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu people against the Luo and allied tribes loyal to opposition leader Raila Odinga. More than 1,000 people were killed and 600,000 forced from their homes as politicians stoked long-simmering tribal divisions into violence. Weeks of U.N.-sponsored peace talks led to a power-sharing agreement on Feb. 28.

Last week, the government promised extra security for returnees, and police began patrolling the dirt track leading to Mbugua's farm. But many do not trust an administration filled with figures they and international rights groups accuse of orchestrating the killings. Even church leaders have confessed to fanning some of the fighting because of tribal loyalties.

The government promises security, "but if the police are the ones involved, the district officer is the one involved, the chief is the one involved, where is the security?" Pentecostal pastor Sammy Maina asked angrily at the showgrounds of Nakuru, an agricultural hub in the Rift Valley.

Last month, Maina, a Kikuyu, said he buried a man who was killed when he tried to reclaim his farm in western Kenya.

In March, Maina said, he tried to go back to his home town of Eldoret, in western Kenya. But he found some streets renamed to make certain tribes feel unwelcome, and many young men who usually sell milk and vegetables had disappeared.

Many tribes claim to be the original inhabitants of the Rift Valley, dispossessed by British colonizers in the 1890s and their land redistributed after independence in 1963 with preference for Kikuyu. The lingering resentment periodically erupts into violence, most often at election time.

David Kuria said the December election was the fourth to result in him losing his home. Now the married father of seven is in a squalid tent camp and says resignedly: "I fear we will be back here in five years."

Some who accepted the government's offer of transport left their camps, only to return the very next day.

A man at Molo's Sawmill camp, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, described this scene from last week: Five armed police officers were sent to guard about 30 people scheduled to return home, but were quickly surrounded by a mob and fled. The people they were meant to protect quickly retreated back to their camp.

According to government spokesman Alfred Mutua, nearly 60,000 displaced people have returned and 70,000 are awaiting transport home. He said he didn't know how many headed home and were forced back.

Mutua stressed that resettlement was voluntary and said the government is appealing for donations to help rebuild homes and businesses. Critics, however, note that the new Cabinet is Kenya's biggest ever and has come up with enough cash for the salaries of 90 ministers and assistant ministers, along with their cars, bodyguards, secretaries and other perks.

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