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Trouble Builds Behind Scenes in Wake of Kenya Peace Deal


Despite political efforts in the Kenyan capital Nairobi to unite the country after two months of post-election violence blamed largely on tribal militias, new reports suggest the recruitment and build-up of these militias continues in some communities. As VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from Kenya's conflict-torn region of north Rift Valley, there is growing fear that if rival politicians in Nairobi fail to quickly form a broad-based government and institute genuine reforms, tribal militias could strengthen and cause greater unrest.

For the past two months, 53 year-old Joseph Macharia Nyaga has been begging the Kenyan government to move him and dozens of others out of an internally-displaced camp in the north Rift Valley town of Eldama Ravine.

Nyaga says the camp does not have adequate security to protect the people here from the daily death threats they are still receiving from hostile neighbors.

"In this area, there is no peace," he said.

The displaced people here are all ethnic Kikuyus, who were chased out of their homes in Eldama Ravine in January by a mob of armed ethnic Kalenjin youths.

The violence followed the December re-election of ethnic Kikuyu President Mwai Kibaki, who was widely accused of stealing the election from his ethnic Luo challenger, Raila Odinga. Raila had received overwhelming support from the Luos and many other non-Kikuyu tribes, including the Kalenjin, in the election.

In the following two months, several hundred mostly ethnic Kikuyu people were killed and tens of thousands of others were forced to flee the Rift Valley.

Another displaced Kikuyu man at the camp, who identifies himself only as Vincent, says the youths who attacked him were members of a militia made up of Kalenjin warriors. He says the warriors were paid by politicians and acted on the orders of Kalenjin elders, who told them to evict entire communities of ethnic Kikuyus from the Rift Valley.

"These people are intimidating us. They are telling us, if we return, they are going to kill us," said Vincent.

Since Kenya gained independence from Britain in 1963, ethnic Kalenjins have felt aggrieved by the forced, and often times illegal, settlement of non-indigenous people in the Rift Valley, a region ethnic Kalenjins regard as their ancestral land.

A senior Kalenjin community leader in the Rift Valley town of Eldoret, Issace Maiyo, says the failure of the current President Mwai Kibaki to enact land reforms convinced many ethnic Kalenjins that their grievances would not be addressed under a government led by Mr. Kibaki, and they vented their frustration on ethnic Kikuyus when it appeared the president's Kikuyu-dominated party had manipulated the election result.

Maiyo vehemently denies reports that Kalenjin politicians and elders purposely formed militia groups to carry out the attacks.

"That is a total lie. In the Rift Valley, we do not have any militia group. We are born as warriors," said Maiyo.

But East Africa representative for Human Rights Watch group, Ben Rawlence, notes that young warriors in pastoralist communities such as the Kalenjin, the Maasai, and the Pokot, are often mobilized as armed groups, usually to defend their communities' rights or to protect their communities from danger.

Rawlence says he believes such mobilization, especially among the Kalenjin, has not only taken place, but is now accelerating.

"There is recruitment and vigilantism on the rise and that would appear to be because they are not getting what they need from the government. They certainly do not think the government can be impartial," said Rawlence. "I think what we will probably see is that you will get a whole range of different actors, where violence becomes a very cheap and efficient way of getting anything you want. Whether that is justice or political office, you [will] see violence used as a strategy."

VOA sources in the Rift Valley say some Kalenjin warriors have begun trading in their traditional bows and arrows and spears for automatic weapons, smuggled in from southern Sudan and northern Uganda.

Meanwhile, a banned militant ethnic Kikuyu group called the Mungiki is reportedly recruiting, training, and arming ethnic Kikuyus in internally-displaced camps in various parts of the country.

The Mungiki emerged in the late 1980s as a secret, religious sect, but has evolved over the years into a ruthless criminal organization. During the post-election turmoil, Human Rights Watch and other groups say ethnic Kikuyu politicians and businessmen paid hundred of machete-wielding Mungiki members to carry out reprisal attacks against ethnic Kalenjins and ethnic Luos in Rift Valley towns and to conduct ethnic cleansing in areas deemed to be Kikuyu territory.

Kenya Human Rights Watch says it has received credible reports that the Mungiki may have access to guns kept in state armories.

Ben Rawlence of Human Rights Watch says he fears it may not be a question of if but when ethnic violence in Kenya will flare up again.

"In fact, in terms of conflict indicators and so on, Kenya is actually in a far worse position now then it was before the elections because the country has become so segregated, because mistrust has risen, and because of a collapse in state authority," added Rawlence.

The director of the Anglican Church of Kenya's Democracy and Governance Project in Eldoret, Reverend Maritim Rirei, says the future of the Rift Valley and the rest of the country now hinges on the progress of talks to form a coalition government that can quickly enact much-needed reforms.

"This thing is going to end when we begin resolving the issues of resources, land, and equitable distribution of wealth," said Rirei. "It is also going to end when people on the ground begin serious discussions and when a new leadership begins to make people feel they are Kenyans wherever they are. If the talks do not go well, we will be back to violence."

On Sunday, top religious leaders in Kenya issued a scathing criticism of members of parliament on both sides, saying the politician were spending more time lobbying for ministerial positions than looking for ways to bring Kenya back on its feet.

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