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February 28, 2013

Fear in Kenya of a Repeat of Election Violence

by Mohammed Yusuf

As Kenya prepares to vote in the national elections Monday, the country is still bearing the scars of the violence that erupted the last time around, after communities turned on one another and burned down each other's homes and farms. We re-trace one woman's journey through the violence back to a volatile border town between two communities.

Fifty-six-year-old Yunike Nyamwite, a farmer, lives in Chepilat, a town on the border that separates the Rift Valley and Nyanza regions of Kenya.

Nyamwite, an ethnic Kisii, has a farm on the predominantly Kalenjin side.  The two communities over the years have fought over livestock and accused each other of grabbing land that doesn’t belong to them.

The mother of six, who is married to a retired air force commander, says the house she spent years building was burned to ashes in the violence that followed Kenya's 2007 elections.

She says she finished building the house and was planning to move in when violence started and the house and farm was burnt to the ground, She even has a picture with her.  All her husband's savings, were used to buy the land and building of the house.  She says they lost everything because they were also paying their children’s fees.

John Kitur is a pastor at a local church and the neighbor of Nyamwite.  He says they tried to stop the rowdy youths from burning other tribe’s houses and farms, but they were helpless.

He said when post-election violence started, it  brought problems and he said they love this mother (Nyamwite) and he said we were ready to help her but the attacks carried out by mass of people made us as neighbors helpless to help her and that attack has brought lots of problem to the victims.

The Rift Valley region was the epicenter of ethnic clashes that followed Kenya's 2007 disputed presidential poll.  The bitterness degenerated into inter-communal fighting in which more than 1,100 people were killed and more than 600,000 displaced from their homes.

Nyamwite went back to her farm after she was persuaded by her neighbors.  She says she has struggled to put her life back together after what has happened to her.

She has finished building her new house on the farm.  She just moved to her new house two months ago.

Nyamwite says she is the only one from her community who went back to her farm, but she hasn’t yet fully recovered from the early 2008 attack.

She said the problems she faced, she still feels the pain, and now she has pressure  she didn’t have before.  She still visits the clinic to get treatment.  She felt so bad but she had no other choice but to go back to her farm (after it was destroyed.) She says she is the only one who is back in the community, others have not returned.

Pastor Kitur says neighbors don’t attack each other, but this was the work of other people from other towns who come to disrupt the peace.

He says when the situation gets worse and so many people are carrying and coming with weapons, they say whoever tries to stop them from attacking people, they warn them (that) tomorrow they will come for their homes.

The top government security officials in the country have assured Kenyans of their safety come Monday, the day of the elections. For people like Nyamwite, they hope this time security forces will be able to take charge and give them protection.