Along the Nakuru-Eldoret road, the charred remains of homes and businesses scar the picturesque landscape of Kenya's Rift Valley province and serve as a reminder of two months of violence that rocked the nation early this year.
The calm that is typical of most rural settings belies the suffering experienced by thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) since fleeing their homes in January and February.
"We are starting the third month of living in tents yet I don't see myself leaving soon because I am afraid nothing has changed out there," Rosemary Kuria, an IDP at a camp in Eldoret, told IRIN.
Fear of attacks should they return home and the hope of receiving compensation from the government seem to be two key issues for most IDPs, and contribute to their seeming reluctance to return home even after the formation of a coalition government a month ago, which was to have marked the end of their displacement.
Several IDPs told IRIN that although a political solution had been found, peace and reconciliation had yet to take root, especially in the Rift Valley which, with neighbouring Nyanza province, bore the brunt of the violence. Analysts and political observers say there is more to the violence experienced in the Rift Valley, with many citing irregular land allocation and distribution as well as other "social injustices" that date back to independence in 1963.
At least 350,000 were displaced at the height of the violence, which also claimed the lives of more than 1,200 people. Up to 150,000 of those displaced remain in camps in the Rift Valley. Western and Nyanza provinces have fewer than 5,000 IDPs in camps but, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), tens of thousands of families referred to as "relocatees", who returned to so-called "ancestral lands" from Central Province and Nairobi.
While thousands of IDPs continue to live in difficult conditions in camps, a team of negotiators from two political parties forming the coalition government – the Party of National Unity and the Orange Democratic Movement – is discussing long-term issues brought to the fore by the post-election crisis.
The negotiators, the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation Committee, have agreed on the formation and composition of a commission of inquiry, a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, and a National Ethnic and Race Relations Commission.
On 29 April, the team reviewed a draft statement of principles on long-term issues and solutions. This covered legal and institutional reform; poverty, inequity and regional imbalances; unemployment, particularly among the youth; national cohesion and unity; land reform; and transparency, accountability and impunity.
Oliver Ayieko, an operations data assistant of the KRCS at a camp in Burnt Forest, 40km northwest of Eldoret town, said the number of IDPs in several camps in the area kept fluctuating as some tried to return home and others sought refuge with friends and relatives.
"Those who had been living with relatives have also come into the camps as the food reserves of those they were staying with started dwindling," Ayieko said.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Burnt Forest area had some 7,799 IDPs at 14 April, with the whole North Rift region hosting 48,670 IDPs, 14,000 of whom are in the Eldoret showground.
Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
|A woman prepares a meal outside her tent in Eldoret displaced camp|
"Resettlement of IDPs is the main issue right now," Mercy Manyala, a humanitarian affairs officer for OCHA, based in Eldoret, told IRIN. "Peace meetings are being held across the region, led by the district administration officials. For their part, the IDPs are concerned about the resettlement package they would receive if they were to return to their homes."
Eldoret IDPs told IRIN that top on their list of expectations was compensation for property lost or destroyed during the violence and an assurance that their property would be safe once they resettle.
"First we need the police to be impartial and not to be from one tribe; during the violence there were instances when some of the police officers watched as our property was destroyed; we need an assurance that this won’t happen again," Samson Wamariana, an IDP, said.
Sydney Kungu, the Red Cross camp manager at the showground, said registration of new IDPs in the camp had been put on hold.
He said the focus was now on resettlement and that arrangements were under way to move at least 1,400 IDPs to a "satellite" camp in Yamumbi - on the outskirts of Eldoret - from where they could have access to their homes and farms.
However, Gabriel Kamau, an IDP, said: "We are told that we now have peace and that we should return home but what are we going back to? The government says there is peace but I have no house and no money to restart life; everything I worked for in a lifetime vanished in a day, then you tell me to go back?
"For me, life is more important, but if security improves, which it hasn't, the next issue would be: can the government give me some money to buy a cow, maybe some goats and some chickens and help provide building materials for me to put up a home for my family to enable me to build my life again?"
For Peter Ng'ang'a, a former businessman, security, not compensation, was the priority.
Photo: Jane Some/IRIN
|A group of IDPs at Burnt Forest, 40km northwest of Eldoret town|
"I was displaced from Timboroa during the 1992 elections, I then moved to Kapsabet [another town in the Rift Valley] and set up house about 200m from a police station," he said. "When the violence erupted, the police could do nothing to help protect my property; I ran to the police seeking their help but they seemed overwhelmed, they fired in the air until they ran out of bullets and the mob just overran my property, looting what they could and destroying what they could not carry.
"It seems those doing the burning and destruction of property are not afraid of the police; if the government builds a home for me and helps me start my life, what is there to prevent the person who torched my property in the past from doing it again?" he asked.
Regarding the differences among members of parliament from Rift Valley - one group advocating the immediate resettlement of IDPs and another saying underlying issues should be addressed first - Ng'ang'a said only the IDPs knew the agony of being displaced.
"If your house is on fire and the person who comes to your rescue tells you, let me think about what caused the fire, won't you end up suffering higher degree burns as this goes on? This is what the politicians are doing about this issue of displacement," Ng'ang'a said.
Reconciliation among the communities that fought each another in the Rift Valley was another concern.
"Even if the army brought 1,000 to come and guard my village and I am not at peace with my neighbour, nothing will change," Gideon Mwangi said. "My neighbours and their children are the ones who stole the property I had in my shop and on the farm; now that the politicians have agreed to share power, can they come and reconcile me with my neighbours? I voted for these politicians yet I am the one who is displaced."
Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
|President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga on a trip to Rift Valley to help the resettlement of IDPs|
"If your house is on fire and the person who comes to your rescue tells you, let me think about what caused the fire, won't you end up suffering higher degree burns as this goes on? This is what the politicians are doing about this issue of displacement."
Peter Ng'ang'a, a displaced former businessman
Mwangi said the issue of IDPs seeking out the "host communities" for reconciliation was impractical. He said the peace seems to have only been between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga - the local communities had yet to agree to peacefully co-exist.
"It is like a patient in hospital going to visit a healthy person out there; it should be the people who chased us out of our homes coming to seek our forgiveness, not the other way round," he said.
In response to IDPs' concerns, Christopher Kipruto, a Kalenjin and resident of Eldoret North Constituency, said unless the government addressed land reform, peaceful co-existence was unlikely.
He said many Kalenjin people were angry that the election was "stolen" the same way the land in the province had been "stolen" and given to settlers from Central Province.
If the government was committed to ensuring the right of every Kenyan to own land and property anywhere in the country, "it should give Kalenjins and Luos land in Central Province so that we can have a mixed blend of people in all provinces.
"The other issue that is rarely addressed is the fate of non-Kikuyus affected by the crisis. It is a fact that many Kalenjins and Luos were killed but nobody has cared to document this; some people are still missing after the police deployed more officers to the province; we are wondering when this will be brought to light," he said.
Another Eldoret resident, who requested anonymity, said Kalenjins were not opposed to the return of IDPs to their homes, only that whatever assistance they got should also be extended to them.
Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
|A man runs for cover from the heavy downpour at the internally displaced camp in Eldoret showground|
"The fact that not many Kalenjins are in camps should not be taken to mean they were not affected; those who supported PNU had their homes burnt and property looted; many have not yet planted yet no one is thinking about assistance for them," the resident said. "Farming, the mainstay of communities in this province, has suffered. If only the IDPs get help, there will be conflict when they harvest as many people will starve while the IDPs will have planted maize and other crops."
Kibaki, Odinga and members of parliament from the region toured the province between 24-26 April to preach peace and reconciliation. IDPs remained cautious over plans to resettle them soon.
"Reconciliation and forgiveness is crucial to our return," Ng'ang'a said. "But it must have the support of all politicians and all communities to be a reality. There is a Kikuyu proverb that translates to 'whoever searches for another's errors will definitely get them'. The Kalenjin and the Kikuyus are in this together, let us not search for each other's errors, let us forgive and reconcile each other instead."