KENYA: Fears rise over plight of displaced

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Thousands of Kenyans displaced by post-election violence in the west of the country were taking refuge in police stations and church grounds with little or no access to humanitarian assistance four days into the worst unrest seen in the country since a 1982 failed coup.

Many have no homes to return to, because they were set on fire in the wave of violence that greeted the Election Commission of Kenya’s announcement on 30 December that incumbent Mwai Kibaki had won the presidential poll three days earlier.

Much of the violence was committed by civilians and generally targetted members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group and others that support him politically.

In some areas, security forces were accused of excessive zeal. According to various media sources, in the city of Kisumu, which lies on the shores of Lake Victoria, around 100 people have been killed, mostly shot by police and other branches of the security forces.

Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) public relations manager Anthony Mwangi said in western Rift Valley Province “hundreds of thousands of people are in need of food, shelter and medical assistance”.

Many of the displaced lack “necessary water and sanitation, which can cause serious health hazards”, he said, adding that crops were destroyed in the violence, causing food security problems for many people.


Motobo Roman Catholic Church, in a poor suburb of the western town of Kericho, is surrounded by the smouldering ruins of neighbouring shacks, according to people working there.

The church grounds have become a makeshift home to some 2,000 people from the neighbourhood and nearby villages, according to a teacher now helping the displaced, who asked to be identified only as James.

“Our facilities are strained. There are few toilets and no water is running in the pipes,” he told IRIN by phone.

“We don’t have much medicine and are running short of money to buy fresh supplies,” he said, adding that many of the roads in the area had been closed by youths from local communities who were demanding money from motorists.

“The Red Cross said they cannot get through,” he said.

On this point, Mwangi said the KRCS had been promised support from security forces to clear blocked roads.

UN sources said police had escorted aid convoys along the main road in the region, which in previous days had been blocked in many places by armed gangs.

“Maybe they could get supplies to us by helicopter,” said another person helping the displaced in Motobo, who asked not to be named.

He added that priority needs included foodstuffs such as maize, rice, cooking oil and salt.

“We have enough for a few more days. We got a local shopkeeper to open up his store but we have no more money because banks were closed,” he said.

“The police are in town. Sometimes they send someone here but they just come and then go. We don’t have security,” explained James, appealing for at least a couple of security guards to be deployed.

Sources in Motobo said the police in Kericho did not even respond to phone calls. When IRIN tried to contact a senior police official to comment on this and on reports that around 3,000 people were sheltered in the town’s police station with no sanitation facilities, the official declined to take the call.

Medical assistance in Motobo was limited to a single clinical officer who returned home every evening to protect his property.

James added that those now staying in the church grounds had been warned by local youths that the premises would be attacked at night.

On New Year’s Day, up to 50 people who had sought sanctuary in an Assemblies of God church in Eldoret died when a mob set it on fire and attacked those who tried to flee with machetes, according to leaders of the church.

UN sources said the Kenyan government is set to release 1,800 tonnes of food from a depot in Eldoret to KRCS. But until main arteries are cleared of roadblocks, it will be hard to distribute this to where it is needed.


In Kisumu, “people are starting to run short of food and prices are rising," said Provincial Commissioner Paul Olando. "There is no fuel and motorists are unable to move. There are people barricading the roads and even daring the police to shoot them."

He said there were about 1,000 people who had sought refuge in police stations around Nyanza province and who wanted to leave but were unable to do so.

"These people have no food, no medicine and they cannot bathe," he said. He said a bus company had on 2 January refused to carry 500 displaced people from Kisumu to Nairobi fearing that the vehicles could be set alight on the way.

He said the provincial administration was trying to persuade fuel transporters to resume work, but they were reluctant.

The price of bread had doubled from 30 to 60 Kenya shillings (about one US dollar) a loaf, he added.

Olando said his administration had convinced supermarkets to open on 2 January and they were immediately overwhelmed by large numbers of customers trying to stock up on food.

"They are still open today [3 January] but owners want to close down because they are apprehensive that what is happening in Nairobi will have a bearing on Kisumu," said Olando.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga called on his supporters to stage a rally in Nairobi on 3 January to protest alleged poll rigging, but the government banned the meeting sparking clashes with police.

Source: IRIN