Thursday, April 24, 2008

Today's headlines - Thurs 4/24/2008

Kenyan leaders tour trouble spot - BBC

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga have begun a tour of the Rift Valley, the area hardest hit by post-election violence.

About 1,500 people died and 600,000 fled their homes in violence after a disputed presidential poll in December.

The two men, who recently formed a power-sharing government, are to meet some of the 140,000 people still homeless after the clashes.

Outbreaks of disease have been reported in some of the camps for the displaced.

Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga are beginning their tour in the town of Eldoret, the scene of some of the worst violence, including the burning of a church.

Difficult resettlement

Returning people to their original homes is proving difficult given the land disputes between rival ethnic groups ignited by the political violence, say correspondents.

Prime Minister Odinga has said the new cabinet's priority would be to resettle those still living rough because of the violence.

1,500 people killed
600,000 people displaced
140,000 still in camps

The Rift Valley contains fertile farm land and the government is keen to get people back on the land in time to plant crops, says the BBC's Karen Allen in Nairobi.

But members of parliament for the Rift Valley have cautioned against rushing the resettlement of the displaced people until the underlying issues, especially over land ownership, are resolved, says our correspondent.

Kenyan medical workers have said that outbreaks of malaria, diarrhoea and dysentery have hit camps for the homeless, local media have reported.

The outbreaks are being blamed on heavy rains and unsanitary living conditions. Many women and children are sleeping in the cold without blankets, a St John Ambulance official told the Daily Nation.

While people in the camps are wondering why it took their leaders several months to visit the region, some are relieved their plight is being acknowledged, our correspondent says.

Mr Odinga has said the visit to the Rift Valley is to "address a humanitarian crisis that is getting worse and to assess the level of intervention by the coalition government".

But it is not yet clear if he and Mr Kibaki will visit any of the camps for displaced people.

Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga were allies in the 2002 election but fell out afterwards when the president did not name Mr Odinga prime minister after taking office, as they had reportedly agreed.

They stood against each other in elections in December 2007 but violence erupted when Mr Kibaki was sworn in following the polls despite widespread fraud allegations.

Mr Odinga was sworn in as prime minister last week at the head of a coalition cabinet after lengthy negotiations over its makeup.

The rivals signed a deal in February which prescribed an equal share of power.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/04/24 09:09:16 GMT


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FEATURE-Women still a target as Kenya's social wounds gape
Reuters - 10 hours ago
To the outside world, life in Kenya may have returned to normality as a power-sharing accord drew the line under some of the worst tribal clashes since ...

Full text:

FEATURE-Women still a target as Kenya's social wounds gape

Thu Apr 24, 2008 3:04am EDT

By Lisa Ntungicimpaye

NAIROBI, April 24 (Reuters) - More than three months have passed since youths stormed Mary's home in Nairobi's Kibera slum, slashing her leg with a machete as she fled.

But the single mother of five still shudders at the thought the men may hunt her down again, rape or kill her because she belongs to a rival ethnic group.

To the outside world, life in Kenya may have returned to normality as a power-sharing accord drew the line under some of the worst tribal clashes since independence from Britain. But for Mary and others like her, the terror goes on.

"We all used to live together. We don't know where this evil comes from," said the 49 year old, nervously fingering the gash in her leg that has yet to heal. With no sign yet that the rule of law is returning to her neighbourhood, the Kikuyu woman fears her Luo neighbours may come after her again. She is too afraid to give her last name.

Besides more than 1,200 people killed, 300,000 were uprooted and hundreds more sexually assaulted in the wave of violence and reprisal attacks triggered by President Mwai Kibaki's disputed re-election in December.

As is often the case, women and children were prime targets: the United Nations said the rate of reported rapes doubled during Kenya's crisis. The youngest [known] victim was 1 year old.

Mary, living in east Africa's biggest slum, lost the little she had -- her iron-roofed, mud house -- and is now forced to sleep in the open air, between two ramshackle shacks soiled by garbage and human waste."I can't go back to my house. It was taken over by others.

"When the crisis was making world headlines, United Nations officials said the increasing sexual attacks reflected in part a collapse in Kenya's social order as Kibaki's re-election exposed decades-old divisions between ethnic groups over land, wealth and power.

But even if the attacks have subsided and Kenya's stock and currency markets have made gains since the political accord, the social wounds have yet to heal.

"There is a silent war going on the ground, whereby you have a male from one tribe raping a woman from another tribe," said Elisabeth Muthama, a counsellor at the Nairobi Women's Hospital.

"These cases are prevalent in Kibera -- a Luo man attacks a Kikuyu woman and then Kikuyu men attack Luo women and so on."


Advocacy group the Coalition on Violence Against Women and rights organisation the Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya (FIDA Kenya) plan to petition the newly sworn-in government for compensation for women affected by the post-election unrest, especially those who were sexually assaulted and raped.

"Militia groups capitalised on that opportunity to do all sorts of heinous things to women, whether it was raping them or inserting objects in their vaginas," said Faith Kasova, coordinator of the Coalition on Violence Against Women.

"The experiences of women were really disgusting."

Nairobi Women's Hospital treated 443 people in the first two months of the year, at the height of the violence. Four out of five were the victims of rape or defilement: 149 children, 193 women and 14 men.

It is still dealing with a trickle of cases motivated by ethnic hatred.

"We had cases of women and girls, who were defiled, raped, sodomised and physically assaulted -- both men and women after the post-election unrest," said Dr Ketra Muhome.

"Lately we have been getting cases of women being raped and sodomised at the same time."

Slums like Kibera -- where unemployment is rife, alcohol abuse prevalent and hundreds of thousands crammed in flimsy shacks -- have long been a breeding ground for attacks.

Fending for her family, Mary relies on the kindness of friends or former neighbours for scraps of food.Like other victims of violence, Mary criticised the government for failing to stop the violence or punish the perpetrators.

"I didn't choose to be a Kikuyu. My whole life has been here in Kibera," she said. "We expected our government to come and see what's happening at the grassroots."

For other victims, the government is invisible.

"We are asking our leaders not to lie to people, saying there is peace," said Catherine Wanja, another Kibera resident living off the kindness of friends after her house was torched.

"They are not thinking of the people that voted for them. We hear there is a government but we don't see it."

(Editing by Katie Nguyen and Sara Ledwith)

(For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit:

© Thomson Reuters 2008. All rights reserved.

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