Dispatch From Kenya: More News from Eldoret

Debbie DeVoe, CRS’ regional information officer for East Africa, provides an update from her recent visit to Eldoret, one of the regions in Kenya most affected by the post-election violence.

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Life for displaced families isn’t easy, as they now must rely on others for food, shelter, water, bedding and more. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

Yesterday, rivals President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga met for the first time since the disputed election in Kenya held on Dec. 27. The meeting and the mediation efforts of former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan are giving Kenyans hope that the crisis that has killed more than 650 and displaced more than 220,000 may soon end.

Hope alone won’t be enough though. On the same day, I returned from visiting sites housing thousands of displaced people in the Eldoret region of western Kenya. Some families are living under remnants of burned tin sheets they salvaged from their torched farms. Others are huddled in churches and schools, with stacks of mattresses, corn and clothes — whatever they could grab before fleeing their homes — lining the walls. Now, more than 13,000 are camping under plastic sheets in the growing site for displaced people at the Eldoret showground.

Agencies including Catholic Relief Services are on the ground providing services as fast as they can. More families continue to arrive at the showground though, as displaced people leave the police stations, churches and schools where they first found refuge. Those facilities can now return to normal operations.

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Like many houses and shops burned in Kenya’s post-election violence, nothing remains but ashes and a bit of rubble. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

Sadly, no clear solution is in sight. People are scared to return to their homes, and some feel they will never be able to return.

Take 58-year-old Margaret Wanjikú. For the past 38 years, she has lived in Nandi, having moved there from Eldoret after her parents died. Over the years, especially around election times, she has experienced some threats, being a minority Kikuyu in an area inhabited mostly by the Nandi ethnic group — but never to the degree she did after this election.

“They started burning at 1 p.m. By 2 p.m., it was ashes. My work of 38 years was gone in an hour,” she explains. “I cannot go back to Nandi because the same thing might happen.”

Margaret is hoping that the government will find her some land closer to where more Kikuyus live and in return can take her land in Nandi. The viability of such a solution, however, seems remote.

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