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Kenyan peace deal a win for politicians but a loss for the displaced

Now the world thinks that Kenya is at peace again. Newspapers across the globe are running with news that Kenyans are the winners after last week’s agreement between presidential contenders Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki. With a pen and paper and some applauding, everything comes back to normal.

I find this absolutely laughable. It’s bitterly amusing because many Kenyans do not need some black ink on bleached paper to live as brothers.

To understand the satire, let me retrace the steps Kenya has taken in the past six months.

Kenya’s future was looking up. The economy was rising at incredible rate, almost phenomenal. At a growth rate of more than 6%, compared with a negative growth rate a few years ago, things were promising. Kenyans were filled with the need to use the new opportunities provided by an expanding economy. From the beautiful coastal towns to the highlands and the shores of Africa’s biggest lake, Lake Victoria, no one thought Kenya was headed for the worst.

Then came the election, the infamous December 29 deadlock. Suddenly Kenyans were made to understand that their neighbour was responsible for them not winning the elections. Politicians who had all long waited for “their time to rule” knew they needed the masses — especially young men, my peer group. Machetes were quickly provided as well as bows and arrows. Traditionally, these were hunting gear but now they were used on neighbours.

Day after day, hundreds died, thousands were maimed or raped and a similar number were displaced, losing everything they had. All along, politicians stood like old generals, urging them to fight on to “ensure justice is done”.

I had a chance to drive through the “death Rift Valley” where most of the tribal killings took place. I met a 32-year-old man, John Wachira, who had managed to run to a camp (for the homeless) in the town of Nakuru, the provincial headquarters of Rift Valley province, which is just 150km north of our capital, Nairobi, and which is better known for soda-packed lakes crammed with pink flamingos.

Wachira was happy to be alive. But he wondered why people thought his Kikuyu tribe, the biggest ethnic group in the country, was favoured by the government. He had bought his piece of land 10 years ago, during the dying days of former ruler Daniel arap Moi. Having saved enough money from his bicycle taxi, Wachira upgraded and bought an old cab, which he sold to buy the land.

Years later, he was the major supplier of agricultural products to hotels in the town of Eldoret, further north, home to Kenya’s second public university, named after Moi.

Wachira feels he is a target now. The reason: his tribe has been favoured. I remember him saying that neither he nor his relatives have ever received a penny from the government. To him an agreement or no agreement means nothing. He lost years of hard work.

Taking a cue from Wachira, it was ordinary Kenyans who bore the brunt of it all. Even the rioters came second best. They lost many hours fighting with the police that they could have been investing in their own future. The same goes for those who hacked or raped their own countrymen and -women: they will live for many years with the guilt.

In areas where there were clashes, residents are experiencing high levels of inflation. These are people who can not afford to get food at cheaper prices and who are at the mercy of speculators. But the politicians who incited them can travel to wherever food is cheapest. We give those politicians the money and power to do so.

The February 28 peace deal in Kenya is welcome. It is one of the few times that we have seen the leaders think for the “welfare of the country”. But I see this coming a little bit too late. The mediation has worked, but people are still in camps.

For President Mwai Kibaki, accused of cheating in the election, sharing power does not hurt. After all, he has considerable power left within his reach.

What happens to the people who were displaced due to their perceived alignment to him? Will the pen and the paper he signed bring back those killed because they were of his ethnic background? To some, this is a betrayal. Some argue that Kibaki agreeing to share power means he admits he never won the disputed election; he just rigged it so he could not be caught.

Even if there is a clause in the Odinga-Kibaki agreement that says displaced persons should be assisted to rebuild their lives, the politicians can never afford to compensate ordinary people for the valuable time they lost. But they should try. Perhaps we need a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission. Perhaps we should have the politicians washing the feet of those harmed in the violence, as an apartheid-era police minister did to the man he tried to kill through poison.

Certainly we need a more active civil society to make these politicians aware that they serve us, not the other way around.

As much we needed the peace, I think it was the displaced Kenyans who lost. The winners of the peace deal were the politicians. They will be part of the government, and that is what they want. Serving voters like John Wachira is far, far down the list of their aspirations.