World and Nation

Kenyans Split on Ethnic Lines Even Though Violence Declining

Sarah Wangoi has spent her entire life — all 70 years of it — in the Rift Valley. But last month, she was chased off her farm by a mob that called her a foreigner. She now sleeps on the cold floor of a stranger’s house, seeking refuge in an area of Kenya where her ethnic group, the Kikuyu, is strong. It is, supposedly, her homeland.

“I am safe now,” said Wangoi, though the mob still chases her in her dreams.

Across the country, William Ojiambo sat in a field where the ground was too hard to plow. He, too, sought refuge with his ethnic group, the Luo. He used to live in an ethnically mixed town called Nakuru but was recently evicted by a gang from another ethnic group that burned everything he owned.

“We came here with nothing, like cabbages thrown in the back of a truck,” Ojiambo said.

Kenya used to be considered one of the most promising countries in Africa. Now it is in the throes of ethnically segregating itself. Ever since a deeply flawed election in December kicked off a wave of ethnic and political violence, hundreds of thousands of people have been violently driven from their homes and many are now resettling in ethnically homogenous zones.

Luos have gone back to Luo land, Kikuyus to Kikuyu land, Kambas to Kamba land and Kisiis to Kisii land. Even some of the packed slums in the capital, Nairobi, have split along ethnic lines. The bloodletting across the country that has killed more than 1,000 people since the election seems to have subsided in the past week. But the trucks piled high with mattresses, furniture, blankets and children keep chugging across the countryside, an endless convoy of frightened people who, in their desperation, are redrawing the map of Kenya.

The United Nations and Western powers are pushing for a political compromise, and President Bush said he would send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice here to “deliver a message” to Kenya’s leaders.

On Thursday, officials here said that Kenyan government and opposition leaders had agreed in principle to join together in a coalition government but that they remained bitterly divided over the specifics, especially how much power the opposition would have. Two officials close to the negotiations said the government had rejected the opposition’s offer to split power between the president, who would remain head of state and the military’s commander in chief, and a newly created prime minister position.

Whatever deal is struck will have to address the growing de facto segregation, since a resettlement of the country may further entrench the political and ethnic divisions that have recently erupted. Shattered trust is much harder to rebuild than smashed huts, and many people say they will never go back to where they once lived.

“How can we, when it was our friends who did this to us?” said Joseph Ndungu, a shopkeeper in the Rift Valley, who said that men he used to play soccer with burned down his shop.