Kenya’s Rift Valley was the epicenter of the 2007-2008 post-election violence. While there are few concerns of mounting tensions this year over the ongoing local races, residents have held youth marches and a special church service to remember the victims of 2008 Kiambaa church massacre.
Worshipers sang and prayed for peace in Kiambaa Church in Eldoret in the Rift Valley region of Kenya. It was here Kikuyu men and women ran to after armed Kalenjin youth attacked their homes.
The violence followed them to the church. Children, women, and men were burnt. David Irungu, who was eight at the time, is one of the survivors.
“In the church, they ordered us to get out. I was with my mother and sister. When we got outside, we were scared because I thought it was death calling us. When we looked at them, they were really armed… I was very much happy because I came out alive. They only allowed mothers and children to get out. I came out with my mother but we left our father inside. I don’t know how he escaped in the church. He died outside,” he said.
Ten years later Irungu knows why his father and many of his neighbors died.
“In 2007 I was eight years old I didn’t know what war was like and what was going on but now I have come to understand how war is and the consequences of war. I understand those people targeted us because of our ethnicity,” said Irungu.
In 2007 a disputed presidential vote, communities turned against each other. More than 1,000 people died, and 600,000 people were displaced.
Since the post-election violence, many things have changed. The two warring communities have reconciled and now support one candidate for the presidency, the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.
In this election that unity will be tested as local races and politics take center stage.
The International Crisis Group has warned of possible violence, saying the creation of new Counties ruled by powerful elected local officials has increased the stakes the political competition.
Twenty-eight-year-old Moses Ndicum a Kikuyu living in Eldoret understands this too well.
“We are together up at the top [presidency], but here in the County, we are not together because we have to follow the way they want. It seems we are going to have chaos in our County,” he said.
Ndicu was also a victim of 2007 election violence. He lived in an IDP camp for more than two months.
Fred Yego of Mercy Corps says Kenyan politics is about power and resources.
“Why the problems are of during election time is because most communities would want to push their people in leadership. The problem we have in Kenya the attitude of winner takes it all. So people believe that whenever somebody from their community is in power, then they are able to access resources and opportunities,” he said.
Jackson Mandago is Uasin Gishu County Governor. He says people like Irungu and Ndicu will be safe after Tuesday’s vote.
“The political temperatures can rise because the competition is stiff, but I want to assure the rest of the world and this country that as a county we are confident we are going to hold our election on Tuesday and the elections are going to be peaceful,” he said.
ICG notes the task of reconciling the two communities is not yet complete, and unresolved historical grievances explain the tension that comes with election violence in Rift Valley region.
The call for peace has been growing in this part of the country, and many hope after August 8th polls communities will live in peace.