Violence ebbs; tensions remain

The Baltimore Sun

NAIROBI, Kenya -- At the edge of a Nairobi neighborhood called the Ghetto, there is a bridge across a gray, stinking creek, on a street called Mother Teresa Road. The creek has become a frontier between two worlds, and the bridge the border crossing.

Yesterday, under the protection of paramilitary police, people shuttled from one side to another, carrying furniture, bedding, bags and pots as they steadily divided themselves by tribe.

On one side of the bridge, in the Ghetto, no Luos can live. On the other, in a place called Mathare North, no Kikuyus.

They couldn't have gone about the task more efficiently had the government decreed it.

"Across there we cannot cross. A Kikuyu will never cross into that area. There is a border there," said Margaret Wawira Wanjiru, 30, from the Ghetto.

All over Kenya, people are packing up and leaving their houses, perhaps forever, in the wake of tribal violence triggered by the country's disputed presidential election. Friendships are disintegrating, borders are being drawn and markets where people once shopped together are no-go zones for one tribe or another.

"Before, we didn't hate them, but now we hate them very bad," said Wanjiru, sitting in the ashes of her home, which was burned down Wednesday when a mob of hundreds of Luos invaded the Ghetto.

Carrying machetes and throwing stones, they burned down the Kikuyus' shacks, yelling that they wanted to build a football field and name it Raila Stadium, after their tribesman and political hero, Raila Odinga, who says he believes he is the rightful president of Kenya.

President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, was declared the winner a week ago in an election that international observers found had failed democratic standards. The Luos say they believe it's their turn for power, that the Kikuyus have dominated business and politics for too long.

Kibaki offered the first sign of a real compromise yesterday, offering to share power in a government of national unity, but Odinga said he had not received any formal offer and demanded an international mediator help settle the dispute. He also called for a new election.

The violence has ebbed in recent days, but tensions are still high, and neighborhoods such as Mathare North and the Ghetto are on a hair trigger.

In a burned-out shack, Teresia Wangui, wearing a blue head scarf, sat clutching a set of keys in her hand. She smiled sadly when asked what the keys were for. "They're useless now. They're for my house."

She saw three people killed by the mob Wednesday: The first and second were stoned, macheted and then smashed in the head with boulders. When the third was attacked, she ran without waiting to see how he was finished off.

Three days later on Mother Teresa Road, it was easy to mistake the eerie for normality, except for the dozens of migrating people. Some pushed hand carts loaded with furniture. Others had flatbed trucks piled with belongings. On the Mathare North side, the atmosphere was tense. A silent crowd of more than 100 young men watched people coming uphill from the bridge.

Robyn Dixon writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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