Violence erupted in the wake of Kenya's presidential election [Photo: Boniface Mwangi]

On December 27, 2007, Kenyans queued for hours on end to cast their presidential election vote.

It was this very act of exercising their democratic right that a few hours later plunged the country into mayhem and unprecedented bloodshed.

In what later emerged to have been well orchestrated, pre-planned violence, the 2007 election was used as a catalyst to force to the fore tensions that for decades had been simmering beneath the surface unattended.

It was tribe against tribe, neighbour against neighbour.

Within days, about 300,000 people were displaced from their homes and 1,500 left dead.

National healing

About 300,000 were displaced by the post-election violence [Photo: Boniface Mwangi]
Today, one year on, Kenyans are just beginning to cautiously consider these events.

With hundreds of displaced people still living in camps, too afraid to return to their homes, the violence and the rifts it created are not yet a thing of the past.

There is yet to be enough distance, a significant lapse in time, to allow the collective Kenyan psyche to look back and carry out the self-examination necessary for national healing.

On the surface though, Kenyans are desperate to believe that things have returned to normal: The electoral commission has been sent home, parliament has passed a law to set the framework for a local tribunal to try those that have been implicated in the planning or funding of the violence – mostly prominent politicians and businessmen; tourists are back, and although Kenya has not been spared the global economic crisis, especially rising food and fuel prices, the situation is not desperate - or so it seems.

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But regardless of how much Kenyan society would like to conveniently forget the events of a year ago, the internally displaced persons (IDPs), spending the holidays in the cold, are a constant reminder that Kenyans are yet to look in the mirror and face their demons.

"I think it is still too soon to judge whether we have moved on as a society," says Peter Kimani, a senior editor and columnist with the East Africa Standard newspaper.

"It will take decades, perhaps two or three generations to sort out what happened last year."

Political settlement

The tribunal deals with those accused of fuelling the fighting [Photo: Boniface Mwangi]
Kimani says the violence was mostly underpinned by poverty and depravation and that land ownership and distribution remains a core concern.

"But no one is touching these issues," he adds.

"What we have is a political settlement and not a revolution to ensure that we do not go back to where we were at the end of last year."

But the political settlement which came about after rounds of talks led by Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, might only hold for so long.

It rewarded a few with positions in government, leaving a majority of those directly affected by the clashes, especially in Kenya's slums and farms, feeling let down by the coalition government.

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Scores of women, most of them raped by people they still live with, are yet to see their attackers face the law.

Only a few weeks ago, parliamentarians passed a law to set in motion a framework for a local tribunal to try those said to have either planned or funded the violence.

What has become known as the Waki report contains the names of prominent politicians and businessmen who, for the first time, will be made to face the law for allegedly igniting or fuelling last year's ethnic fighting.

Tedd Moya, a Nairobi-based lawyer, says that what exactly they will be charged with or whether any of those on the secret list will be prosecuted remains to be seen.

"Public perception about the Waki report is very different from the legal position," says Moya.

"Legally, the report and its recommendations were well structured, giving a deadline for the recommendations to be implemented and therefore forcing parliament into action.

"It set the framework for a local tribunal to be formed – which is a necessary option to exhaust before any international remedy or intervention like taking offenders to The Hague can be sought."

'Settling political scores'

A mother and her daughter in an IDP camp[Photo: © Stephen Digges | W I R Media]
But Kimani views these latest developments with suspicion.

He does not place too much hope in the tribunal to prosecute those found guilty, arguing that parliamentarians lack the moral and political integrity to see such a process through.

"Our politicians are keen on settling political scores," he says.

"We now have in this country a parliamentarian dictatorship that lacks the vision and commitment to heal this country."

He believes some politicians may derail the process so that the allocated timeframe passes in order to have some of those implicated taken to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

The tribunal, with its focus on those who instigated the violence, also fails to deliver justice to those who participated in it.

"There is very little effort by politicians to put in place a framework that allows for the villager also who participated in stealing and the killings to be prosecuted," says Kimani.

"The people targeted are those said to have funded or planned the violence - the big names. But as long as there remains a few people, villagers who you can hire to unleash anarchy on others - and they go scot free - then no one is safe."

'Cosmetic, sugar-coated'

Kenyans say little effort towards reconciliation has been made [Photo: Boniface Mwangi]
Moya agrees that it may take a very long time for anyone to be prosecuted.

"The evidence will have to be really strong," he says. "And even then, what do you charge them with, genocide?"

Moya maintains, however, that a local tribunal remains the best option for now.

"It is a general principle of international law that all local possibilities of remedy must be exhausted before an international intervention can be sought," he says.

For Kimani the current moves to address the violence of a year ago are superficial.

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"The atmosphere we have is cosmetic, sugar-coated," he says.

"We say that it is safe for multinationals to come and do business in Kenya, yet we have IDPs, farmers for whom it is not safe to return to their farms.

"The efforts made by politicians have not been towards healing and reconciliation but personal gain, personal protection and survival."

The absence of war in Kenya has not necessarily meant peace.

As Kenyans go about celebrating the festive season they barely observed last year, most are cautiously optimistic that lessons have been learned that will stop the country from descending into such violence again, but doubtful that politicians have the will to address the very real issues at the root of last year's bloodshed.

Source: Al Jazeera