Kenya's unrest stirs survival struggles
TEXT OF INTERVIEW
TESS VIGELAND: Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is scheduled to arrive in Kenya tomorrow in an effort to kick-start negotiations over a disputed presidential election there. Violence since the December 27th election has claimed more than 600 lives according to official estimates, but one Kenyan minister today rejected Annan's planned visit saying "We don't have a problem here."
Over the weekend the Bush administration warned that "the U.S. cannot conduct business as usual" in Kenya until the two sides agree to talk. Meanwhile other problems are cropping up around the country, and with us to talk about them is reporter Sara Nics. Sara I understand you personally experienced some of the unrest that's been going on there. Can you tell us about your trip with the Red Cross?
SARAH NICS: I went with the Kenyan Red Cross into Korogocho, which is one of the poorest and kind of most notorious slums on the east side of Nairobi. So we took three truck loads of food to about 2,000 people. It was amazing really, the number of people who showed up: women, children, old men, old women, women with babies. They handed food out to about 20 people before the whole situation just disintegrated. A group of young men stormed the back of the trucks, and the aid workers and myself we had to flee. It took tear gas and gun shots in the air to get us out of there quite frankly.
VIGELAND: Is there a food shortage, or is this a matter of not being able to get the food where it needs to go?
NICS: I don't think that there's a food shortage in this country. What it is is it's just not safe for many drivers to be on the roads right now. Goods aren't getting around the country. That means food's coming into the Port of Mombasa. Food is being grown all around the country, but it's not safe say for a member of a tribe from western Kenya to drive through the central province on the way to Nairobi. Just today I heard two stories of public buses, and even school buses being stoned by mobs on the roads in Kenya. So, with good reason perhaps, some drivers are refusing to do their jobs, refusing to transport goods. There's also the issue of increased food prices. You know when we were driving into Korogocho on Friday I was keeping my eye on the food stands, and most of them were largely empty, and from what I hear the foods that are on those stands, the prices have gone up substantially. I know in my neighborhood somebody tried to charge me 10 shillings for a banana that usually costs me five. I heard that in the slums cabbages that normally go for 10 shillings are now going for 70.
VIGELAND: Well, if they're having trouble transporting food around the country then I assume that folks are also having trouble getting to work.
NICS: Absolutely. Absolutely, there are still people, almost three weeks now since the election, there are still people who are marooned in their rural homes, who can't get into Nairobi, or Kisumu or wherever their places of work are. And also, people in the slums are marginally employed at best, and because of the unrest in Nairobi and in other parts of the country they aren't able to get to whatever employment they are able to get.
VIGELAND: Is there any speculation about when things might settle down there?
NICS: I wish I had a good answer for you about that. People here are tired. They're tired of this violence. They don't see it as part of the identity of Kenya. They understand that continuing economic development and peace are really the road to better lives for everybody here. That said, people are really frustrated that in the minds of many Kenyans their democratic right was undermined by vote rigging, and the violence that followed that has kind of unveiled all of this repressed tribalism.
VIGELAND: Sarah, thank you for joining us, and stay safe.
NICS: Thank you.
VIGELAND: Sara's been writing a blog during her time in Nairobi.
We have a link to it on our website. It's Marketplace.org.