“Welcome to Valley View photographic site,” says the weathered wooden sign, boasting that you are 8,000 feet above east Africa’s Rift Valley, the birthplace of mankind. A row of corrugated iron shops hawk traditional Masai cloths, soapstone chess sets and handcarved elephant, lion and zebra bookends. But today there are not many tourists to barter. Down in the valley there’s a clue as to why. Sunshine gleams off the metal roofs of housing built for families displaced by ethnic violence that followed Kenya’s general election five years ago. More than 1,100 people were killed and 600,000 fled their homes. On Monday, the nation goes to the polls again in possibly the most important vote in its 50-year history. Many fear a repeat. To outside eyes it is hard to believe that the most powerful country in the region, with its vibrant middle class, boutique malls and thriving tech sector, could be on the brink of catastrophe. But every five years, its foundations are shaken by the democratic cycle. Already in recent months more than 200 people have been killed in politically charged violence in the Tana river region and in the north. The fact that one of the front runners for the presidency has been indicted by the international criminal court is another portent of trouble ahead.
The Rift Valley in particular has become accustomed to these convulsions. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are still living with the consequences of the politically fuelled tribal conflict in 2007-08.
Margaret Wambui Mwai, 65, is 280km from her home village and mourning her son, Joshua, who was hacked to death in the post-election eruption. “I last saw him the day before he died,” she recalls, halting as her eyes cloud with tears. “He said ‘Goodnight, I’m going to bed, you won’t see me in the morning.’ He was a carpenter so he spent the whole day at the workshop. He was supporting the whole family.
“The next time I saw him he was lying dead. He had been hacked to death on his way back from work. The memory still haunts me. The doctors at the mortuary could not salvage the situation so he was buried with his head almost off.”