One year after disputed presidential elections in Kenya triggered horrific clashes between different ethnic groups, leaving hundreds dead and thousands homeless, how is the country coping? Joanne Offer, who works with the International Rescue Committee in Nairobi, has been talking to communities in West Kenya to find out.
It's almost a year since Kenya, one of East Africa's most stable and prosperous nations, went from being known as a land of big cats and safaris to a country beset by brutal mob violence; a place where a church full of terrified worshipers could be set ablaze with dozens inside burned alive. In the chaos that followed the disputed presidential elections of December 27, 2007, more than 1,100 people were killed and a further 350,000 forced to flee their homes. So one year on has Kenya been able to heal her wounds?
The truth is that it's been quite a rollercoaster year for Kenyans. The violent fallout from the elections left them stunned - many of my friends still talk of their embarrassment and disappointment that their country could have exploded in such dramatic style. High food prices and ongoing drought left the north of the country in dire need for much of the year, while rising fuel prices made the cost of everyday life spiral throughout Kenya.
Moods were then dramatically lifted by victory for Kenya's favorite son Barack Obama in the US elections, (the Kenyan government even called a public holiday to celebrate). However, Kenyans are once again looking inwards as their politicians dawdle over implementing the recommendations of the Waki Commission, the body set up to look into the root causes of the violence. The report suggested politicians had fanned the flames of the fighting and should be brought to justice by a Kenyan tribunal, but progress along this route has been slow.
In November, the European Union even threatened sanctions if the report's recommendations were not implemented quickly. But most Kenyans I speak to have little faith that the root causes of the violence will ever be thoroughly examined. As one man who lost his house in last year's violence told me: "I don't think the Waki report will change anything. The government will just protect its own like they always do."
Given this apparent lack of faith in higher powers, how are communities themselves coping? Have they been able to move forward, to forgive and forget and to rebuild their lives and their homes? This is a hard question to answer, because you can visit two communities, only kilometers apart, and their situations are subtly different.
Standing in a field in Sikhendu, Trans Nzoia district, for example, there's no sign that it once housed hundreds of families chased out of their homes by angry mobs. The former camp's tents are long gone, the last of the rubbish has been collected, and local school children now play on the grass in between lessons.
At first glance, there are no IDPs (internally displaced people) left here. But after a few moments I'm approached by a small group of women who are living just outside the camp in cramped, rented accommodation. These are the 'invisible IDPs' - the camp may have been closed, but that doesn't mean they've gone home.
In fact many had no 'home' to go back to. They were squatters, working and living on other people's land in return for a salary and a small plot to farm themselves. Understandably they're reluctant to go back and work for communities that chased them away. But since they're no longer in a camp, they're not receiving government assistance.
"At first, we got jobs on farms here, but now the harvest is in and we have no work. Between now and April - the next farming season - it will be hard. We don't know what we will eat," says a spokeswoman for the group. "The government said we had to go home to get money, but it's better to be somewhere peaceful like this than in a place where there's food but the threat of being killed."
Just down the road in Gitwamba, there's nothing invisible about the IDP presence here. Their now-grubby white tents are still visible on the horizon long before you reach the village. More than 8,000 people remain living under canvas, almost twelve months after they first fled their homes, although most tell me they're desperate to move out and get on with their lives.
Families have been given 10 to 25,000 Shillings (about $130 to $325) compensation by the Kenyan Government, but this won't rebuild and furnish a complete family home. "I'm rebuilding my house but I ran out of money so it's not finished yet," says one elderly camp resident. "It's cold living in a tent and I want to be in my own place. I have forgiven the people who did this - it's money not fear that is stopping people going home."
Along the side of the camp, small businesses are starting to re-establish their trades. But it's not easy, having seen all of their stock burned along with their stores last December. Local farmers are also struggling to replace tools stolen by looters and to buy fertilizer to grow a healthy crop next year. Organizations like the International Rescue Committee have been supporting them to restart their livelihoods, but one year later, the need is still great. As one man admits: "I want to be independent again but I can't take care of my family. That makes me feel bad in my heart."
I've read articles criticizing the remaining camp residents as spongers, layabouts, people trying to extort the system. This seems an easy way to dismiss the IDP problem, to pretend it no longer exists and that things are back to normal. But there are still camps in Trans Nzoia with thousands of residents and overwhelmingly the people I meet are desperate to regain their independence. They don't want to be stuck in limbo for another year.
As one woman says: "People are hard working; they don't want to be refugees receiving handouts. They want to work with their hands and sweat, but they need to be given some means to do this." Just a small support now - maybe farming tools or fertilizer - would make a huge difference to people who lost everything.
All photographs and text by Joanne Offer.