Indian Refugees Amidst Kenyan Havoc

besigyearrestriots-7754901.jpgTerror has enveloped the people of Kenya ever since the post electoral violence erupted in the country on Sunday, claiming 300 lives, accompanied by burning down of houses and shops. Kisumu, the worst hit town, is the stronghold of defeated presidential challenger Raila Odinga, and home to over 3500 of the roughly 1 lakh Indian population residing in Kenya. His party, the Orange Democratic Movement, has accused President Mwai Kibaki of rigging the elections.

The riots endangering the lives of over 400 Indian families in Kisumu, particularly Gujaratis, has left the Indian diaspora appalled. Thousands of Indians in Kenya have reportedly taken refuge in temples after the riots consumed their homes and business establishments.

Several shops in Nairobi and nearby towns, particularly Kisumu, owned by those of Indian origin have been looted and burnt down, resulting in huge losses. It is extremely disappointing to note that despite the urgency and criticality of the situation, the Indian High Commision, which has little idea of the grim situation in Kisumu and Nairobi, has shown a callous attitude towards the safety and welfare of the Indians in Kenya. Even after being informed about the gravity of the problems, it seems to have done little to ensure their safety. The temples were the only institutions that came to the rescue of the Indian refugees, providing them with food, shelter and protection from the violent mob out on the roads.

The electoral results gave vent to the age-old rivalry between the two dominant tribes of Kenya- the Kikuyu and the Luo. Raila Odinga’s Nairobi constituency constitutes one of Africa’s largest slums, Kibera, with a large Luo population of fanatic followers. On the other hand, the President, Mwai Kibaki belongs to the Kikuyu tribe, that hails from the central highlands and wields strong economic power. The controversial electoral results, resulting in Kibaki’s swearing in for a new term was followed by accusations of electoral fraud which led to the clash between the two ethnic groups and riots broke out in Kibera, and other adjoining towns. Kisumu, a small town 600 km west of Nairobi, holds a large Indian population of which the Gujratis form the affluent chunk. They are the financially dominant section of the population, and are owners of most of the supermarkets and factories that provide employment to the local population. Since the Kikuyu tribe is economically superior to the Luos, it explains the treatment being subjected to the Gujarati families, who are being targeted not because of their Indian origin but also because of their financial power and strong economic background. As a result, many of the Indian-origin people living in Kenya have lost their land and their shops and commercial establishments have been looted or burnt down as a consequence of the violence. However, fortunately no lives have been claimed. As a measure of curbing the violence, Kiberia has now been cordoned off by the army to prevent the slum dwellers from coming out on the streets and presenting a recap of the riots that had created havoc in the five day long turmoil. Although the situation is reportedly under control in Nairobi, yet most offices and business establishments remain closed; people are keeping to their homes and have started stocking supplies for fear of further ethnic flare-ups that may worsen the present situation.

Both BJP and Congress have asked the government to take immediate steps towards the safety of the Indian expatriates. The incident gave the Gujarat CM an opportunity to express his “genuine concern” for the Gujaratis living in Kenya (Hindus only, please!) and lost no time in sending a letter to PM Manmohan Singh, seeking issue of emergency visas to facilitate “speedy rescue” of the Indian expatriates who have been made the victims of Kenyan violence.

Tripti Bhatia