In­di­ans in Kenyan city fear sec­ond wave of loot­ing

Ottawa Citizen - - World - BY TIM QUERENGESS­ER

KISUMU, Kenya •

When stores on the main street here went up in flames, Makesh Lakhani loaded his fam­ily into the car and sped to­ward Uganda.

The 52-year-old elec­tri­cal shop owner paid Kenyan po­lice to es­cort his fam­ily to the border, through the road­blocks with an­gry men search­ing for Kikuyus and other tribes that were tar­geted here in the days fol­low­ing the Dec. 27 elec­tion.

And as he drove, the irony of his flight to Kam­pala, where 30 years ago for­mer pres­i­dent Idi Amin kicked thou­sands of In­di­ans out of the coun­try, didn’t es­cape his thoughts.

“All of those things were in my mind,” said Mr. Lakhani, who has since re­turned to his shop, which was still stand­ing. “Once we were feel­ing Kenya was much more safe, but now we’re feel­ing al­most the same about Uganda.

“It’s never been this bad here,” he said. “There’s no cer­tainty of when it’s go­ing to be good. You just stay in fear.”

Many of the 2,000 or so In­di­ans who call this city home have re­turned af­ter flee­ing in the fiery days that fol­lowed the elec­tion. And now they are pre­par­ing for it to hap­pen again.

The Kenyan par­lia­ment is set to open to­mor­row, de­spite op­po­si­tion charges that the presi- dency of Mwai Kibaki is “il­le­git­i­mate.” The op­po­si­tion is plan­ning na­tion­wide protests for to­mor­row, Thurs­day and Fri­day.

The ral­lies have been de­clared il­le­gal by po­lice and live television broad­casts re­main banned as the gov­ern­ment at­tempts to cool tem­per­a­tures.

An es­ti­mated 600 peo­ple have died and a fur­ther 100,000 dis­placed in the con­flict that erupted fol­low­ing the elec­tion, which in­ter­na­tional ob­servers have de­scribed as flawed.

For­mer United Na­tions Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Kofi An­nan is set to ar­rive in Nairobi this week to at­tempt to bring Mr. Kibaki and op­po­si­tion leader Raila Odinga to the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble.

But de­spite the diplo­macy, many here aren’t feel­ing se­cure. In­deed, the Lakhani fam­ily and much of the In­dian com­mu­nity in Kisumu is pre­par­ing for the worst.

Yes­ter­day, as peo­ple swept bro­ken glass from the streets and dozens of build­ings still smoul­dered, the In­dian area of Kisumu buzzed with grinders and saws. At shop af­ter shop, solid metal was be­ing mounted over win­dows where once there were steel bars.

Sev­eral safe houses have been set up with food, wa­ter and beds, and the Hindu com­mu­nity is form­ing its own se­cu­rity force. “It could hap­pen again, so it’s bet­ter if peo­ple stay to­gether,” Lakhani.

In­di­ans came to Kenya in the early days of the Bri­tish colo­nial regime, which ended in 1963. They were em­ployed to build the rail­road link­ing the coast to Kisumu, on the shores of Lake Vic­to­ria. Af­ter it was com­plete, they were able to settle here as Bri­tish cit­i­zens.

Mr. Lakhani’s fam­ily has been in Kisumu since 1902. Down the street at Sonas En­ter­prises, the Tanna fam­ily has been here since 1908.

But roots or not, when the mobs took to the streets, those with money, and that in­cludes much of the In­dian com­mu­nity, were tar­gets, said An­nil Tanna.

“Look­ing at the sit­u­a­tion, I went to Dar es Salaam,” he said, stand­ing in the back of his fam­ily’s tex­tile shop. “We were afraid they also might at­tack our homes.”

He re­turned a few days later when the ten­sion calmed. “We feel things have cooled down, but we’re very afraid of to­mor­row,” he said.

Out­side the al­ready heav­i­ly­for­ti­fied shop, men were at work weld­ing steel over the win­dows.

The older gen­er­a­tion is tak­ing it all in stride, but the youth aren’t. “You feel sep­a­rated,” said 20-year-old Sa­gar Tanna, the fourth gen­er­a­tion of a fam­ily born in Kisumu. “They tar­geted all the busi­nesses. You feel out­side.”




An In­dian fam­ily leaves their apart­ment af­ter ri­ot­ers set fire to the lower floor of their build­ing in Kisumu, Kenya, in late De­cem­ber. Loot­ing flared on Satur­day, prompted by claims of elec­tion rig­ging.

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