Same stadium, different occasions: Why Afraha is significant to 2007-08 post-election events

Eight years ago, Nakuru County received hundreds of thousands of post-election violence victims, with the Afraha Stadium as the holding ground.

With tents covering the usually green grounds, the occupants were survivors of the brutal violence. The stadium was home to hundreds of women who had lost their husbands, and children who did not know the whereabouts of their parents. The suffering was too much.

But yesterday, nine years later, the stadium was a sea of colour as it hosted a thanksgiving rally for the ‘Ocampo Six’. Thousands thronged the grounds to celebrate the end of the cases facing six Kenyans accused of organising the violence that claimed the lives of more than 1,300 Kenyans and displaced more than half a million others.

At the height of the post-election violence in early 2008, at least 28,000 Kenyans called Afraha their home for six months. Yesterday, one of them, Pastor Robert Opiyo, returned for the thanksgiving celebrations led by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.

Opiyo, who chaired the Afraha IDPs, spoke of the plight they faced and which he said the government had handled well. “The government has done well to ensure majority of the IDPs have homes. But we still have the problem of integrated IDPs that needs to be addressed,” he said.

Peter Kariuki, who represented IDPs from Mawingu area in Nyandarua, urged the President and his deputy to ensure that 165 families still unattended to were settled.

Anne Bett, a representative of families evicted from Mau forest, said she was confident that the Jubilee administration will address their plight. “I have been in touch with the Deputy President over the issue of the Mau Forest evictees and he has assured us that we will be resettled,” she said.

Celebrations of this kind at Afraha Stadium are not new. Uhuru and Ruto officiated the political marriage of their parties - The National Alliance (TNA) and the United Republican Party (URP) - at the stadium on December 1, 2012.

The choice for Afraha Stadium then as in yesterday’s prayer rally, was not by mistake. The arena, though a football stadium, became famous for hosting many political meetings during the change the constitution clamour of the 1970s.

Independence party Kanu also held many prominent meetings at the stadium during President Moi’s era.

Opened in 1978 with a sitting capacity of 8,200 people, Afraha Stadium has survived many attempts by politicians to rename it. In mid 1970s, an attempt by the political elite to rename it in honour of the Kenyatta family failed.

In 2006, after the death of former Nakuru town MP Mirugi Kariuki, leaders from the region called for its renaming to Mirugi Kariuki stadium. It failed.

Following Jubilee’s victory in the 2013 elections, supporters of President Kenyatta and Ruto called for the renaming of the sports stadium to ‘Uhuruto Stadium’ - a slogan coined to popularise their merger.