Kenyan police were yesterday fighting to control gangs who have killed at least 27 people over three days of chaotic violence in the town of Nakuru, capital of the Rift Valley region.
Burnt bodies were being removed from the streets and more than 100 people were in hospital suffering injuries from burns to machete and arrow wounds. Hundreds more were forced to shelter in local churches after homes were set on fire by mobs settling tribal scores. The town, in western Kenya, had previously been spared the scenes that erupted across the country after December’s deeply flawed presidential re-election that left some 700 people dead. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has joined efforts to resolve weeks of unrest and yesterday he called for an investigation into ‘gross and systematic’ rights abuses in Kenya.
‘Let us not kid ourselves and think that this is an electoral problem. It is much broader and much deeper,’ said Annan. ‘We cannot accept the pattern every five years [that] these sorts of incidents take place and no one is held to account,’ he added, referring to Kenya’s cycle of election-year violence.
Kenya’s abrupt descent into mayhem after President Mwai Kibaki’s disputed re-election has tarnished one of Africa’s most promising economies and badly damaged its tourism industry. The political stand-off that began after 27 December has now evolved into bitter tit-for-tat attacks between rival tribes.
This latest fighting has pitted members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe against Luos and Kalenjins who backed the opposition’s leader Raila Odinga – who has been vocal in calling the election rigged – and looked to have largely caught the security forces in Nakuru unawares. The Kikuyu are the dominant force in politics and the economy in Kenya.
‘All those who are fanning the violence are staying comfortably in their luxury homes while we burn,’ said Nakuru resident Urunga Maina, who had to rush his nephew to hospital after he was hacked by a machete-wielding mob. ‘We are being used as sacrificial lambs,’ Maina said. What matters is that the politicians take what they want. They don’t care about the ordinary people.’
The fighting has prompted the first army deployment since Kenya’s crisis erupted and undermined hopes of a solution after Kibaki met his rival Odinga on Thursday in their first face-to-face talks since the troubles began. The two rivals are under international pressure to find a way to share power. But while Odinga insisted that holding new elections was the only way to restore peace, Kibaki made clear he would not give up his position as head of state.
Nakuru, a city of 300,000, had until now been spared any outbursts of violence. Soldiers began patrolling the streets last week, and a dusk to dawn curfew was imposed. A barrier of rocks and wood blocked a main road out of the town yesterday.
Hundreds of people were taking refuge at Nakuru’s Catholic church after their homes were torched. ‘We are planning revenge, we are searching for weapons,’ said 23-year-old Njenga, a Kikuyu.
At Nakuru’s main hospital, dozens of people with machete and arrow wounds were lying two to a bed in the wards. One man’s face was a maze of stitches; he had been slashed with a knife. Bedsheets were soaked in blood.
Michael Ndegwa, 21, was walking through town when he saw what he thought was a body yesterday morning. ‘He was lying by the side of the road,’ Ndegwa said, sitting in hospital with the wounded man, Steven Mwangi. ‘I carried him here. I thought he was dead.’ Mwangi, whose forehead, ear and nose were bandaged, kept his eyes closed, tears streaming down his face. He did not speak.
The violence also yesterday fanned out to neighboring towns – in Naivasha dozens of youths armed with machetes broke into slum homes, terrorizing and attacking residents. At least two people were hacked to death by what witnesses said were Kibaki supporters. Benson Waliaula, 36, a security guard at a bank in the town, said he saw one man chased and killed. ‘They tore his clothes off first then killed him with blows of a panga (machete). It took him some time to die. The police were just watching. There was nothing they could do,’ he said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch reported last week that it had evidence that opposition politicians helped direct and organize some attacks in the Rift Valley – charges Odinga has denied, claiming it is a spontaneous reaction.
Meanwhile yesterday at the Nakuru morgue, relatives gathered to watch and weep as police unloaded another 16 charred corpses from a truck. Two more people were stoned to death by gangs at the bus station. ‘We’ve taken the bodies and chased the thugs from here,’ said Ephantus Kiura, Rift Valley assistant police commissione