A nation in turmoil
Kenya: 'They killed our people, so now we will do likewise. We are just revenging'
As 100 die in the tourist idyll of Lake Naivasha, a chilling dispatch on Kenya's slide towards civil war
Tuesday 29 January 2008
On the one side of the road hundreds of angry men had gathered, armed with machetes, clubs and metal poles. On the other, scores of desperate families huddled together. Only a thin line of a dozen or so policemen stood between the hunters and their prey.
"They killed our people," said Francis Mbogo, calmly gesturing with his machete to across the road. "So now we will do likewise. We are just revenging."
Warning shots were fired as the would-be lynch mob surged forward, baying for blood.
A tall man pushed his way to the front. "Listen to me," he demanded, wielding a wooden staff studded with nails. "We have been waiting to see if the government can do anything. They have done nothing. So now we have made our plans."
Yesterday's scene was on the main road through Kenya's flower town, Naivasha. The armed gang was ethnic Kikuyus and the fleeing families were Luos and Luhyas. But similar scenes have been repeated through the Rift Valley, with different groups playing different parts in four days of appalling tribal violence that has left at least 100 people dead and many more homeless.
Truckloads of Kikuyu refugees from Eldoret and other towns in the North Rift Valley have arrived in Naivasha in the past week. Only Kikuyus, the crowd said, could now live in the Karakita slum that stood behind them.
"They have killed our people in Rift Valley," said James Kathenge, a young man armed with a small metal pole. "They have killed our people in Nyanza. We cannot allow it."
Weeks of attacks on Kikuyus living in other parts of Kenya have now sparked reprisals from rampaging gangs trailing a gruesome home-made arsenal. Yesterday's violence brought the election-related unrest to the lakeside district dotted with tourist lodges.
A German tourist and a German businessman were clubbed to death by robbers near the country's tourist capital, Mombasa. They were followed to their resort apartment on Sunday night. But police said there was no connection between the incident at Diani, just south of Mombasa, and the ethnic violence which has torn the country apart since last month's elections, killing a total of 800 people.
In Naivasha, the families gathered on the north side, mainly Luos and Luhyas, had been chased out of their homes – and the armed gang on the south were not going to let them go back.
Another, older man tried to be heard. As he started speaking, the crowd hushed. "We don't want bloodshed," said Leonard Sindani. "We want peace." The crowd murmured its approval. "But they must go. If they stay we will deal with them. There is no going back. This is the final plan." The crowd roared its approval.
"You tell them they must go," Mr Sindani shouted. He waved his wooden club for good measure and others joined in: "You tell them! You tell them!"
On the other side of the road, just 15 yards away, Jane Monda stared back, tears running down her cheeks. When she left her house on Sunday morning to go to work, her two children, 12-year-old Isaac and 10-year-old Betty, were playing with friends in the street. By the time she left work that evening the clashes had begun. "I couldn't reach the house," she whispered, her eyes fixed on the armed gang blocking her path. "They would not let me through."
She tried calling neighbours on their mobile phones, but some had fled. Others did not want to help her. "My children are stranded. They are hungry and crying. They need their mother. I do not know if they are still alive," she said.
As she spoke a roar went up from the crowd on the south side. A woman from nearby Naivasha town was trying to deliver a bag of food to those on the north side. A handful of men ran towards her and grabbed it from her hands. A police officer intervened and handed it back. She scurried down the small slope as the crowd jeered.
Before December's election, the Karakita slum had been a cosmopolitan mix of different tribes. People from all over Kenya came here to seek work in the flower farms that line the shore. More than one third of all cut flowers sold in Europe are grown in Naivasha.
Ian Godfrey was one who had come in the hope of employment. He was born 20 years ago in a small village in Western Province, but could not find work. Now, after a year working at a flower farm, he faces the prospect of going back, chased out of his home by people he called friends.
"Before the election it was very fine. We worked together, we played together. We drank together and shopped together." But on Sunday evening a gang of 200 men, armed with machetes, sticks and bows and arrows started attacking homes in his area, chasing away anyone who was not a Kikuyu. He ran and hid in the police station. "They are trying to revenge, but we had nothing to do with what happened to their people," Mr Godfrey said.
The flawed election of 27 December, which saw Mwai Kibaki re-elected as President despite evidence of vote-rigging, may have sparked this outbreak of violence, but in the past few days diplomats and analysts have said it has changed.
Britain's Africa minister, Lord Malloch-Brown, said the violence had become "more sinister". Following meetings with Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, Mr Kibaki and Kofi Annan, who is still in Kenya attempting to mediate between the two sides, Lord Malloch-Brown said: "There is evidence of hidden hands organising it now ... The targeting is very specific and deliberate."
Naivasha had, until Sunday, escaped the worst of the violence. Not any more. The stand-off looked like lasting all night. Then a rumble of thunder and it started to rain. As it poured, Kikuyus on the south side fled for the shelter underneath the awnings of roadside stores, all boarded up. The Luos and Luhyas on the north ran back towards the police station. "You go!" the Kikuyus shouted, as they ran. "You go!"
Click here to see our timeline of the unfolding events in Kenya
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