Revenge Killings Stoke a Violent
Cycle in Kenya
Tribal Gangs Spread Deadly Confrontations Across Country's West
By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
NAIROBI, Jan. 28 - The toll from five days of fighting between
rival tribal gangs across western Kenya rose to at least 85 Monday,
as the post-election violence that has swept this East African
nation began to take on a new character: revenge.
It began in the western city of Nakuru on Thursday, with gangs of
young men from President Mwai Kibaki's tribe, the Kikuyu, roaming
the streets with machetes and clubs. They hunted down and hacked
to death people from opposition leader Raila Odinga's Luo tribe,
residents said. It was payback time, it seemed, for past weeks in
which hundreds of Kikuyus have been killed and tens of thousands
driven from their homes.
The violence then moved to the tourist town of Naivasha, 50 miles
northeast of Nairobi, and by Monday, about 2,000 young men squared
off along a main road, taunting one another, with machetes, rocks
and nail-studded clubs in hand.
Police officers, appearing nervous, fired bullets into the air to
disperse the groups. But the tribal divisions that have
characterized the violence since the disputed Dec. 27 presidential
election were clearly drawn: Kikuyus on one side of the road,
staring down mostly Luos on the other.
"This is Kikuyu land!" one side shouted, according to local
reporters, with the other retorting "No Raila, no peace!"
The dead in Naivasha included 19 people, mostly Luos, who were
chased through the streets Sunday by Kikuyu gangs, trapped inside
a house and burned to death, according to Luka Katee, the Naivasha
That incident in particular appeared to be retribution for 17
Kikuyus who were burned to death this month in a church where they
were hiding. The church burning, along with the torching of homes
and villages across western Kenya in recent weeks, seems to have
been committed by well-organized local militias loyal to Odinga.
It is unclear, however, whether the Kikuyu involved in the latest
violence were also well-organized, or ad-hoc mobs, or both.
Some reports indicated that young Kikuyu men had been bused into
Naivasha to exact revenge on Luos. But Katee said that as far as
he could tell, both the Kikuyu and Luo gangs in Naivasha were
young, unemployed locals taking their own revenge.
"They are mobs," he said Monday. "They don't have a leader."
In the sort of vicious cycle that has leaders and diplomats here
worried, the killings in Naivasha -- news of which was broadcast
across the country -- prompted a violent reaction 125 miles to the
west in the opposition stronghold of Kisumu.
There, thousands of Odinga's Luo supporters poured into the
streets Monday, blocking roads with boulders, setting fire to five
buses owned by a Kikuyu company and pulling apart a stretch of
railway line that ships food from the fertile Rift Valley region
In the afternoon, a drunken group stoned to death a man they
presumed to be Kikuyu, who had been running for his life through
one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. Although Kikuyus have
been chased out of Kisumu, the incident appeared to be the first
mob-style killing in that city.
By Monday evening, tempers across western Kenya seemed to have
cooled, though tensions remained high.
Police and Kenyan soldiers patrolled streets of major cities and
towns in the region. In some areas, military helicopters swirled
over the rusted tin-roofed neighborhoods where violence has tended
to burst forth. Local authorities said they had the situation
But many Kenyans fear that the situation is spiraling beyond the
control of Kenya's deadlocked political leaders, who have vaguely
called for peace in one breath, but blamed one another for the
violence in the next.
With former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan in Nairobi for
mediation, Odinga and Kibaki's teams on Monday prepared ground
rules for negotiations that are widely thought to be Kenya's best
hope for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
More than 800 people have been killed and at least 250,000
displaced since Odinga accused Kibaki of stealing the election. It
is the East African nation's worst crisis since independence from
Britain in 1963.
"Civil war is not too strong a word for the fears people have,"
said Salim Lone, a spokesman for Odinga.
The violence has struck the poorest settlements of Nairobi but has
mostly remained concentrated in western Kenya.
There, members of the local Kalenjin and Luo tribes, loyal to
Odinga, are apparently using the occasion to address long-standing
land disputes with Kikuyus, who settled there in large numbers
with the help of a Kikuyu-dominated government in the years after
independence. Tribes in Kenya break down largely along ethnic
For weeks, busloads and trucks packed with Kikuyus and heaped high
with bundles have been exiting the Rift Valley area, headed to
points east or all the way back to their traditional home province
in central Kenya.
The process of tribal segregation has continued in recent days,
only this time with Luos hitting the road, running from the Kikuyu
gangs. In general, they are headed to Luo-dominated areas to the
On Monday, Lone said opposition leaders think the past days of
reprisals against Luos were also well-organized, with Kikuyu
attackers being transported from the western Nakuru, where the
violence began Thursday, to Naivasha, where it continued Monday.
"We believe quite strongly that these gangs are organized," he
said. "We are even more concerned that the violence is slowly
coming to our capital city. Really, unless there is some clear
sign through this mediation process that gives people hope, it is
bound to get worse."