Kenya violence: 'We waited, now
we'll chop them to bits'
Jon Swain, Nakuru
February 3, 2008
THE tragedy of Kenya’s violence was etched on the face of James
Kamau, a softly spoken 43-year-old biology teacher, as he steeled
himself to search Nakuru city mortuary for his murdered
brother-in-law this weekend.
“We are glimpsing an enormity of evil in Kenya larger than any of
us imagined,” he said. “Look how they have destroyed our people.”
He flinched in a moment of shock as he spotted a familiar pair of
brown shoes on the feet of a man burnt beyond recognition who was
lying on the floor. “It is Eliud,” he said, turning away in sorrow
and comforting his sister.
At least Eliud, 40, could now be buried. Kamau had feared when he
could not find him that his brother-in-law had been thrown - like
other victims of the violence - into the 1,600ft-deep crater of
the dormant Menengai volcano five miles from the city centre.
There he would have been devoured by wild animals.
Local legend has it that the steam rising from the bottom consists
of the souls of Masai warriors who were hurled into the crater
after a battle over land and are now trying to reach heaven. The
volcano was a top tourist attraction in the Rift Valley until 10
days ago, when the violence that began over a disputed
presidential election on December 27 spread to the streets of
Chaos reigned in and around the town, Kenya’s fourth largest, as
tribal gangs fought with knives, pangas, stones and poisoned
arrows. After more than 60 people had died, the police imposed a
dusk-to-dawn curfew. The tourists left and have not come back.
Kamau and other relatives of the dead milling before the gates of
the mortuary said they believed worse bloodshed was to come. The
violence had exploded after members of the opposition Orange
Democratic Movement (ODM) claimed the government had rigged the
elections to prevent their leader, Raila Odinga, 63, replacing
Mwai Kibaki, the 76-year-old president.
Immediately after the re-election of Kibaki, the violence was
directed against his tribe, the Kikuyu, whose political and
economic domination of Kenya since independence in 1963 has
exposed them to widespread resentment. But in the past week
Kikuyus have hit back at Luos, Luhyas, Kalenjin and other tribes
supporting Odinga, who is himself a Luo.
The ODM said the violence was a spontaneous surge of anger at
Kibaki’s electoral “fraud”, but activists on both sides fanned the
flames of tribal resentment and on Wednesday, after nearly 1,000
people had been killed and 250,000 had been made homeless, the
Daily Nation newspaper said the fear of civil war was not
far-fetched. Jendayi Frazer, the American assistant secretary of
state for Africa, called the violence “clear ethnic cleansing”.
A glimmer of hope emerged late on Friday when Kofi Annan, the
former United Nations secretary-general who is mediating,
announced that the government and opposition had agreed a plan to
end the crisis. Annan said measures would be introduced in a week
to 10 days to stop the violence. But 27 more people were killed
and a church burnt yesterday.
In the traumatised strife-torn Rift Valley, many Kikuyus driven
from their homes said it was too late to stop the tribal hatred.
“It is impossible to live together. There will be more blood. It
cannot stop now,” said Robert Njoroge, 55, who came to the
mortuary to collect the body of his nephew, who had been murdered
by the Kalenjin.
The reason why the Rift Valley has become the epicentre of the
conflict is rooted in history. Once the homeland of the Kalenjin
and Masai, much of it was seized early last century by the
British, who turned it into a colonial paradise of farms and
Tudor-style mansions. Instead of being returned to those tribes on
independence, the farmland was bought by Kikuyus, the tribe of
Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president.
Although the constitution granted Kenyans of any tribe the right
to live anywhere in the country, the spread of Kikuyus across the
Rift Valley triggered bitterness and grievances.
Many Kikuyus believe that the violence was planned, regardless of
the election result. They have accused William Ruto, one of
Odinga’s top aides, who is a Kalenjin and an MP in Eldoret, one of
the flashpoints in the Rift Valley, of a pre-election hate speech.
“He has become the warlord of the Rift Valley,” said a man called
Simon. “He poisoned the Kalenjin against the Kikuyu.”
Kamau said his Kalenjin neighbour, a banker, had warned him two
weeks before the election to expect trouble. He said he had heard
hate speeches broadcast on the local Kalenjin radio station and
had been told that Kalenjin youths were being indoctrinated
against the Kikuyu while undergoing circumcision in December as a
rite of passage.
“There are no Kikuyus who have been left on their farms in the
Rift Valley,” said Kamau, who was burnt out of his Eldoret home
with his wife and three children and now lives in a refugee camp.
“They have destroyed all our property. They think the Rift Valley
is theirs and no other tribe should be there. That is what they
were told during the circumcision ceremonies.”
So powerful was the rhetoric that it seemed to have infected even
educated Kalenjins. After being burnt out of his home, one senior
figure at Moi University in Eldoret was warned last week that his
colleagues were hunting for him and he should not return if he
wanted to stay alive.
The growing and seemingly uncontrollable tribal violence has led
to inevitable comparisons to Rwanda, where the 1994 genocide
claimed nearly 1m lives. But Kenya is not Rwanda. It has 42 tribes,
where Rwanda had only two, one of which made up 90% of the
population. The brutal ethnic cleansing that divided Bosnia is a
To combat the Kalenjin attacks, the Kikuyu in the Rift Valley have
resurrected a murderous criminal gang notorious for beheading its
victims. The gang, called the Mungiki, was established during
elections in the 1990s to counter violence by Kalenjin gangs but
was later outlawed. Last year the police reportedly killed 500
Mungiki in a crackdown.
According to a priest in Nakuru, Mungiki gangs were on the prowl
last week, under police protection and looking for members of
other tribes. One Kikuyu youth who would call himself only John
described how he was forced to join a gang which beheaded 15
Kalenjin and Luos.
“They killed one man armed with a club and stones. He could not
answer a question put to him in Kikuyu so they forced him to the
ground and cut off his head. Next we met a big man sharpening two
pangas. They cut him so fast that his mouth was still moving when
they lifted up his head on the end of a panga.”
His story fitted word from other Kikuyus that a strategy had been
devised to wait for most Kikuyus to be in places of safety before
striking back against the Kalenjin. “We kept quiet for a month,”
said one Kikuyu who was thirsting for vengeance.
“If we had acted before our people were safe, the Kalenjin would
have killed them. Now we will chop them in pieces. Raila and Ruto
* Kenya's main tribes are the Kikuyu 20%, Luo 14%, Luhya 13%,
* President Kibaki is Kikuyu; Odinga is Luo
* The Kalenjin in the Rift Valley resent Kikuyu land purchases
Gangs face off; west Kenya burns