News 2008


'Secret army' preparing for war in Kenya


By Robert Oluoch and Mike Pflanz in Iten

14. Feb. 2008

An army of young warriors is being secretly armed and reinforced in remote areas of Kenya’s Rift Valley, preparing for war if the country’s knife-edge peace talks fail.

Elders have organised thousands of men from the pro-opposition Kalenjin tribe into militia units, each split into marksmen, foot- soldiers, armourers, drivers and cooks.

Hidden arsenals are filled with bows and arrows, many of them dipped in deadly poison, as efforts are made to buy guns smuggled from northern Uganda or Sudan.

“If the peace talks collapse, there will be war,” said David Cheserek, 46, an elected opposition councillor in Kamogich, 240 miles northwest of Nairobi.

During January’s first wave of post-election violence, Mr Cheserek commanded a company of 60 Kalenjin fighters as they swept through the nearby town of Eldoret, burning homes owned by the rival Kikuyu tribe.

Accusations that President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, rigged election results triggered the fighting, but it also tapped into a frustration long held by the Kalenjin that the Kikuyus had cheated their way to owning the best land in the Rift Valley.

“We are waiting the results of Mr Annan’s talks, but if they do not go well, we will make sure there is not one Kikuyu left in the Rift Valley,” said Mr Cheserek.

As the country continues to divide along tribal lines, this week is perhaps the most crucial for Kenya’s peaceful future since independence from Britain 44 years ago.

Across the country, all eyes are on talks mediated by Kofi Annan, focused on the make-or-break issue of power sharing between the election rivals.

Compromises have been mooted by each side to end the fighting which has so far killed 1,000 people and forced 300,000 from their homes.

But at a recent rally, opposition leader Raila Odinga told a crowd of thousands that the only solution he would accept is the resignation of Mr Kibaki and fresh elections.

The President has ruled out both of these paths.

“If Mr Kofi Annan cannot bring us an acceptable solution, men will fight and there will be shedding of blood,” said 'Andrew’, 29, a Kalenjin militiaman who spoke anonymously to The Daily Telegraph in Iten, 30 miles north of Eldoret.

“That solution cannot include Mr Kibaki as president.”

He described how the tribe’s elders gathered hundreds of men at a time in clearings deep in the arid, unpoliced Kerio Valley below Iten, preaching hate against Kikuyus.

Such gatherings, common among the Kalenjin, have in the past only been called to organise defence against cattle rustlers.

Now they have an alarming new function, linking the Kalenjin’s 11 sub- clans to plan a united offensive to purge the Kikuyu from their lands.

Elders have given each man a role — some are 'sharpshooters’ because of their skills with a bow and arrow. Some, like Andrew, are drivers.

“I went from village to village collecting weapons, arrows, bows and spears, which I took to the frontline,” he said, describing his involvement in January’s fighting in Eldoret.

“Others took lorries filled with fighters. Others carried food cooked by our women to keep the fighters strong.”

'William’, 24, a teacher, said his job was to hammer house nails into arrow heads, many of which are dipped in poison concocted from roots and leaves.

“There were three in my team and we were making 1,200 arrows a day,” he said.

Since peace talks started two weeks ago, the Kalenjin war machine has slowed and fighters have been told to wait for orders.

“We are ready if they call us again, we are adding more arrows,” said 'Peter’, a village butcher.

“We tried to have our voice heard at the ballot box, but they ignored us. We tried to protest peacefully, but the police shot us and tear- gassed us.

“It is very dangerous for people not to listen to us. Now we are ready to fight to the end.”