Ethnic Violence Spreads In Western Kenya

Kikuyu men cheer and push a Luo woman as she flee with all her belongings, Monday, Jan. 28, 2008 in Naivasha, Kenya.
AP Photo/Karel Prinsloo
Thousands of machete-wielding youths have set buses and homes ablaze and blocked roads with burning tires as they hunted down members of President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe. One driver was burned alive in his minibus because he was Kikuyu.

The death toll from Kenya's disputed presidential election soared over 800.

"The road is covered in blood. It's chaos," Baraka Karama, a journalist for independent Kenya Television in Kisumu, said Sunday.

A month of ethnic bloodletting triggered by rigged presidential elections gathered frightening momentum in Kenya, spreading from town to town in the western Rift Valley, scene of the worst clashes.

In Nairobi, an opposition lawmaker was fatally shot early Tuesday and police said they were not ruling out "political motives."

Two gunmen shot Mugabe Were as he drove up to the gate of his house in suburban Nairobi just after midnight, Kenya police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said. Nothing was stolen.

"We are treating it as a murder but we are not ruling out anything including political motives," he said. "We are urging everyone to remain calm."

Were was among a slew of opposition members who won seats in the Dec. 27 legislative vote, held at the same time as the presidential election. His district includes the Dandora slum, a stronghold of a feared Kikuyu gang known as Mungiki.

There was no sign of relief from international mediators trying to persuade politicians to resolve the crisis that has erupted over Kibaki's re-election in Dec. 27 balloting that international and local observers say was marred by a rigged vote tally.

Columns of smoke rose from burning homes in Kisumu on Sunday.

"We wish to find one, a Kikuyu .... We will butcher them like a cow," said David Babgy, 24, a casual worker among 50 young men stopping buses at a roadblock of burned cars and uprooted lamp posts.

The only deaths reported there Monday, apart from the burned bus driver, were people shot by police whom human rights groups accuse of using excessive force.

As youths set buses ablaze at Kisumu bus station Monday morning, police fired tear gas, then opened fire. A morgue attendant said one man whose body was brought in had been shot in the back of the head. A school cleaner was also hit and killed, by a stray bullet fired by a police officer, said Charles Odhiambo, a high school teacher.

Fred Madanji, a petrol station attendant, said he saw two other "protesters" shot in the back and killed as they ran away from police Monday afternoon.

In villages around Eldoret, Kalenjin youths used machetes to kill four Kikuyus and stoned two others to death, according to witnesses. A military helicopter tried to land at Cheptiret village but was prevented by youths who set grasslands ablaze.

In Kakamega, on the edge of a wildlife preserve, gangs looted and set ablaze a downtown hotel and two wholesalers, the Rev. Allam Kizili of the Pentecostal Church said. Police fired tear gas to try to stop the violence, he said. There was no immediate word on casualties. The ethnic makeup of that violence was not clear.

Monday in Naivasha, Kenya's flower-exporting capital on a freshwater lake inhabited by pink flamingoes, some 2,000 people from rival tribes faced off, taunting each other with machetes and clubs inset with nails. A handful of police holding a line between them periodically fired live bullets into the air. They retreated, only to regroup.

British colonizers seized large tracts of land to cultivate fertile farms in the Rift Valley, traditionally home to the Kalenjin and Masai ethnic groups. After independence in 1963, President Jomo Kenyatta flooded reclaimed farmlands with his Kikuyu people, creating resentment that exists to this day.

Kikuyus also are resented for their domination of politics and the economy, a success cemented by endemic corruption and patronage.

More than half the 255,000 people driven from their homes this month have been Kikuyus displaced in the Rift Valley.

The bloodshed has transformed this once-stable African country, pitting longtime neighbors against one another and turning tourist towns into no-go zones.

Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga blame each other. Human rights groups and officials such as Britain's visiting minister for Africa, Mark Malloch-Brown, charge some of the violence is organized.

After meetings with Odinga, Kibaki and their mediator, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in Nairobi Monday, Malloch-Brown said they were making little headway "because the level of anger between the two sides is just growing exponentially."

European Union foreign ministers meeting in Belgium Monday indicated development aid could be pulled if Odinga and Kibaki don't agree to share power. But only about 6 percent of Kenya's budget comes from foreign aid and the government has said it will not be blackmailed.

The United States has said it would not threaten any deep aid cuts. Washington expects to provide Kenya with more than US$540 (euro366) million in assistance this year, the vast majority of that is for humanitarian programs with the largest chunk, US$481 million (euro326 million), going for HIV/AIDS projects.

Washington has toed a fine line in trying to broker a compromise between Kibaki and Odinga, stopping short of making public demands for a specific solution like a government of national unity.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Monday that Kenya has "gone from bad to worse, in terms of the violence. That underscores the urgent need for these two political leaders to come to a political agreement."

Kibaki has said he is open to direct talks with Odinga, but that his position as president is not negotiable. Odinga says Kibaki must step down and only new elections will bring peace.

As the politicians bickered, the toll from weekend violence still was coming in.

In Nakuru, provincial capital of the Rift Valley, 64 bodies were counted Monday at the morgue, said a worker who asked that his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

In Naivasha, district commissioner Katee Mwanza said at least 22 people were killed at the weekend. Nineteen of them were Luos, Odinga's tribe, chased by a gang of Kikuyus through a slum and trapped in a shanty that they set on fire, said police commander Grace Kakai.