Chaos in Kenya Tribal Massacres Echo Rwandan Genocide

The unrest in Kenya following the disputed election victory of President Mwai Kibaki is escalating into a tribal war. On Tuesday more than 40 people, many of them children, burned to death in a church after seeking refuge from machete-wielding members of another tribe. The carnage is starting to remind observers of the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

By in Nairobi


They stand in small groups in front of the mortuary near the Ngong Road in Nairobi and have been waiting for hours. They talk quietly among themselves. They have donned their best Sunday clothes. The people gathered here are mourning relatives killed in the violent clashes that have raged in the Kenyan capital since Sunday. Now and then they cast anxious glances at the riot police gathering across the street in their bulky green protective uniforms that make them look like the Ninja Turtles comic figures. The police are getting ready to march towards one of Africa's biggest slum areas, Kibera in the southwest of Nairobi. They are getting ready for battle. There will be more deaths. Reports say 300 have already been killed so far in clashes between rival tribal groups and between the police and supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Geoffrey Washiali, 35, has come to identify the body of his cousin Harrison Musungu. It was brought here on Sunday. The man's face was split apart with a machete. Musungu died because he belonged to the Luhya tribe. Many members of the Kikuyu tribe live in the shanty town of Kariobangi, where Musungu lived with his family. That can be a death sentence these days. Ever since President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, had himself declared the winner in an election that was obviously manipulated, the tribes of this east African country are at war.

Just a few kilometres from here, in the Mara South meeting room of the swish Intercontinental Hotel, the German head of the European Union's election monitoring mission, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, is about to hold a news conference. Some 150 observers monitored this election debacle. The Kenyans have been eagerly awaiting the Europeans' verdict on the election for days.

EU Monitors Criticize Vote Count

Lambsdorff's assessment is devastating. "The elections did not meet international standards of democracy," says Lambsdorff. He said EU monitors detected irregularities in two electoral districts where Kibaki won. In each of those two districts, the governing PNU ended up with 20,000 more votes than it received at the first count, said Lambsdorff.

In five electoral districts, members of the EU mission were barred from the vote count, and in some regions the voter turnout was unusually high. "We have doubts about these elections," Lambsdorff concluded.

Mwai Kibaki now looks isolated. On Sunday evening, when he was hastily sworn in for a second term in a televised ceremony he had told Kenyans that their country had "matured politically" and that the nation could be proud of these "free and fair elections."

But the United States, Kenya's partner in the war on terror, has now distanced itself from him. After the US had initially congratulated Kibaki on his victory, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said Washington had serious concerns about the vote count.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga called the election outcome a "civilian coup" and has likened Kibaki to Idi Amin. Odinga, who calls himself the "people's president," has called on his supporters to stage a demonstration on Thursday. The police have already banned the protest and another bloodbath is feared.

To prevent opposition supporters from communicating with each other, Kenyan mobile phone company Safaricom has warned that the sending of text messages with political content is forbidden and will be punished with jail sentences.

Another Rwanda?

On the streets of the capital, demonstrators are running away from the police with their hands in the air to show their peaceful intentions. Police are chasing them and wielding wooden batons. Pick-up trucks are racing down streets with special police firing indiscriminately into the air. Demonstrators are chanting: "No Raila - No Peace."

But the tribal clashes that have broken out as a result of this election are especially devastating. More than 40 people were burned alive in a church in the western mountain city of Eldoret on Tuesday. They were from the Kikuyu tribe and had fled into the church from members of the Kalenji tribe. Many children were among the dead, reports say. Machete-wielding youths have set up road blocks all around Eldoret and hundreds of homes have been set on fire. Marauding groups have been marking the houses where Kikuyus live.

The scenes are grim reminders of the genocide of Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands of people were massacred in just a few weeks in 1994. Many of the deaths in Nairobi too seem to have resulted from tribal clashes. Jacob Nyongaza, the director of Nairobi's mortuary, counted 45 deaths in the latest round of clashes. "Some died from gunshot wounds, but most were hacked to pieces with machetes."

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