Bloodshed in Kenya 'We Will Kill Everyone!'
It was another murderous night in Nakuru, the capital of Kenya's Rift Valley province. The next morning the local police found the bodies of 12 people hacked to death with pangas, as the Kenyans call their machetes. A cloud of smoke still hangs over Githima, a poor neighborhood on the city's outskirts. Young people armed with bows and arrows, bush knives and clubs dance around a roadblock, chanting fighting songs and waving a sign telling Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki to go to hell.
The situation doesn't look any better along the road to Eldoret, which lies 130 kilometers (81 miles) away. For the few still willing to risk the journey to the mountain town, the route has become a perilous obstacle course. Piles of burning tires block traffic just outside of Nakuru. A young man jumps out of the bushes, wearing a motorcycle helmet and a biker's jacket decorated with an array of insignia and animal hides. He peers into every car with bloodshot eyes looking for Kikuyus, eager to exact revenge on them because he feels oppressed by the country's largest ethnic group. Only those vehicles with no Kikuyus inside are allowed to proceed.
Two drivers working for the Mololine bus company aren't as lucky. As they drive through a wooded area about 20 kilometers (12 miles) outside of Nakuru, they are suddenly attacked by 20 to 30 young fighters from the Kalenjin ethnic group, who assail the buses with stones and arrows. They only barely manage to escape -- and with great effort, driving at full speed over stone barriers and past burning tires.
An Escalating Vortex of Violence
An ethnic war is raging in the Rift Valley, a wide trench running through East Africa. In Nakuru, members of the Kikuyu tribe - the majority of which voted for President Mwai Kibaki -- are hunting down members of the Kalenjin and Luo tribes. The opposite is occurring in the hinterlands, where tens of thousands of Kikuyus have been driven away. One of the ways to identify the individual warring ethnic groups is by their preferred methods of killing. The Kikuyus usually hack their victims to death with pangas. The Kalenjin and the Luo -- most of whom supported opposition leader Raila Odinga in the election -- fight with bows and arrows.
One by one, Kenya's cities are being drawn into an escalating vortex of violence. The death toll has already shot well above 1,000. In Nairobi, unknown assailants murdered Mugabe Were, a member of parliament from defeated presidential candidate Odinga's opposition party. Three-hundred-thousand people are currently fleeing the violence throughout Kenya. The economic damages have been beyond calculation for a long time now. According to the umbrella organization of Kenyan trade unions, half a million people have lost their jobs. Meanwhile, tourists are staying away from the country's main tourist centers on the coast and in the national parks.
Awakening Older Rivalries
The immediate cause of the current fighting was the manipulated presidential election of Dec. 27 of last year. But the conflict in the Rift Valley dates back much further, to the British colonial era, when white settlers seized Kenya's fertile highlands, where they developed tea plantations and displaced the Kalenjin from their traditional homeland. When Kenya gained its independence in 1963, the whites left the country and the estates were re-allotted to Africans.
The Kikuyus, who make up more than 20 percent of the population, were already the country's most prosperous ethnic group at the time. Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first president, took steps to ensure their economic well-being. Since then, the Kikuyus have dominated Kenyan politics and business. They began settling in the Rift Valley in the 1960s. These settlement activities have infuriated the Kalenjin, who feel that they are being cheated out of their land for a second time.
News of the rigged election had hardly become known before the hunt for Kikuyus began in the region surrounding Eldoret. About 30 women and children were burned alive after having taken refuge in a church. The massacre prompted many Kikuyus to swear revenge, and armed Kikuyu militias soon appeared in the Rift Valley. It was the beginning of a deadly conflict that has since spread throughout Kenya. Large parts of the country have already spun out of control. Gangs have set up roadblocks everywhere, dragging members of rival ethnic groups from their cars and killing them.
In Timboroa, a town north of Nakuru, the ruins of torched houses are still smoldering. Sarah Waithera Wamuli feels her way gingerly through red-hot embers. This is where her house stood just yesterday. A mob of 200 people surrounded the house in the middle of the night, shouting: "Get out! We're going to kill you now!" Wamuli grabbed her six children and ran outside. The building went up in flames a short time later. Four neighbors died in the attack.
Many Tries at Peace, Many Failures
All current efforts to resolve the conflicts have so far been unsuccessful. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the first to leave Kenya empty-handed. He was followed by President John Kufuor of Ghana, who is also the current chairman of the African Union, and even former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's efforts to mediate have been relatively unsuccessful.
Annan managed to bring together Kibaki and his challenger Odinga for a meeting. But the two rivals had barely shaken hands before Kibaki, seemingly unimpressed by the event, declared himself the country's "properly elected president." A fresh round of negotiations began on Tuesday, and Annan warned it would be much tougher.
It's another 63 kilometers (39 miles) to Eldoret. Trucks are backed up for miles before the town of Burnt Forest. "They beat three drivers to death," says a trucker. Nearby, the bodies of two dead villagers lie on the ground. They were not killed by militias but by the police, when a special unit stormed into town earlier in the day. The two dead men, John Ekai and his son Daniel, failed to get away quickly enough.
Four police officers ordered the two men to kneel on the ground and then shot them from close range in the head. The bullets are still lying in the sand next to the bodies. "We will get our revenge for this," vows Fred Yego, a neighbor. "Now we will attack the Kikuyu refugee camp and kill everyone."
No one in the raging mob seems to care that the refugees living in makeshift tents a few hundred meters down the road are mostly women and children. "It doesn't make any difference to us," Yego says. "We don't distinguish between civilians, police officers or militias anymore. Every Kikuyu is our enemy."
No Place to Run, No Place to Hide
Twenty-five kilometers (16 miles) away from Eldoret, in the town of Cheptiret, a truck is burning in the road. The body of the driver lies on the roadside about 100 meters from his truck. He had attempted to flee. The large stones used to beat him to death lie on the ground near his body.
A group of Kalenjin is gathered around the corpse, chanting a fighting song. "We are only protecting ourselves," says Reverend Daniel Rugut. "We have heard that Kikuyu gangs are on their way here to kill us."
Suddenly his words are interrupted as two army attack helicopters approach at a low altitude. As their machine guns open fire and bullets whip across the road, the pastor barely makes it to safety. He hides beneath a truck and prays.
Eldoret itself is also in turmoil. Residents carrying their belongings are flooding out of the city on foot or in fully loaded cars to the sound of blaring horns. A disturbing piece of news has shot through the city like a brushfire: David Too, an opposition party member of parliament from Eldoret, has been shot, allegedly by a traffic policeman. Too's bullet-riddled body lies in the basement of the Mao University Hospital, his gray suit and red tie covered with blood.
A few hundred Kikuyu refugees from the surrounding area have been camped out near the police station in the city's downtown for weeks. The police busy themselves with setting up additional machine-gun posts and roadblocks in anticipation of reprisals from the angry mob.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan