Weekend violence claims 90 lives
Published on January 28, 2008, 12:00 am
By Standard Team
Thirty more people were feared dead, bringing the toll of the weekend bloodletting to almost 90 as the epicentre of the violence shifted to Naivasha, 70km from the capital, Nairobi.
And in a chilling episode, at least 16 people — most of them women and children — were burnt to death in a house torched by attackers in Naivasha.
Meanwhile, the Kofi Annan-led team intensified efforts to find a solution to the crisis that is dangerously pushing the country towards civil war.
Last night, the mediation team was expected to release the terms of engagement for the talks. After meeting with the team of African Union eminent persons yesterday, ODM said it was hopeful of progress.
On Sunday evening, Annan met President Kibaki and briefed him on his visit to the violence-hit areas.
The President repeated that he was committed to dialogue, and urged all leaders to give the Annan initiative a chance.
In a statement by the Presidential Press Service, Kibaki said he was encouraged by Annan team’s efforts that led to a meeting with ODM leader, Mr Raila Odinga.
After yesterday’s hour-long meeting with Annan, ODM deputy leader, Mr Musalia Mudavadi, said: “We believe some measure of progress is imminent. We want a lasting solution.”
If the terms of engagement are agreeable to both sides, ODM and President Kibaki’s side will then proceed to appoint a team of three negotiators each and one additional member, who will act as the liaison between the warring parties.
In yesterday’s incident only comparable to that visited on victims sheltering at an Eldoret Church early this month, charred remains of the 16 victims were crammed in a small, two-room house, where — according to witnesses — they had locked themselves up to escape the wrath of bloodthirsty youths.
“When the attacks started, youths burnt the house, trapping them inside,” a resident said.
Another four were hacked to death as they fled from the marauding gangs targeting members of one community.
Others were killed and lynched after being fished out of public service vehicles on account of their tribe.
Policemen watched the unfolding chaos helplessly as Nairobi was temporarily cut-off from western Kenya.
Independent reports put the death toll in Naivasha at more than 20, but police confirmed only 10. The number could be higher as several people were reported missing.
In Nakuru, the death toll hit 60, with the number expected to rise as rival groups continued to clash. Witnesses said some of the attackers, believed to be members of the proscribed Mungiki sect, were armed with guns and wore police uniforms.
Fifty-five bodies are lying at the Nakuru Municipal Mortuary with five more yet to be collected from the town’s estates. The mortuary, with a capacity of 42, was stretched to the limit as bodies streamed in.
The number of those injured continued to rise and by yesterday evening, more than 100 victims were admitted to the Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital nursing arrow, cuts and bullet wounds.
Burning of houses continued in various estates as hundreds continued to flee their homes. Police and military officers patrolled the town and suburbs as the violence entered its third day yesterday.
Unconfirmed reports said a military chopper patrolling the town fired gunshots at Kwa Rhonda and Ng’ambo estates to scare away marauding youths torching houses.
However, Nakuru deputy OCPD, Mr Mathew Gwiyo, said military officers fired shots in Bahati of Nakuru North District to disperse youths armed with pangas, bows and arrows who were torching houses.
“The military choppers are assisting police with aerial surveillance and intervened when the situation got out of hand,” he said.
At Sewage Estate, police had a hard time controlling two armed groups from rival communities and had to fire several times in the air to disperse them.
Armed with pangas and other weapons, they mounted death traps at illegal roadblocks on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway, where they flushed out passengers from communities other than their own and lynched them.
During the skirmishes, a prison warder accidentally shot his colleague, part of a team sent to quell the violence. Houses were torched and property worth millions of shillings looted during the chaos that turned Naivasha town into a no-go zone.
The 16 people were burnt inside a two-room house at a residential plot in Kabati Estate, about 100 metres from the main highway, at about 1pm.
When The Standard team visited the scene, the house was still smouldering, with twisted metal bearing witness to the ferocity of the fire.
At least four bodies were strewn in open fields. A man was hacked to death at a cemetery. Another was stoned to death a stone throw away from the burnt house.
Two other bodies lay in shrubs where they were accosted as they fled. The main Nairobi-Nakuru highway was sealed off as passengers from targeted communities were flushed out of vehicles and attacked.
One man was plucked out of a matatu and beaten to death near the Heritage Hotel.
However, his colleague escaped with serious injuries and was later rescued by the police and rushed to a local hospital.
Kenya Army officers were called in to help restore calm and clear barricades on the road branching from the highway leading to Naivasha town.
Police provided armed transport to fleeing victims, now camped at the Naivasha Police Station. On the highway, they flagged down buses headed for Nairobi for people desperate to leave.
Western Kenya-bound passenger vehicles had to change route to reach their destinations.
Officials at bus companies Akamba and Easy Coach said they avoided the Nakuru route and their Nyanza and Western-bound buses took the Nairobi-Narok route.
One Easy Coach bus was intercepted at Naivasha and some passengers attacked.
Last night, tension was still high as some of the displaced people escaped to hills near the Naivasha Maximum Prison. There were also fears that workers from neighbouring flower plantations could be attacked when returning home.
Local MP, Mr John Mututho, attempted to calm down the youths, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. The Nakuru Catholic Bishop, Peter Kairo, was caught up in the chaos as he headed to a local church.
He was forced to disembark from his car and prayed for peace before he was allowed to proceed.
The irate youths then started destroying property, before proceeding to the main highway where they stopped vehicles and demanded to know the identity of motorists.
For hours, the highway was a no-gone zone as the youths searched car after another. After the chaos, the group then marched to Kabati Estate — as police watched from a distance — and moved from house to house flushing out men and women and hacking them to death.
Others took advantage of the situation to loot and torch the houses as war cries rent the air. On the highway, more cars were torched before the Kenya Army personnel intervened.
Later in the afternoon, an uneasy calm returned to the town with the Army and the police manning the streets as gun shots continued to be heard.
“Police should not take sides in this matter. Why are people being killed and robbed on the highways on their way to Western Kenya and yet the police are patrolling the roads?” Raila told The Standard by telephone.
“As a party, we are concerned about the state of insecurity,” said Mudavadi, adding: “Deployment of the military is not a good sign… Police and security agents should take the lead in quelling the unrests and not the military.”
The party also took issue with the cancellation of a prayer meeting that was scheduled for Eldoret yesterday. Mudavadi said: “There are belligerent entities in Government who do not want us to hold peaceful meetings.”
Eldoret North MP, Mr William Ruto, said: “Politics should not be turned into an ethnic contest. Politics is about policies, development and manifestos. We should create harmony and coexist.”
He added: “Many of the people who have been killed and admitted to hospitals have bullet wounds. The security forces should discharge their mandate professionally.”
The MP said political leaders must have the courage to make hard decisions, but also show humility and be able to listen and the wisdom to put all that together.
On their part, MPs from central Kenya told President Kibaki to take charge of and restore peace and order in clash-torn areas.
Tigania East MP, Mr Peter Munya, who led the MPs in making the call, said: “President Kibaki must take charge now and stop the killings of innocent people in Rift Valley. We demand that perpetrators be brought to book.”
They said the Government had not done enough to protect lives and property being destroyed by gangs.
Renowned scholar, Prof Ali Mazrui, said the international community should not relent and called on the African Union and the Commonwealth to suspend Kenya from their ranks.
“The AU has been more of an apologist for President Mugabe of Zimbabwe than a correction officer,” Mazrui, who is also the Chancellor of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, said.
Mazrui said Kenya’s reputation internationally has been tarnished and its stability compromised.