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Violence planned before poll, says report

Violence planned before poll, says report

Story by SAM KIPLAGAT
Publication Date: 3/18/2008

Details of how militia groups planned and attacked people during the post-election violence were revealed yesterday.

In Eldoret attacks on Kikuyu homes were planned by local leaders. 

Mr Ben Rawlence, a researcher with Human Rights Watch addresses the press in Nairobi yesterday during the release of the report on the post-election violence. Photo/ANTHONY OMUYA

As one Kalenjin elder present at organising meetings explained to Human Rights Watch: “[The elders] said that if there is any sign that Kibaki is winning, then the war should break … They were coaching the young people how to go on the war [sic].”  

A young Kikuyu involved in reprisal attacks on Luos in Naivasha also pointed to the role of local leaders in organising the violence. 

“This was not done by ordinary citizens, it was arranged by people with money; they bought the jobless like me. We need something to eat each day,” he told the human rights group.

The human rights group says even before President Kibaki was officially declared the winner, parts of the province erupted in widespread inter-ethnic violence. 

The report says the delays in the counting of votes and rampant rumours about the imminent rigging of the election sparked attacks primarily directed at members of the Kikuyu ethnic group. 

The report titled Ballots to Bullets says in Eldoret Town, many Kalenjin politicians stoked ethnic tensions to mobilise political support among their kinsmen, a tactic, the report says, is familiar to Kenyan politics. 

Citing one of many typical examples, it is reported that a rally in the Soy area in Uasin Gishu District heard that, if elected, a certain party would “remove the roots” of particular communities “so there would be only one tribe there.” The Kikuyu were commonly referred to as “snake.”

“They did not see the repercussions of this,” says the report.

Largely as a result of this ethnic rhetoric, many locals, the report adds,  believed that once elected, their party would find a way to redistribute most or all land owned by the people considered outsiders.

“Human Rights Watch interviewed several leaders involved in anti-Kikuyu violence who said they were merely doing by force what they had been denied a chance to do through the ballot box,” the report states.

FM stations were also accused of echoing such words and being used as a platform for inflammatory ethnic rhetoric. 

“There is no clear evidence that the same stations actively sought to disseminate hate speech, but that did not prevent guests from using the airwaves to do so. Language was usually highly idiomatic, but its meaning was clear to the audience.” 

The lobby says divisive campaigning did not by itself cause existing ethnic tensions to boil over into violence. But in the days prior to the election, local elders in many communities around Eldoret called meetings where they declared that electoral victory for President Kibaki would be the signal for “war” against local Kikuyu. 

“They told community members a PNU victory should be seen as conclusive proof of electoral fraud and that all Kikuyu were complicit in it,” says the report, that also claims many people were coerced into attending attack-related meetings. 

Intimidation

“In several communities people who did not attend the meetings were threatened with the destruction of their own homes. And at the meetings, an atmosphere of intimidation made it very difficult to speak out in opposition to the planned violence,” the report says. 

Tensions over land ownership the report says, have long been a source of mistrust and violence around Eldoret. Those tensions were exacerbated by the sharp ethnic lines drawn between opposing camps during the 2007 electoral campaign. 

After the initial attacks, the reports adds, there was a series of ethnic-based reprisal attacks in other parts of the country, targeting other ethnic communities seen as broadly supportive of the opposition. 

“In some areas, residents attempted to make a stand and defend their homes. These attempts were mostly unsuccessful. In most cases, the attackers were many and organized and easily overwhelmed the small number of farmers who sought to resist them,” says the group.

It adds: “In at least one case, groups of those under siege carried out brutal reprisal attacks during the initial bout of post-election chaos. On the evening of December 31 in Langas, an Eldoret neighbourhood populated primarily by the Kikuyu, the mobs killed and beheaded several Luos and left their severed heads lying on the road.”

As displaced people fled south from Eldoret towards the towns of Molo, Nakuru, and Naivasha in the southern Rift Valley and into Central Province, the traditional territory of the Kikuyu, they brought with them brutal stories of burning, looting, rape and murder. 

Their stories, Human Rights Watch says, helped to stoke tensions among their kinsmen in these other towns. Local leaders and the Kikuyu elite there and in Nairobi reacted by organising to contribute money for “self-defence” forces, it says.

The group however found no evidence directly implicating the top ODM leadership in these events. 

However, all the victims, it says, blamed a particular MP for the 
attacks because of his strong rhetoric prior to the election. The report says that in mid to late January nearly all people interviewed in Rift Valley said the fight would have ended if the particular leader had ordered a stop.

The group says the total killed during the clashes in Naivasha was 41. It says 23 were burned to death, including 13 children. Seven victims were shot dead by police and the rest killed with machetes. 

It adds that there were four victims of forced male circumcision treated at the hospital, all of whom survived.

Mungiki leaders

On revenge, the group accuses traders and politicians. 

“Before the revenge attacks, the town of Nakuru had escaped the violence that had engulfed much of the Rift Valley. Although the surrounding countryside was deeply affected, especially by the long-running conflicts in Kuresoi and around Molo, Nakuru town had been quiet. That changed on January 24.”

“Mungiki leaders told how local businessmen and politicians met at a local hotel on January 24 to organise themselves,” the report says.

Nakuru Provincial Hospital confirmed that the victims of the clashes were from all ethnic groups. The hospital’s mortuary reported 56 deaths, while the municipal mortuary recorded 105 separate deaths.

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About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.

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