Gangs of youths armed with machetes and iron bars roamed Kenya’s Rift Valley towns at the weekend in an orgy of violence that left at least 69 dead as tribal clashes continued.
Plumes of smoke rose into the air from the pretty lakeside town of Naivasha yesterday. Tourists had to be evacuated under police escort.
The killings bring the death toll since December’s disputed elections to 800 and highlight the difficult task facing Kofi Annan as he tries to haul Kenya out of its worst crisis since independence. The former UN Secretary-General spent yesterday with Raila Odinga, the main opposition leader, trying to draft an agenda for talks that will be acceptable to both sides.
Lord Malloch-Brown, Britain’s Minister for Africa, is also due in Nairobi today and hopes to hold talks with Mr Odinga and President Kibaki.
The bloodshed inched across the Rift Valley ever closer to Nairobi, the capital. Gangs from the Kikuyu tribe – members of the same ethnic group as the President – descended on Naivasha, a neat town once favoured by Kenya’s British colonial elite. Today it is popular with tourists and expatriates on weekend breaks from Nairobi, 55 miles to the southeast.
The gangs barricaded the main road before rooting out members of Mr Odinga’s Luo tribe in a frenzy of murder. “We have moved out to revenge the deaths of our brothers and sisters who have been killed, and nothing will stop us,” said Anthony Mwangi.
Many of the attackers were thought to be from the feared Mungiki sect, a cult-like criminal gang responsible for dozens of murders in the past year. Witnesses counted five charred bodies, three others that had been hacked to death and a policeman who was shot accidentally by a colleague.
Tourists at nearby lodges were ordered to stay inside before being driven back to Nairobi with armed escorts. “We went out for a horse ride in the morning and then were planning to drive down to the lake but when we got back we could see the smoke rising from Naivasha and the police came to evacuate us,” said one.
Police eventually managed to regain control yesterday evening, firing teargas and live rounds. More than 250,000 people have been forced from their homes by ethnic clashes that erupted after President Kibaki was sworn in. His Kikuyu tribe – long envied for their economic and political power – have borne the brunt of the violence as old scores are settled.
Mr Annan toured some of the trouble spots on Saturday. He said that he had seen systematic abuse of human rights and admitted that much of the violence was rooted in land disputes. “Let’s not kid ourselves this is an electoral problem,” he said. “This is much broader.”