Kenya burning

The Buzz | The European Union says it has evidence of vote rigging in elections narrowly decided for President Mwai Kibaki. With opposition riots and tribal clashes killing hundreds, Kenyans fear: Could we be the next Rwanda?

Issue: "The plots thicken," Jan. 12, 2008

LONDIANI, KENYA- I am writing while in our church with about 50 others seeking refuge. When I walk outside the church door, I can see a bright red glare of houses burning in a nearby village. The young men from Kalenjin villages have banded together to burn the homes of the Kikuyu. About two miles away-also a Kikuyu village-I can see the glow of its burning on the southwestern horizon.

On Saturday the locals began complaining of vote rigging. Arguments occurred as friends on different sides debated. Opposition supporters complained, "Kibaki has stolen votes." President Mwai Kibaki's supporters taunted the opposition, telling them that Kibaki was ahead. Supporters of opposition candidate Raila Odinga exclaimed, "We will never allow Kibaki to win."

Youths set tires on fire in the middle of a road, and people began to fear for their homes and even lives. Everyone wondered about the results, listened carefully to radio or television, and told their neighbors the latest news.

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By Saturday night reports of tension in Londiani town came by phone. Residents stayed outside the entire night, fearing that their houses would be torched. Crowded around a TV or radio on Sunday, they anxiously awaited the results, passing along reports of the opposition's skirmishes with the Electoral Commission of Kenya. Tempers flared over vote rigging. Immediately following the announcement of the results that Kibaki had won, chaos broke out.

Startled by screams and cries, villagers rushed to safety. Kalenjin youths, who supported Odinga's ODM party, blocked the road leading from Londiani to the Kikuyu villages. Brandishing machetes and stones, they threatened anyone daring to pass. Mercy Chepng'etich, a survivor of the tribal clashes after the 1992 general elections, said she was "reminded of how awful it was in 1992."

For a time cell phones failed and many worried about their family members in other parts of the country. At Scriptural Holiness Mission, one block from rioting Kalenjin youths, the people turned wholeheartedly to God. The youth cried out in prayer for protection and peace, read scripture and worshiped God. Even as some slept quietly, less than five miles away, Kalenjin youths burned a village.

On Dec. 31 after hearing the news of local violence, residents started calling their friends and family to see if they were safe. Most said it was very bad but they were safe at the moment. Locals ran out of credit for their phones, and with shops closed had no way to buy more. A young man named Owino Owano reported that he was stranded when the train he was on was forced to stop outside of Kisumu. He spent the night in a stranger's home and went without food the next day while waiting for the train, which never came.

As the sun began to sink, fear rose again: "The Kalenjin boys are planning to burn Farmers village-be on guard," came one report.

"The forest guards have been sent to town to maintain peace there."

"The electricity just went out."

Just before dark, fire glared a short distance away. Houses were on fire. Soon the sky was ablaze. Frantic phone calls confirmed that the Kalenjin youths were burning the Kikuyu homes in Farmers.

At Scriptural Holiness Mission residents again found refuge, where they began singing songs to drown out the screams of people whose homes were torched. At one point, four fires were visible from outside the church. The fires died down by 10 p.m., but mid-morning on Tuesday, Jan. 1, someone spotted smoke in the distance. Youths numbering between 200 to 500 were finishing the job started the night before.

By Tuesday afternoon, four Kikuyu villages lay in ruins. Families hid in the woods, with one young man dead and two others severely wounded. Across the country at least 300 were killed in riots and 100,00 displaced. Now Kalenjins wonder if the Kikuyu will retaliate for the destruction. When will the uncertainty and terror end? -Sarah Clark is a writer living in Kenya

Looking ahead

News to watch in the weeks to come

1/13 - Golden Globe Awards: When the red carpet is rolled out in Hollywood, will there be any stars to shill for the camera? A writers' strike puts the status of the Golden Globes in question. Officials say the show must go on, but the union vows to picket the event.

1/15 - Second session of 110th Congress opens: The Senate will step directly into a hot political fight over civil liberties and eavesdropping on terrorists after delaying action until January on a bill to replace the temporary law that allowed the government to eavesdrop without a court's approval.

1/16 - Mideast tour: President George Bush returns from travel to Israel, the West Bank, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. When the president meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a U.S. listed terrorist organization, are expected to participate in the protection of Bush's convoy.

1/19 - South Carolina GOP primary, Nevada caucus: The winners in Iowa and New Hampshire will battle for the first Southern state while slow starter Rudy Giuliani hopes to survive this day and march triumphant to Super Tuesday, Feb. 5.

1/19-27 - Detroit's North American International Auto Show: New enviro-friendly cars from Detroit's Big Three automakers may play well to the hometown crowd, but plenty of scribes will be watching for China to break into the U.S. car market. Two years ago, there was just one Chinese automaker at the international show. This year, five automakers will represent the Asian power.

1/20 - AFC/NFC championships: If the New England Patriots are still undefeated, they'll have a chance to break the 1972 Miami Dolphins streak of 17 regular- and post-season wins in one season on this day. But to win the Super Bowl, the Patriots will have to go 19-0.

1/22 - 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade: In 1973 the Supreme Court found a right to privacy in the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, making abortions legal nationwide. The result: roughly 50 million abortions performed in the United States since Roe became the law of the land. And new U.S. figures show the teen birth rate increased in 2006 for the first time in 14 years, and unmarried childbearing reached a new record high: 38.5 percent of all U.S. births.


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