Machete-wielding youths hunt Kikuyus in Kenya

The death toll from Kenya's disputed presidential election soars over 800.

kenya riots 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
kenya riots 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Thousands of machete-wielding youths set buses and homes ablaze and blocked roads with burning tires Monday as they hunted down members of President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe. One driver was burned alive in his minibus because he was Kikuyu. The death toll from Kenya's disputed presidential election soared over 800. "The road is covered in blood. It's chaos," said Baraka Karama, a journalist for independent Kenya Television in Kisumu. A month of ethnic bloodletting triggered by rigged presidential elections gathered frightening momentum in Kenya, spreading from town to town in the western Rift Valley, scene of the worst clashes. There was no sign of relief from international mediators trying to persuade politicians to resolve the crisis that has erupted over Kibaki's re-election in Dec. 27 balloting that international and local observers say was marred by a rigged vote tally. Columns of smoke rose from burning homes in Kisumu. "We wish to find one, a Kikuyu .... We will butcher them like a cow," said David Babgy, 24, a casual worker among 50 young men stopping buses at a roadblock of burned cars and uprooted lamp posts. The only deaths reported there Monday, apart from the burned bus driver, were people shot by police whom human rights groups accuse of using excessive force. As youths set buses ablaze at Kisumu bus station Monday morning, police fired tear gas, then opened fire. A morgue attendant said one man whose body was brought in had been shot in the back of the head. A school cleaner was also hit and killed, by a stray bullet fired by a police officer, said Charles Odhiambo, a high school teacher. Fred Madanji, a petrol station attendant, said he saw two other "protesters" shot in the back and killed as they ran away from police Monday afternoon. In villages around Eldoret, Kalenjin youths used machetes to kill four Kikuyus and stoned two other to death, according to witnesses. A military helicopter tried to land at Cheptiret village but was prevented by youths who set grasslands ablaze. In Kakamega, on the edge of a wildlife preserve, gangs looted and set ablaze a downtown hotel and two wholesalers, the Rev. Allam Kizili of the Pentecostal Church said. Police fired tear gas to try to stop the violence, he said. There was no immediate word on casualties. The ethnic makeup of that violence was not clear. Monday in Naivasha, Kenya's flower-exporting capital on a freshwater lake inhabited by pink flamingoes, some 2,000 people from rival tribes faced off, taunting each other with machetes and clubs inset with nails. A handful of police holding a line between them periodically fired live bullets into the air. They retreated, only to regroup. British colonizers seized large tracts of land to cultivate fertile farms in the Rift Valley, traditionally home to the Kalenjin and Masai ethnic groups. After independence in 1963, President Jomo Kenyatta flooded reclaimed farmlands with his Kikuyu people, creating resentment that exists to this day. Kikuyus also are resented for their domination of politics and the economy, a success cemented by endemic corruption and patronage. The bloodshed has transformed this once-stable African country, pitting longtime neighbors against one another and turning tourist towns into no-go zones.