Attacks in Kenya 'Meticulously' Organized, Rights Group Says

By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, March 18, 2008

NAIROBI, March 17 -- Post-election attacks on villagers in Kenya's Rift Valley were often "meticulously" organized by local opposition leaders who called for "war" against people from President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu ethnic group, according to a detailed report released Monday by the advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

The report also describes killings of hundreds of opposition supporters by Kenyan police, especially in the slums of Nairobi and the opposition stronghold of Kisumu in western Kenya. In other instances, it says, police failed to use adequate force to protect people who came under attack by militias and gangs.

Based on 200 interviews with witnesses, police officers, politicians and others, the report also found evidence suggesting that senior government officials had been aware of planned reprisal attacks by Kikuyu gangs against opposition supporters in several western towns.

"This was not done by ordinary citizens, it was arranged by people with money," said one young man who took part in the revenge attacks, according to the report. "They brought the jobless like me."

Violence following Kenya's disputed Dec. 27 presidential election is estimated to have killed at least 1,000 people and displaced half a million, with most of the unrest taking place across the volatile Rift Valley, where successive Kenyan governments have failed to address long-standing grievances over land.

Although Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga struck a power-sharing deal last month aimed at ending the crisis, sporadic attacks have continued across the Rift Valley. Dozens of white-tented camps remain full of displaced people.

In many towns and villages, all the Kikuyus have been driven out, their farms and homes burned. Some local leaders have said that if the Kikuyus return, they will be attacked again.

According to the report, rhetoric that inspired the violence began during the campaign period. In one of many examples, a local opposition politician told his followers at a rally that if the opposition won, it would "remove the roots" of local Kikuyu communities "so there would be only one tribe there."

A spokesman for the opposition Orange Democratic Movement has said the party never condoned violence and cannot be held responsible for acts by its supporters. The report does not tie any national party leaders to the violence.

The report blames the crisis on a failure of Kenyan institutions, including the electoral commission, the judiciary and the police. People who admitted carrying out attacks in Rift Valley have said they lost faith in the ability of Kenyan institutions to address their grievances.

The report is harsh on Kibaki, who was elected with wide support in 2002 following the repressive two-decade rule of Daniel arap Moi. Kibaki promised a new constitution to create a better balance of power in the Kenyan government to deal with land-grabbing and corruption.

Instead, the report says, "one by one, those promises were abandoned by the Kibaki regime . . . while impunity and corruption became further entrenched."

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