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Kenya Update from fr. Kevin Kraft, OP
Stories of Terrorized Families and Ethnic

Kevin Kraft
Kevin Kraft, OP

KISUMU, KENYA, January 27, 2008 -- All has been quiet in Kisumu these last few days, but it seems clearer and clearer that the entire country is coming apart at the seams. The post-election violence has now revealed itself as having not so much or nothing at all to do with the election results, and everything to do with historic disputes & grievances (real or imagined) between tribes, personal vendettas, generalized lawlessness, and just plain inhumanity to one’s fellow man/woman/child.

There continue to be new and even bigger outbreaks of violence in different parts of the country, but especially in the Nairobi slums and large portions of the Rift Valley (which is a wide north-south swath of the country between here and Nairobi). The formerly peaceful town of Nakuru just erupted in an unusual scale of violence even in comparison with the rioting in other parts of the country in the last 3-4 weeks. In just 2 days of clashes, house-burnings and attacks, nearly 50 people were left dead (a Catholic priest among them, dragged from a vehicle, stoned to death and then hacked) and well over 100 injured. In Nakuru alone this weekend there are some 4,000 new refugees (even as the government is trying to push people out of the refugee camps in Nairobi and back to their homes, sometimes non-existent!). In the quiet little town of Naivasha, the venue of Sudan peace talks only a few years ago, was today the scene of extraordinary violence: the nightly news spoke of some 20 persons burned alive in their houses. The army was finally called in Nakuru and then Naivasha to get into action to protect the refugees, and it was all they could do to keep the people fleeing from being attacked; they were unable to prevent the attackers from burning all the belongings they’d left behind. A dusk-to-dawn curfew is in effect in Nakuru since Friday, in order to control the mob attacks, and road traffic to Nairobi from Western Kenya is cut off.

A Trappist Monastery Surrounded by Mob

"If Kenya descends into chaos, the entire East African Community will suffer greatly..."

There’s a Trappist monastery way up in the hills 2-3 hours from here (Kipkelian) where we made our pre-novitiate and pre-profession retreat with the ‘new’ and ‘old’ novices the first week in August 2007. There was at that time a divine silence and solitude on the monastery grounds, and the cultivated hillsides all around provided a beautiful, peace-filled environment. But by last Saturday they had received 600 refugees seeking safety in the monastery property because there had been dozens of house-burnings on all sides. Then, late Saturday evening or Sunday morning, there was a group of an estimated 1,500 youths surrounding the monastery, threatening to burn the whole place down if the refugees were not ‘handed over’. The superior of the community made frantic calls to the police for protection; two people were killed, hacked to death as they tried to escape from the marauding youths (I presume in face of the growing threat and before police arrived). Fortunately the police arrived in time and dispersed the crowd before a large-scale massacre occurred. Today’s paper said that yesterday another group of youths, estimated in the hundreds, tried once again to attack the refugees in the monastery with petrol bombs and crude weapons, but were again repelled by the police, but not before they had burned down two outer buildings on the monastery grounds. The superior is begging for a more effective protection for the refugees before something worse befalls them. And yesterday they were supposed to have the solemn profession of one of their brothers! I wonder if they postponed the profession, or if he made his lifetime commitment in the face of threats to the security of the entire monastery and the valiant option of the monks to offer assistance to so many, even when it involves clear risks for themselves.

Families Burned out of Homes

Here’s a story that helped me to realize the extent of the inhumanity of the violence, this from another part of the country (bordering on the Rift Valley, near Kitale). Raphael, Catholic student’s association chairman at Maseno University where we celebrate Mass weekly, and one of our priests is chaplain, is staying with us for a few days. I innocently asked how he was, if he was going home till school began, and his story spilled out as we stood at the door to the kitchen. He was at his home over Christmas break and for the elections. At 10:00 PM on Dec. 30th, five hours after the election results were announced, his family was preparing for night prayers together, when the dogs all started barking. A couple of them went outside to see what the problem was, and they were met by a gang of about 20 people armed with machetes and petrol, coming at them. His father was struck several times in the head by a machete, and on his legs and feet. They tried the best they could to get back into the house, presuming it would be safer there. The father collapsed onto a mattress (I’m not sure whether inside or outside the house). At any rate, the attackers proceeded to douse the front of the house with petrol and set it ablaze, and even did so with the mattress on which his father lay (unconscious?). Raphael, when he realized they were setting the house afire, and the mob was out front, quickly managed to escape with his sister (and mother?) through the back of the house, ripping open a screen (Many Kenyan houses have only one door). His father somehow managed to react in the face of the flames (he sustained burns on one leg), and began crawling off the burning mattress, whereupon one of the attackers prepared to hit him again and ‘finish him off’, but another person in the gang said (in sarcasm, or as a ploy to save his life?) “Leave him, he’s already dead!” Raphael says: “Thanks to that remark, my father is alive today.” (He also said “only by the grace of God are we all still alive.”) The whole family managed to escape, and spent at least that night hiding in the woods or fields, as Raphael did for much of the first week. They were able to get his parents out of town and to Nairobi, where they are staying with relatives. He has gone back to the farm, because they had a whole stand of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, which he hoped to save from destruction, by hiring a Turgen watchman to guard them. Their home is no more.

Raphael’s family lived in that place for 40 years, and he and his siblings were all born, raised and schooled there. Having read some testimonies of the Rwandan genocide, I asked Raphael if he recognized any of the mob attacking them, and he said “Oh yes, some of them were our neighbors: on this side, on the other side, in the back… I schooled together with some of them. But we couldn’t say their names or even acknowledge we knew them, or it would’ve gone worse for us.”! So, there’s a young man who has suffered the loss of his home at the hands of some of the people he grew up with, who not only torched their home, but tried to kill his whole family without warning or provocation, and he spoke today at the Maseno Mass about love of each other being the only way out, the only solution to the grave ills of the country.

Roving Gangs Block Roads, Bus Driver Acts with Courage

Raphael gave me a whole different perspective on the roadblocks, too. He said that those who set up the illegal roadblocks demand to see people’s ID cards, and anybody with a Kikuyu name (second names are clearly identifiable by tribe) would be killed. I remembered reading some two weeks ago about a bus with 50 passengers that narrowly escaped a massacre of the same sort. The bus was on an alternative route after heeding warnings about roadblocks on the main route and the primary alternate route. Even on this second alternative, they ran into a roadblock, for which the driver stopped to speak with the band which had placed the obstacles in the road. They demanded that the passengers alight “with ID cards in hand”. The bus driver realized that if he were to open the door and let people out, maybe half of them would be killed on the spot. So he made a snap prudential decision to gun it and run over the stones, even at the risk of overturning the bus, rather than let half of his passengers face a certain death at the hands of those thugs. A stone came through the windshield and people started screaming inside the bus, but he managed to get away. That was not the end of the ordeal: the same bus came across another 10-15 roadblocks further on the same road, which the driver chose to run at high speed, sustaining a pelting of rocks but managing to pass, before coming up short against one with telephone poles and big iron drums, which he could in no way run through. The driver stopped about 100 meters from the roadblock, and its gang of assailants started coming toward the bus. At that moment screams were mixed with prayers in the bus as the passengers, already thoroughly traumatized, thought that their end had come. The driver and passengers said that it was really “a miracle” that at that precise moment police in two Land Rovers arrived on the scene and dispersed the gang of would-be assassins.

They were escorted to the local chief’s compound, where they spent the night under police protection, and the next day were escorted to Nairobi, with one police vehicle in front of them and another behind them. By the time they reached Nairobi, the bus was little more than a shell, but the 50 passengers were all alive, with only light injuries! The passengers considered their driver a hero, which indeed he was!

So, what had seemed to me to be mainly a danger to the vehicles, or personal danger due to indiscriminate violence from angry mobs (obviously not anything to be underestimated in itself!), is for Kenyans from certain ethnic groups a man-hunt which almost certainly would cost their life if they were caught in it.

About now there’s a growing consensus in the different sectors nationally and even internationally, that the violence which has been unleashed in the country, even if it was sparked off by the last stages of the electoral process, has now gone far beyond it, often has little or nothing to do with it, and may even have been prepared months before the election, no matter what the election results. It seems that Kenya is on the brink of generalized violence that could sink it into civil war or ethnic genocide, or at least a vicious cycle of localized ethnic violence and revenge in escalating form. There are already cases of revenge burnings or killings by the victims of the first wave of violence, and police are now hard pressed to contain, no longer violent demonstrations against the present government, but clashes between ethnic groups that had lived peacefully together for years. Even the refugees can continue in danger there where they are sheltered, as the Trappist monastery case cited above shows.

I can see that Kenya has sadly entered the “numbers game” of reporting deaths by the units and tens (with totals over 600 in less than a month!) and internally displaced persons by the thousands and tens of thousands (with totals over 200,000). It’s the same thing I saw in Peru during the years of terrorism and military repression. People became numbers, and then the entire country became used to seeing figures of those killed. “How many were killed in such and such a place?” “It’s peaceful; only 2 deaths. Now that’s really bad: 50 dead in two days.” Here we are getting used to seeing figures of thousands of internally displaced people in showgrounds, churches and police stations. Schools are not opening (Maseno Univ. has been postponed 3 months, for fear of what the students might do if they all came together at this volatile time). Businesses are crippled, tourism is decimated, transportation is a touch-and-go matter depending on the place and the particular foci of violence any given day, which ends up driving up the prices of everything and making certain basic goods scarce (& encourages speculation)…

One bit of heartening (if poignant) news, from today’s paper: in the Eldoret agricultural showgrounds, home now to I don’t know how many thousands of displaced people, a primary school has officially opened in tents put up by Unicef, with over 1,000 primary level students, all from among the displaced. The article featured the newly created school’s principal (duly recognized by the local education district), who is himself among the displaced, as are the 47 teachers they’ve gleaned from among the refugee population, coming from many different schools and neighborhoods. They have a huge challenge, with limited materials, congested quarters, and the psychological burden the children carry, but they are determined to help the children through school in the showgrounds’ refugee camp, in order to make their life a little bit more like normal, and help them to adjust as school-age children.

Hopefully the “eminent African persons’” negotiating team led by ex-UN Gen. Secr. Kofi Annan, which seems to have begun very well and to be proceeding on a sure path, can succeed in resolving the current political crisis, in order to address the now much more serious problem of the national disintegration. In fact, it’s not only a national problem anymore: Uganda, Rwanda and Sudan are all highly dependent upon goods brought from / through Kenya, upon having a stable, peaceful neighbor, and a stable spot in the region. If Kenya descends into chaos, the entire East African Community will suffer greatly.

So, pray for us! We’ve decided to postpone the postulants’ arrival by a month, until March 1st, and we still have most of the kids (about 60) boisterous and somewhat bored on the compound, so we’re actually starting to give them classes here, to help them to get back into the rhythm of school, and to make amends for the part of the school year they’re missing.

Love, in the Lord of life and death, Kevin


Kevin Kraft, OP


Reports from Kevin Kraft:

January 28, 2008
January 27, 2008

Novitiate in Exile

Katie Erisman, MMS

A SPECIAL EYE WITNESS REPORT on Violence in Kenya from Dominican Friars

Why Is Kenya Bleeding?

Bert Ebben, OP (St. Martin)

Who are the Dominicans in Kenya?

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