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Kiambaa Kenyans Reflect on Past Election Violence

Members of the Kikuyu and Kalenjin tribes are seen gathering for a peace meeting in Eldoret, Kenya, in this June 27, 2009, file photo.

Members of the Kikuyu and Kalenjin tribes are seen gathering for a peace meeting in Eldoret, Kenya, in this June 27, 2009, file photo.

Five years ago during election-related violence in Kenya, young people brutally attacked and burned a church in Kiambaa - which housed ethnic Kikuyus who fled from their farms and houses. Today, on the eve of another election, locals remembered the tragedy at a church service.

Worshipers sang at Kiambaa Church in Eldoret, in the Rift Valley region of Kenya. It was here in early 2008 when young men from the Kalenjin and Kikuyu tribes fought around the church, which housed hundreds of people who had fled their homes during the initial post-election violence.

According to some of the witnesses and survivors, about 200 Kikuyu men tried to defend their women and children inside the church.

After more than an hour fighting, they say the Kikuyu men were overpowered by more than 1,000 Kalenjin youths who were attacking the church from all directions.

Anne Mwangi, now 44, is one of the people in the church who survived that day with her four children.

She says when she escaped the church the attackers grabbed her hand and said they were trying protect her while she looked for her children. She says when she reached the gate, she was shocked when she saw an old man hacked to death with an axe.

Peter Mwangi is the son of the man who hacked to death that day. Mwangi says he and his father were among the people who tried to fight back and defend their families being attacked inside the church.

The father of two says when they were overpowered he and other young men tried to run to the main road to call for help.

He says it took two hours for the police to arrive and chase the attackers away. After that, he says they saw their people had been burned to death in the church and some killed outside.

Lingering fears

In this election the political landscape is different as Kikuyu and Kalenjin are united in the Jubilee alliance.

But for Peter Mwangi, the grief of his loss then is as real as his fear today. He says he could not go back to point out where his father was killed because of possible reprisals from some of his neighbors.

He says the locals are from different tribes, and some of his neighbors are not good people. He says he fears they will think he is giving out information on the attackers and it is best not to speak about it.

Paul Karanja is a pastor in the new church, built 10 meters from where the original church was burned down. He says this community did not get enough help from the police following the last elections and there is little faith the response will be better if there is election violence again.

“We thought policemen could help [protect] us from the attacks, although they did not. Houses were burned when police were there. They were just shooting up [in the air], but they were doing nothing else…”

Human-rights organizations have also raised concerns about the ability of the Kenyan police to handle possible election-related violence. But security officials have assured Kenyans this time that they are ready and up to the task.

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