WORLD

Blood and politics

A wave of vicious killings hits a troubled nation

JENNIFER GLASSE September 1 1997
WORLD

Blood and politics

A wave of vicious killings hits a troubled nation

JENNIFER GLASSE September 1 1997

Blood and politics

WORLD

KENYA

A wave of vicious killings hits a troubled nation

The ferocity of the initial attack shocked the Kenyan resort town of Mombasa. In suburban Likoni, where hundreds of tourists pass through each day on the way to the south coast beaches and resorts, up to 200 people armed with machetes, guns, knives and bows and arrows descended on the police headquarters and a small police trailer. Seven policemen and eight civilians were slaughtered, some shot with weapons and ammunition stolen from the police armory, others hacked to death. More attacks followed in Mombasa and neighboring towns through the week, taking the toll to at least 42 lives.

An hour up the coast in Malindi, where hawkers sell soapstone bowls, wooden carvings and other souvenirs, 400 stalls were reduced to ashes. German visitor Hermann Spangenberg stepped through the rubble, clutching a camera and looking dazed. “All the troubles were in Nairobi, Mombasa, Likoni, but not here,” he said. “Then overnight, the troubles came.” Although police emphasized that tourists were not targeted, travel operators said the sudden and mysterious violence had prompted many to cancel their bookings. Since tourism is Kenya’s biggest industry, earning $480 million annually, that was more bad news for a country already facing serious political and economic problems.

Most of the victims of the Mombasa violence were people who had migrated from outside the area, apparently killed by locals. The city has seen such violence before—in the lead-up to the last presidential election in 1992. “The reason for this attack I think is political,” said Catholic Archbishop John Njenge. “In other words, back to what happened in 1992, to najimboism.” That is the Swahili term for federalism. Hardliners have interpreted it to mean that only people from a given region should live and work there. In 1992, it sparked ethnic clashes that killed thousands. The movement reshaped the political landscape—and helped President Daniel arap Moi and his ruling KANU party win re-election.

Opposition and government leaders trad-

ed accusations of blame for the latest violence. But there is no doubt that this is also an election year in Kenya. After 19 autocratic years in office, Moi is standing for another five-year term. It was only in 1991 that he grudgingly allowed a multiparty system to operate in Kenya. The con-

stitution was also altered so that a winning presidential candidate had to get 25 per cent of the vote in five of Kenya’s eight provinces. Moi said it was done to ensure that no one tribe would dominate the country. But his critics say that since then, Moi has favored members of his own Kalenjin tribe with lucrative government jobs and contracts. Moi himself is reportedly one of the richest men in Africa, as are some of his ministers. Among the people, dissatisfaction with the government has reached unprecedented heights.

The International Monetary Fund has

taken a strict line with Kenya, suspending $205 million in low-interest loans on July 31 because the government had not done enough to clean up corruption and show financial accountability. The move sent the Kenyan shilling tumbling to new lows. IMF officials were particularly upset with the failure to prosecute a 1992 scandal in which the government paid more than $140 million in official compensation for gold and diamond exports, although Kenya has little gold and no known diamond reserves. An IMF delegation was due in Kenya this week to renegotiate the loan, but the message was clear: Kenya has to clean up its act.

The clamor for change is a recurring theme this year. Opponents of the government this spring began calling on Moi to change colonial-era laws that deny them, among other things, the right to assembly and equal access to the media. They also want the constitution changed to allow for a coalition government. Riots broke out over the issue in Nairobi on May 31, but Moi said there was no time for reforms before the election, due by the end of the year. In early July, opposition demonstrators were brutally dispersed by police and military units. More than a dozen people were killed in largely unprovoked attacks. Tear-gas wielding police entered Nairobi’s All Faiths Anglican cathedral and beat up worshippers inside the church and on its grounds. International pressure mounted. Canada leads a group of 22 countries pressing Moi to institute free and fair elections. In late July, the government announced it would change the laws that the opposition had targeted and promised to begin looking in„ to reforming the constitution. But I so far there have been no substan| five talks on reform, and a major £ coalition of opposition politicians, £ church leaders and human rights I activists said it would resume 8 mass demonstrations this week. “Many things are stacked against a free and fair election,” says Robert Shaw, a senior member of Safina, a party led by famed anthropologist Richard Leakey, which Moi has refused to register. “One way or another, the government will win.”

Late last week, Moi visited Mombasa on a previously scheduled trip. As he landed in his helicopter on a pristine golf course, he gave no indication anything was wrong, simply waving to the cordoned-off crowd. But whether he can wave off the rising discontent in his country is another question.

JENNIFER GLASSE