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Kenya's Post-Election Violence Kills Hundreds


Kenya's president has already been sworn in for a new term, but that has not stopped the violence that followed his reelection. Critics say the contest was rigged and that led to an explosion of tribal violence in which hundreds of people have been killed.

NPR's Gwen Thompkins is in a western Kenyan town that faced an especially stark incident. And Gwen, what happened?

GWEN THOMPKINS: Well, yesterday at about noon, just outside of the town called Eldoret, many people who had been pushed off their land because of ethnic conflict stemming from the election were burned to death in the church - the Assemblies of God Church - by a mob. The church had been burned to the ground and there are about 13 bodies that have been taken out of the church so far. Their bodies that have burned beyond recognition. About four bodies have been found in houses in the surrounding area - people who apparently fled from the church and died in the houses.

INSKEEP: And so where are you right now?

THOMPKINS: I'm at a hospital in Eldoret, actually, where many of the people who were injured in the church fire were taken. And this is a very strange time for western Kenya, a very strange time for Eldoret. When we were out of the church, - I mean this is in the middle of sort of an agricultural area - there are farms everywhere, all sorts of cane fields everywhere. But there are no people. Everyone seems to have evaporated. They've been pushed off their land and they've been clustering at hospitals and at churches and at schools.

I just talked to a woman who refused to give her name, but she told me that at the church where she had gone to look for safety, that the minister actually separated the displaced people by ethnic group. And she's very concerned that her ethnic group, the Kikuyu - this is the group of the president, Mwai Kibaki - will be targeted later on today because they have been singled out.

INSKEEP: And I suppose we should mention we have a president from one ethnic group, a challenger from another ethnic group, and it's the dispute between them that seems to have turned this into ethnic violence. But Gwen, you told us before this election that it's common in Kenya, every five years you have an election and there is sometimes violence associated with it. Has this gone beyond the normal in Kenya?

THOMPKINS: Yes and no. You know, ethnic violence is, you know, a reality here. In 1992 and in the 1997, during the election periods, many, many, many people died and many people were pushed off their land. And the land disputes that stemmed from those spasms of violence are still troubling the waters here among the ethnic groups in Kenya.

So during this recent campaign there are all sorts of difficulties in places like the Rift Valley and places like western Kenya. But somehow, you know, these land disputes are informed by the political rivalry that's going on between the president, Mwai Kibaki, and the challenger, Raila Odinga, who is a very, very popular candidate and whose stronghold is western Kenya.

INSKEEP: But has this gone beyond the violence of previous election cycles?

THOMPKINS: It appears to be on par. Obviously there was a coup attempt in Kenya in the early 1980s. There was the ethnic violence in 1992 and 1997. You know, the numbers are comparable in terms of deaths. But what seems different about this period is that absolutely no one has any idea of what's going to happen next.

Back in 1992 and 1997, people assumed that once these elections were over, then the violence would go away - and it did, Steve. But this time around, this is a totally different situation in the sense that the election has happened, the results announced, the president has taken the oath of office, and yet the country remains at a standstill.

INSKEEP: NPR's Gwen Thompkins is in western Kenya. Thanks very much, Gwen.

THOMPKINS: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Gwen Thompkins
Gwen Thompkins hosts Music Inside Out on WWNO in New Orleans.
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