Violence paralyses western towns as political crisis deepens

Increasing violence and tension in several towns in western Kenya continue to hinder the provision of basic services such as health, education and transport, in addition to causing untold suffering to thousands of people displaced since the unrest began in late December.

Since 26 January, violence has paralysed Nakuru, the Rift Valley provincial capital, and Naivasha, in the same province. The violence spread on 28 January to Kisumu, Kakamega and Turbo, paralysing public transport and disrupting schools.

Jeanine Cooper, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Kenya, said: “I think we have hit a higher level of uncertainty in terms of humanitarian action and ability to respond,” adding that Nakuru and Naivasha had been considered “safe areas” and that the clashes there “raised the question of which other areas are really safe.

“We are working to improve the sharing of information so we are not left with situations we’ve seen such as a hospital running out of supplies or a camp that empties overnight.,” she told IRIN. 

“A solution in the political arena [between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga] is not necessarily going to address all the underlying issues, resolve the humanitarian crisis or end the violence.”

Thousands displaced

Anthony Mwangi, the public relations manager of the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), said on 28 January that the organisation was conducting an assessment of the situation in Naivasha, where tens of deaths have been reported.

"The number of those displaced is running into thousands; we can't give a figure because the displacement is still going on as Naivasha is still volatile today," Mwangi said.

He said KRCS was helping in the retrieval of bodies, ferrying the injured to hospitals and providing aid to the displaced, who have sought refuge at police stations and at the town's prison.

KRCS had reports of a resurgence in violence in Kakamega and Kisumu but the organisation had yet to establish the extent of the humanitarian fallout.

Hezron Makobewa, director of a Kisumu medical organisation, the OGRA Foundation, said on 28 January: "Kisumu is at a complete standstill today, all roads are barricaded and no-one can enter or leave the city. The events in Naivasha and Nakuru at the weekend seem to have ignited violence afresh here."

He said gangs of youth had barricaded roads, checking the identities of passers-by. "People are leaving their homes in droves but it is difficult to get out of town," Makobewa said.

He added that the gangs were using the barricading of the roads as a diversionary tactic. "While they engage the police at the road blocks, other gangs are moving door to door flushing out people who they beat up or even kill," he said.

Makobewa said the number of displaced in Kisumu had gone down to a few hundred but he feared the figure would rise drastically after the resurgence of the latest violence.

He added that parents were getting their children out of schools in fear.

A resident of Kisumu, who requested anonymity, said a gang had raided a local secondary school and a watchman was killed after the police were called in. He added that another man had been lynched at the local bus station.

Roads blocked

Near Turbo, a town on the Eldoret-Webuye road, residents said a trench measuring 1m deep and 1m wide had been dug on the road near a shopping centre known as Jua Kali. The road links the country to neighbouring Uganda.

"We are now cut off from Eldoret, and this has pushed up the price of most goods as no vehicle can get across the trench," a resident said.

In Kakamega town, the capital of Western Province, sources said 10 houses had been burnt and hundreds of displaced people had sought refuge in police stations. A hostel that used to cater for students at the nearby Western University was among the buildings razed to the ground.

According to government figures, the post-election violence has claimed the lives of at least 680 people and displaced another 255,000. However, the local media estimates that more than 1,000 people have died.

Violence erupted in parts of the country soon after the Electoral Commission of Kenya announced President Mwai Kibaki as winner of presidential elections held on 27 December 2007.

African Union-mandated mediation efforts, led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, are ongoing, with the team meeting various stakeholders.

The mediation team visited a number of sites for the displaced at the weekend in the Rift Valley province, most affected by the violence.