Daniel Kibigo said he was there, hiding in the burned cornfields nearby, as the mob gleefully stuffed mattresses in front of the church’s doors and set them on fire.
He watched women try to claw their way out of the church windows as if they were drowning as the building burned all the way down, with up to 50 people inside.
“We couldn’t do anything; there were too many,” he said of the crowd that descended on the church in the paroxysm of ethnic violence that has gripped Kenya since its deeply flawed elections last week.
Within the span of a week, one of the most developed, promising countries in Africa has turned into a starter kit for disaster. Tribal militias are roaming the countryside with rusty machetes, neighborhoods are pulling apart, and Kenya’s economy, one of the biggest on the continent, is unraveling — with fuel shortages rippling across East Africa because the roads in Kenya, a regional hub, are too dangerous to use. Roadblocks set up by armed men, something synonymous with anarchic Somalia, have cropped up across the country, in towns on the savannah and in the cramped slums.
It was Kikuyus who were burned to death on Tuesday in the Kenya Assemblies of God church. The church was simple, made of mud and sticks, and about the size of a tennis court.
Over the weekend, several hundred Kikuyus sought refuge here. The election was on Thursday, and serious trouble started on Saturday, when the first signs of ballot rigging emerged. Members of the Luo and other tribes across Kenya, who had been encouraged by many pre-election polls to believe that Mr. Odinga would win the presidency, began to riot and lash out at Kikuyus as the news spread that Kikuyu government officials had turned in dubious election results.
In Nairobi, the slums exploded, with crowds hurling rocks at police officers and burning down Kikuyu businesses. In the Rift Valley, where the tawny veldt meets lush green farms, and mountains loom on both sides, Kalenjins and Luos began hunting down the outnumbered Kikuyus.
“As soon as we heard about the Kalenjins coming, we brought our people to the church,” said John Njorge, a Kikuyu. “A church is supposed to be safe.”
Most of those who packed inside were women and children. Because it was so crowded, they left their belongings outside. On Wednesday, the mattresses, belts, shoes, pots and pans were still there, strewn in the grass. Their owners were nowhere to be found.
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