Massacre in Kenya
Wire and staff reports
While most of the world was celebrating the birth of a new
year, Steven Mburu, pastor of Kiambaa Assembly of God near Eldoret, Kenya, was
staring death in the face.
Protestors, angry over Kenya’s disputed presidential
election, had gathered around 10 a.m. outside the church where Mburu and almost
200 people were crowded inside seeking safety. In moments the mob surrounded
the church, doused it with flammable liquid and set it afire.
Desperate, the people inside rushed to escape as flames
engulfed the building. Mburu pulled four children from a church window, but
attempts to save a fifth child were unsuccessful as the fire quickly spread.
Outside, those running for safety were hacked and beaten by the waiting mob.
Mburu remembers the scene clearly. “When I turned from the
church window, I saw a group of people with bows and arrows aimed at me,” he
says. “I remembered that just the previous Sunday I had preached on Psalm 91:5:
‘Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that
flieth by day.’” Standing bravely before the crowd, he was beaten unconscious.
He was later hospitalized for his injuries.
Mburu is slowly recovering, though the bruises, swelling and
eight missing teeth are painful reminders of the horrors of that day. At least
50 people who sought refuge inside the church were killed, and 100 more were
hospitalized for severe burns. Of those, 16, mostly children, suffered burns
over 90 percent of their bodies.
In what had been one of Africa’s most stable democracies, an
estimated 300 people were killed within three days after the Dec. 27
re-election of President Mwai Kibaki. Victims were burned alive, shot, beaten
and hacked to death with machetes. By Jan. 9 the number of dead grew to 500,
with 250,000 left homeless.
The re-election of Kibaki, 76, is hotly disputed. First
elected in 2002, Kibaki is praised for turning Kenya into an East African
economic powerhouse, but the country still struggles with tribalism and
poverty. Supporters of Rail Odinga, 62, oppose the election results, feeling
that smaller tribes are being marginalized. The ensuing violence recalled
scenes from the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, when more than a half-million
people died in tribal fighting.
The people killed around Eldoret, about 185 miles northwest
of Nairobi, the capital, were members of the Kikuyu tribe to which Kibaki
belongs. Around 22 percent of Kenya’s 34 million people are Kikuyu, making it
the largest of the more than 40 ethnic groups in Kenya. The violence came at
the hands of Kalenjin, a smaller group that protested the election results.
Until the election, conflict between ethnic groups had been nearly nonexistent
George Karanja was among the survivors of the New Year’s Day
violence at the Kiambaa church, but others in his family were not so fortunate.
“They started burning the church,” Karanja says, his voice
catching with emotion. “The mattresses that people were sleeping on caught
fire. There was a stampede, and people fell on one another.”
Karanja, 37, helped pull out at least 10 people, but he
couldn’t rescue his 11-year-old nephew. “I could not manage to pull out my
sister’s son,” he recalled. “He was screaming ‘Uncle, Uncle!’” Karanja’s
90-year-old father was attacked with a machete, but survived.
“The worst part is that they were hacking people and then
setting them on fire,” Karanja adds.
The attackers saw Karanja saving people and began stoning
him. Karanja says he ran and hid — submerging himself in a pit latrine
outside the church property. He stayed there about 30 minutes until he heard
people speaking Kikuyu.
Since the election, Kenyans have sought sanctuary at police
stations, schools and fairgrounds in the areas of Eldoret, Burnt Forest and
Nakuru, fearing an escalation of tribal and political conflict. More than
64,000 AG refugees have camped in churches and at East Africa School of
Theology. Several Assemblies of God congregations in the Nairobi area are
serving as refugee centers, assisting those whose neighborhoods were burned.
Kenya is home to one of the fastest-growing AG fellowships
in the world, with more than 10 churches being planted every week. Nearly 1
million members attend more than 3,100 local churches, with believers from all
of the major tribes worshipping together in the same congregations. Nationwide,
however, much healing will need to occur if Kikuyus and Kalenjins are to
inhabit the area together peacefully.
“It will require the intervention of God,” Mburu says.
“People can forgive, but it will be hard for them to forget what happened.”
“There has been a loss of trust among neighbors,” says
missionary Bill Kuert, who has served in Kenya for 30 years. “There have been
so many stories to the effect, ‘My neighbor attacked me, robbed me and then
destroyed my property. These are people that I have lived with and worked with
for many, many years. I could not believe what they were doing to me.’”
Anne Njoki, a 28-year-old Kikuyu, says she fled her
residence in a shantytown after she saw Kikuyus being attacked and their homes
looted. “They have taken our beds, blankets, even spoons,” she says of the
In Nairobi’s slums, which are often divided along tribal
lines, rival groups fought each other with machetes and sticks. Rioters in the
Mathare slum torched a minibus and attacked Kikuyu travelers.
“The car had 14 people in it, but they only slashed
Kikuyus,” said Boniface Mwangi, who witnessed the violence.
Five people were attacked by the machete-wielding gang, he
says. As the slum burned, mothers clutching wide-eyed infants and suitcases
were evacuated while angry youths armed with machetes and axes heaped abuse on
While Westerners are not specifically targeted for violence,
they are not out of danger as increased tension frequently erupts into fighting.
Although skirmishes are sporadic in Nairobi, attacks occur regularly in areas
outside the capital where police protection is less evident. In one area known
as Kipkelion, entire neighborhoods have been burned.
The uncertainty in outlying areas is drawing waves of
refugees to Nairobi in search of safety and supplies. As of late January,
trucks filled with refugees were arriving regularly. The influx of people is
causing a strain on churches and relief agencies seeking to provide assistance.
“This is the worst crisis I have witnessed in Kenya in my 40
years in East Africa,” says AG East Africa Area Director Greg Beggs. “The
refugee situation is getting worse.”
Adequate food and supplies are available in Nairobi, but
funds are desperately needed to purchase them. Those displaced by the tragedy
are expected to need assistance for several months, and relief agencies are
scrambling to keep up with the need. Convoy of Hope is preparing several
containers for shipment, assisted by AG Relief. Those wanting to help the Kenya
Assemblies of God in their efforts may donate by going to http://world.ag.org or by calling 1-866-470-9514.
As Steven Mburu surveys the rubble of Kiambaa Assembly of
God, he knows the crisis will continue long after the violence stops. Within
his congregation, people are grieving their losses and wondering what the
future holds. While he cannot answer all the questions, he plans to remind them
of the only sure thing in life — salvation through Christ.
“When I go back to the pulpit, I want to remind them to be
ready for the possibility that tomorrow may never come,” he says. “In this
world we are passersby. Then I’ll preach salvation — so that people get
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(Note: A media team from AGWM has traveled to Kenya to
gather additional information on the crisis. Their report, including the
Eldoret area, will be featured in next month’s World Missions Edition.)