NAIROBI/KISUMU, Kenya (Reuters) – Kenyan police have killed at least 11 people in a crackdown on protests as anger at the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta erupted in the western city of Kisumu and slums surrounding the capital, officials and witnesses said yesterday.
However, the NASA opposition coalition, led by four-time presidential hopeful Raila Odinga, put the death toll at more than 100, including 10 children, but did not provide evidence. Odinga has rejected the poll and its result as “massive” fraud.
The eruption of violence has revived memories of a decade ago, when Odinga, now 72, lost an election in controversial circumstances that sparked a wave of political and ethnic unrest in which 1,200 people were killed and 600,000 displaced.
Kofi Annan, the former UN head who mediated during that crisis, yesterday issued a statement warning Kenya’s leaders to “be careful with their rhetoric and actions in this tense atmosphere”.
Reuters was able to confirm 11 deaths, including one girl, in the space of 24 hours. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights said 24 people had been shot dead by police since Tuesday, election day.
Top Odinga lieutenant Johnson Muthama said police had been packing corpses into body bags and dumping them, remarks likely to exacerbate the tensions that followed Friday night’s official announcement that Kenyatta had won, with 54.3 per cent of votes.
Mwenda Njeka, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the opposition claims were “hogwash”.
Acting Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i had earlier said trouble was localised and blamed it on “criminal elements” rather than legitimate political protest. He also denied accusations of police brutality.
“Let us be honest – there are no demonstrations happening,” he told reporters.
“Individuals or gangs that are looting shops, that want to endanger lives, that are breaking into people’s businesses – those are not demonstrators. They are criminals and we expect police to deal with criminals how criminals should be dealt with.”
However, James Orengo, another top NASA official, said the killings were part of a carefully laid plan by 55-year-old Kenyatta’s Jubilee party and the security forces to rig the poll, crush dissent and then hide the evidence.
“This violence, this state terror is being executed following very meticulous preparation,” he said.
He and Muthama urged Odinga supporters to stay calm and out of harm’s way but, ominously, said there would be no backing down. “We will not be cowed. We will not relent,” Muthama said.
As with previous votes in 2007 and 2013, this year’s elections have exposed the underlying ethnic tensions in the nation of 45 million people, the economic engine of East Africa and the region’s main trading hub.
In particular, Odinga’s Luo tribe, who hail from the west, hoped an Odinga presidency would break the Kikuyu and Kalenjin dominance of central government since independence in 1963. Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president, is a Kikuyu.
Most of the trouble has been in the western city of Kisumu, an Odinga stronghold, and the large, ethnically mixed slums on the outskirts of Nairobi.
The bodies of nine young men shot dead in the capital’s run-down Mathare neighbourhood were brought to the city morgue, a security official said. A young girl was also killed by a stray bullet in Mathare, according to a witness.
A government official said one man had been killed in Kisumu county. A Reuters reporter in the city heard tear gas grenades and gunshots overnight and yesterday morning.
In addition to the deaths, officials at Kisumu’s main hospital said they had treated 26 people since Friday night, including four with gunshot wounds and others who had been beaten by police.
Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said it had treated 54 patients, including seven for gunshot wounds.