By Paul Gitau
The State, specifically the Office of the President, is under scrutiny after it emerged that over 100 Kenyans have been mercilessly slaughtered in Tana River District in less than a month.
President Kibaki on Monday evening declared a dusk to dawn curfew in the area as 38 more residents were murdered in cold blood just a couple of weeks after 52 died in a similar attack just hours after 12 others were killed in inter-clan violence in Mandera.
Also killed in Monday’s Tana River attack were nine police officers. The killings were carried out by what appears to be a trained militia.
The Ministry of Internal Security is housed in the Office of the President and questions are now being raised as whether President Kibaki’s administration is fully in charge of national security.
The question on most Kenyans lips, including social media sites was: How many more innocent Kenyans must die in Tana River for the State to take decisive action?
As Head of State, and under whose office also falls the National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS), and the Ministry of Defence, the ball is now in Kibaki’s court to tell Kenyans what he will do to stop the bloodletting.
The impunity with which the killers have gone about their business has raised worries as the General Election is less than six months away.
Treasury allocated the Office of the President a huge budget to secure the lives and property of all Kenyans, but the ongoing killings, even in the face of warnings relayed to the acting Internal Security Minister Yusuf Haji by the NSIS are horrifying ,and left residents living in fear.
Many are now asking whether the State really considers the region a part of Kenya and why it has not acted quickly and firmly to end the violence and stamp its authority.
In Monday’s attack, daring militia slaughtered civilians and the security officers killing them in cold blood on Monday morning in an orgy of arson, decapitation and gunfire at the usually calm Kilelengwani village.
According to Mr Hassan Musa, the Kenya Red Cross coordinator for Malindi and Magarini, who is based in Kilelengwani, aid officials had collected 36 bodies from burnt houses that included those of nine policemen, five women, 16 men and eight children. All were killed either through burning, gunfire or beheading. The body count was later revised to 38 dead.
“We are searching for more bodies from the bushes and the rivers,” said Hassan who added that the corpses were briefly stored in local mosques in preparation for burial.
He said several people injured people were take to Witu Dispensary and later transferred to Malindi District Hospital for specialized treatment and surgery to remove bullets, arrows and spears.
Another Kenya Red Cross official Caleb Kilande is that dozens had been killed and 167 houses burnt.
The massacre lasted about two hours in a province fast gaining a reputation for lawlessness, misrule and State ineptitude.
To ensure they would face minimal resistance and more effectively slaughter their victims, the killers, whom eyewitnesses claim numbered in hundreds, first attacked and killed armed police posted to secure the village after a previous massacre in August.
Although the attackers had guns, according to survivors and policemen who escaped the murder of their colleagues, all the nine officers killed appear to have been beheaded with machetes or swords.
Police officers appear to have been overwhelmed by the large numbers and the element of surprise.
“They seemed not to be afraid of our guns even when we fired warning shots,” according to a police officer who claims he attackers advanced towards them even under heavy fire.
The officer who cannot be named said the situation became worse when some guns failed to fire, but added that although the attackers were killed, other gang members pulled away their corpses.
After disabling the police, eyewitnesses say the attackers, who came in several formations then unleashed an orgy of arson and murder.
Survivors’ accounts of what transpired yesterday clearly depict a Government incapable to appreciating the need to supply enough security officers on the ground and provide them with sufficient backup.
Last night a police helicopter airlifted the corpses of the slain officers leaving, behind two burnt police trucks and missing rifles.
Omar Shore, a local resident who survived the killing said the attackers wore red bandanas as and descended on Kilelengwani in broad daylight at around 8.00a.m.
“We heard screams and suddenly we discovered the village had been surrounded. Women ran into mosques as children tried to hide in classrooms and other people ran towards the police guarding the village,” he said, and added that the fleeing villagers were horrified to discover that nine policemen had been killed.
“Hell broke loose and everyone was running to save their lives,” said Omar adding that he hid in thorny bushes to survive the attackers who were also setting houses ablaze and killing indiscriminately.
Another survivor, Abarus Dado, says he saw several women slashed to death but he survived by hiding in a culvert from where he looked on helplessly as violence engulfed his village.
As victims of the violence fled to neighbouring districts, leaders were accusing the Kibaki administration of abdicating its responsibility to the local people.
Garsen MP Danson Mungatana, where most of the violence has occurred accused the Government of mischaracterising the violence, adding that “failure of Government control” is the primary cause of the carnage, with Fisheries minister Amason Kingi disclosing, “if the violence in Tana River is not contained it will engulf the entire Coast Province.”
Said an angry Nuh Nassir Abdi, MP for Bura: “It is shocking and disturbing that such killings can take place at a time when the government claims to have embarked on a forceful disarmament in the region.”
Mungatana and Nuh spoke in Nairobi while Kingi spoke in Mombasa. Hundreds of women and children fleeing the violence arrived in Mombasa, Lamu, Malindi and Kilifi on Sunday through to yesterday, leaving behind mostly able bodied men of fighting age.
Apparently admitting critical failures by the provincial security administration in the matter, Coast PC Samuel Kilele announced in Mombasa that the Government might deploy the military in the clash-hit area where it is believed trained and heavily armed militiamen are roaming unhindered.
“The deployment of the military in Tana River County is inevitable,” said Kilele as he also announced the arrest of four assistant chiefs and said yesterday’s attackers used AK 47 rifles, spears and machetes.
But the PC appeared to contradict himself when he claimed weapons held by the attackers are not “of high calibre” a claim that did not mollify leaders who questioned the Government’s inability to stem endless murders.
“If it continues like this, we have to deploy military as the conflict is serious,” said Kilele.
Yesterday Kilelengwani village in Tana Delta was blood-soaked for the second time in a month following yesterday’s morning massacre of 38 people at the hands of unknown attackers, two weeks after 52 people were killed in the neighbouring Rikete village and less than a week after 13 villagers were slain in revenge attacks.
The violence occurred as the Government claimed to have restored security and said it was mopping up illegal guns said to be fuelling the carnage.
The ethnic violence in the area is between two rival tribes, the Orma and Pokomo.
“I am ready to quit the police force,” said a distraught officer who survived the beheading of his nine colleagues at Kilelengwani village.
He was bitter at his employer and cursed the day he joined the force. He was posted to the arid and remote village two weeks ago after similar violence left dozens dead last month.
The officer, who cannot be named for obvious reasons, told The Standard that two police trucks were reduced to ashes when the attack occurred.
The audacity of the raiders, according to aid agencies and local politicians, is proof of the impunity the Government has encouraged in the region for the past seven months, when low intensity attacks between the Orma and Pokomo first began, according to Garsen MP Danson Mungatana.
The Standard reporter at the scene counted nine bodies of slain policemen, including four from the General Service officers, four from the Administration Police regiment and one from the regular police.