29 January 2008

Kenya: Paralysis As Roads Cut Off in Fresh Violence

Nairobi — Most parts of the country were on the verge of paralysis last night as another 32 people were killed in a new wave of bloodletting.

Signs that Kenya was slowly grinding to a halt were evident all the way from Mombasa to the Uganda border at Busia and Malaba and in Southern Sudan.

A new wave of violence that early yesterday quickly cut off several major towns and urban centres in the North Rift, South Rift, Western and Nyanza provinces illustrated just how fragile the situation has become.

A cargo build-up in Mombasa, the long queues of long-distance trucks at virtually all major stops all the way from the port of Kilindini to the Ugandan frontier, the dwindling supply of milk and other food to the capital, Nairobi, and the increasingly unreliable public transport captured the magnitude of the gradual slide into the doldrums.

Fresh killings in Naivasha (14), Nakuru (12), Kisumu (2), Mombasa (2) Kericho (1) and Eldoret (1) added to the already very grim situation.

In Mombasa, the dead were two German tourists, killed in their villa, by people police described as gangsters.

At Kapsoit trading centre, eight kilometres from Kericho town, police gunned down a man after a group of youths barricaded the Kericho-Kisumu highway. They were looking for members of another community as from 10am before police intervened.

The youths later regrouped in the afternoon, flagged down five Easy Coach buses, which were ferrying passengers from Nairobi to Kisumu, and burnt them.

"We have deployed a contingent of police officers to restore order at the trading centre and clear the highway which had been blocked by youths," Kericho DCIO, Mr John Otieno, said.

On Monday, a hitherto optimistic Finance minister, Mr Amos Kimunya, conceded for the first time that the economy was deteriorating even as he allayed fears of a recession.

What the minister described as a "major slow down in economic activities in the first six months of this year" could degenerate into a meltdown if the situation is unresolved.

"I don't see a recession," Kimunya told reporters at the Treasury after a meeting with the United Kingdom Foreign Minister for Africa, Mr Mark Mallock-Brown. "But I see a slow down in economic activities in the first six months".

He said the damage suffered by tourism, the country's largest foreign exchange earner, was beyond repair at least in the short term.

Road transporters said they could not move cargo from the Mombasa port beyond Nairobi. This follows a new wave of violence that broke out last Thursday in Molo, Nakuru and Naivasha.

The Kenya Transport Association (KTA) said road truck owners had lost Sh5 billion since post-election violence started.

"Over 100 trucks are stuck in Molo, Kericho and Nakuru to avoid armed attackers, some with guns," KTA acting national executive officer, Mrs Eunice Mwanyallo, said.

On Thursday, a loss assessment established that 25 trucks had been burnt and several drivers injured.

Railway network vandalised

Mombasa Port was holding 18,000 containers, just 1,000 containers short of its 19,000 capacity, according to reports.

Movement of goods destined for Uganda and other countries have been only by road after the railway line was uprooted at Kibera in Nairobi a week ago.

Yesterday, protesters in Kisumu joined the fray and damaged two kilometres of the Kisumu-Butere railway line at Riat.

"No Raila! No Railway!" they chanted as they pulled the rail off the hooks.

Closer to the capital, Nairobi, more than 500 trucks with goods worth hundreds of millions of shillings destined for Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan and the DR Congo are now held up at the clearing section at Mlolongo on Mombasa Road awaiting word from security forces.

The Inter-Governmental Committee on Transport has warned Public Service Vehicles and trucks passing through Naivasha, Nakuru, Kericho and some parts of the Rift Valley that the sections have been classified as unsafe.

Transport Permanent Secretary, Mr Gerishon Ikiara, said 18 trucks headed to a neighbouring country were burnt, while another 13 had been blocked by marauding youths.

This emerged as Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) started negotiating the execution of a Sh500 million cargo security bond with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) -possibly this week - to start direct transfer of upcountry-bound and transit containers from the port to KPA's Nairobi Inland Container Depot.

A milk shortage was also looming with transporters unable to move the commodity from collection points to processing plants or consumers in Nairobi and other urban centres.

Tea, coffee and the horticulture sectors were also reeling from the effects of post-election violence.

"Trucks can't collect milk, coffee, tea and flowers. Truck drivers fear to drive into the farms, some of them located in areas perceived as hostile," Ikiara said.

The few schools that have re-opened were quickly plunged into a financial crisis, the Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association reported.

Mr Cleophas Tirop, the association chairman, appealed: "The Government should release funds immediately to ensure that schools do not halt operations."

Neighbouring countries

In Southern Sudan, the economic situation was said to be worsening to a scale never witnessed even when the region was waging war against the Khartoum government between 1983 and 2004.

Southern Sudan imports up to 40 per cent of its supplies from Kenya.

"The chaos has made the roads impassable and forced transporters to cease or reduce their operations and prices have sky-rocketed five-fold," South Sudan Minister for Regional Co-operation, Mr Benjamin Barnaba, told The Standard on the telephone.

Yesterday, a fresh outbreak of violence and bloodletting accelerated the paralysis.

Public Service Vehicles were burnt, one person killed and hundreds of transit vehicles blocked on the busy Nairobi-Eldoret-Malaba highway.

Rowdy youths blockaded the busy highway at Makutano, Cheptiret, Maili Nne, Baharini, Maili Tisa, Jua Kali, Kapkong and Kipkaren areas, paralysing transport services.

On the Eldoret-Kapsabet road, one person was clubbed to death by rowdy youths demanding identification of passengers and motorists.

In Cheptiret, they blocked the road with boulders and lit bonfires before razing a lorry heading for Eldoret Town.

PSV vehicles heading to Eldoret town from Kakamega, Bungoma, Nakuru, Kitale and Kapsabet had to cut short their journey.

At Maili Nne, rowdy youths blockaded the road and destroyed a section of the railway line.

One person was killed, several others injured, houses burnt and transport paralysed across Nyanza as residents rioted over the killings in Naivasha and Nakuru.

Riotous mobs took over Kisumu, Migori, Ahero, Homa-Bay and Siaya to protest the ethnic-fuelled killings.

Armed youths barricaded roads in and out of Kisumu, paralysing communication. They set buildings ablaze and stormed residential estates.

Two people suffered serious gun wounds after police shot them.

In Migori town, protesters looted several shops after they were allowed by police to march peacefully.

In Homa Bay, riot policemen thwarted attempts by a mob to burn the local police station, while rioting youths blocked roads in Siaya, forcing schools that had just re-opened to quickly close.

The violence shut down Luanda, Majengo, Mbale, Chavakali, Busia, Bungoma and Kakamega in Western Province.

At Luanda, the busy Kisumu-Busia highway was barricaded and traders chased away by angry protesters.

Violence in Luanda began at 9am. The protesters also attacked two men in a car with Ugandan registration numbers before setting ablaze a petrol station, in which the two men had sought refuge.

Violence in Luanda spread to Majengo, Mbale and Chavakali. Streets in these trading centres were deserted as riot police patrolled them.

Protesters had put up roadblocks on the Kisumu-Kakamega highway, and for some time, disrupted traffic on the busy road.

In Bungoma, streets were deserted and businesses closed the entire morning with only a few re-opening in the evening, while in Kakamega, police dispersed crowds that were building up. Demonstrators had earlier burnt five houses.

Meanwhile, tension gripped Busia and Nambale towns as news that lorryloads of armed youths had been dropped there on Monday morning.

For a moment, the town was nearly deserted as motorists drove away and traders closed shop and anticipated violence. Some residents claimed they had seen at least four lorries ferrying armed youths into the town at 10am.

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