Kenya’s descent into tribalism

— Lying in a hospital bed in this rural hub of Kenya’s Rift Valley, a man describes surviving two machete wounds to his head and multiple slashes to his hands. He says he was attacked by people who now live by the rules of tribalism.

They have to be stopped, he said. It is the work of the devil.

Nearby, another machete-attack survivor, John Machana, said he thought he was a dead man when he was attacked.

I was sure they would kill me, he said, nursing slashes to his backside and still lying in his blood-stained clothes. They told me the blood in Kenya now had to be pure and clean, and they accused me of being of mixed tribal blood.

Both men are among the hundreds of thousands of Kenyans victimized by a weeklong spate of violence after the nation’s disputed presidential election.

The Kenyan Red Cross says it is trying to meet the needs of more than a half-million affected Kenyans, including more than 250,000 people who have been driven from their homes. Thousands are escaping ethnic violence and, while they are lucky to leave with their lives, they now have little else.

Squatting on the grass, a mother of eight cried quietly as she explained that she needs food, water, medicine and clothing for her children, including her youngest, who is just two weeks old.

Officials in the town of Molo on the edge of Kenya’s desolate Rift Valley say the victims just keep coming by the hundreds. Especially at night, they are on the move escaping the killing, raping, burning and looting, a consequence of tribal clashes.

Pastor George Keliuki presides over the Baptist church in Molo. Thousands have taken refuge in the church’s back yard. But Keliuki said he has nothing more than beans and blankets to give them for the moment.

We just entrust our lives to God because we have no aid assistance right now unless the international community intervenes, he said.

The victims of the crisis say there are still families trapped in rural areas — dead, dying or too terrified to find a way out. They are caught in the election turmoil that erupted when Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of last week’s election, a result the opposition party disputes.

According to the United Nations, some 250,000 Kenyans are now estimated to have been displaced by rioting and looting that accompanied the result of the December 27 election. The U.N. said that in total, between 400,000 and 500,000 people have been affected by the unrest. Around 300 people are reported to have died.

Kibaki on Saturday appeared to offer a way out of the stalemate with the opposition over the disputed elections, announcing he was ready to form a government of national unity, a government spokesman said.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga said he and his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) were ready to negotiate with the president without preconditions. Odinga’s party had earlier insisted Kibaki must resign before talks could take place. E-mail to a friend

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