Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta blamed domestic political leaders for two days of “ethnic violence” at the coast in which at least 58 people died and said al-Shabaab had nothing to do with the killings.
“The attack in Lamu was well planned, orchestrated and politically motivated ethnic violence against a Kenyan community with the intention of profiling and evicting them for political reasons,” Kenyatta said in a televised national address. “This therefore was not an al-Shabaab terrorist attack. Evidence indicates that local political networks were involved in the planning and execution of the heinous crime.”
Unidentified gunmen attacked at least four towns and villages in the coastal county of Lamu, including Mpeketoni and Kibaoni, over the past two days, according to emergency workers and the Interior Ministry. Thirty people are missing, the Kenya Red Cross said in a statement on its website today.
Agence France-Presse said al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked militia that’s fighting the government of neighboring Somalia, claimed responsibility for the raids. The attacks are the deadliest since the Islamist group killed at least 67 people at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, the capital, in September.
Kenyatta said “reckless” and “dangerous” leaders in Kenya are propagating the message that some people are “more or less Kenyan than others.” He didn’t identify which politicians he was referring to.
Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga on June 13 began a series of planned rallies to press the government to hold a national dialog to discuss issues including growing insecurity, the rising cost of living and an overhaul of the country’s electoral body. Kenyatta has rejected the request.
“Clearly internal security has become a political football used by either side for political mileage,” Cedric Barnes, Horn of Africa director at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said in a phone interview. “All political sides should come together, and the matter should be fully investigated to know what happened and how to prevent it from happening again.”
Odinga, an ethnic Luo, last year lost his third bid to become president in an election Kenyatta won with 50.5 percent of the vote. In December 2007, Odinga disputed the outcome of a vote that he lost to former President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, triggering two months of fighting that pitted Kikuyus against Luos and Kalenjin backers of Odinga. Kenyatta is on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity related to the 2007-08 violence, in which at least 1,100 people died. He denies the charges.
Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, didn’t say who carried out the latest attacks or which ethnic groups were targeted.
In the 1970s, the government of Kenyatta’s father, Jomo Kenyatta, settled about 30,000 ethnic Kikuyu from central Kenya in Mpeketoni, dispossessing some local communities of land, according to a paper commissioned by the state-run Commission on Revenue Allocation. When the so-called Lake Kenyatta Settlement Scheme in the area was designed, indigenous and Muslim villages in the area were discriminated against and not included in the program, according to the paper.
Last year clashes between rival ethnic communities in Kenya’s coastal region, partly over land and other resources, left hundreds of people dead, according to a panel established to investigate the fighting.
“Kenyans and the government in particular, have, over the last several weeks, observed frenzied political rhetoric laced with ethnic profiling of some Kenyan communities and obvious acts of incitement to lawlessness and possible violence,” Kenyatta said. “My deputy and I undertook to make sure that the country will never go the route of ethnic division and political violence.”