At a time when elections in other countries lead to assassinations and rioting, it is sobering how relatively peaceful election battles in the United States are. Yesterday's news that post-election violence in Kenya led to the deaths of as many as 275 people and included the torching of a church where people had sought shelter was particularly sobering. When people first started sending around stories about the attack, I was struck by the lack of an important detail in the reports. The New York Times had a lengthy -- 1,000 words -- story on the matter that neglected to mention what type of church was burned. The Associated Press didn't mention it either. I had to surf through half a dozen stories before I found the information in a Reuters report:
The reporter said about 200 people had been seeking refuge at the Kenya Assemblies of God Pentecostal church, about 8 km (5 miles) from Eldoret in fertile Rift Valley Province.
Later, the New York Times and the Associated Press updated their stories to include this information. It is yet another reminder how wonderful the internet can be in helping reporters correct errors or supplement their stories.
The quality of the stories has improved with time but I'm still left with a few questions. One of the most thorough stories goes to great lengths to explain the nature of the divides in Kenya. President Mwai Kibaki was inaugurated for a second term on Sunday in an election that has been criticized as rigged. Kibaki is an ethnic Kikuyu:
The violence -- from the shantytowns of Nairobi to resort towns on the sweltering coast -- has exposed long-festering tribal resentment.
The people killed in Eldoret, about 185 miles northwest of Nairobi, were members of Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe. ... On Tuesday morning, a mob of about 2,000 arrived at the church, said George Karanja, whose family had sought refuge there.
"They started burning the church," Karanja told the AP in a telephone interview, his voice catching with emotion as he described the scene. "The mattresses that people were sleeping on caught fire. There was a stampede, and people fell on one another."
Karanja, 37, helped pull out at least 10 people, but added, "I could not manage to pull out my sister's son. He was screaming 'Uncle, uncle!' ... He died." The boy was 11.
Karanja said victims were being hacked with machetes before being set on fire.
The Kikuyu, Kenya's largest ethnic group, are accused of turning their dominance of politics and business to the detriment of others. Odinga is from the Luo tribe, a smaller but still major tribe that says it has been marginalized.
There are more than 40 tribes in Kenya, and political leaders have often used unemployed and uneducated young men to intimidate opponents. While Kibaki and Odinga have support from across the tribal spectrum, the youth responsible for the violence tend to see politics in strictly ethnic terms.
The context and explanation of tribal divisions is great but I am, of course, curious about the religious views of the warring factions.
Were the Kikuyu seeking refuge in a church because they were Christian? Were their attackers Christian? Kenya is a tremendously diverse country and about 45 percent Protestant, 25 percent Catholic and 10 percent Muslim. Hopefully as the coverage progresses we'll get a few more details about how religion plays into this sad story.