Opposition MP Mugabe Were was shot and killed at the gate of his home in Nairobi late Monday night. The police "aren't ruling anything out", and there's widespread belief among opposition supporters that this was an assassination.
In response, violence flared again across the country; police report that 22 more people were killed today.
(For months, I've watched gardeners trimming grass with pangas (almost no one uses a lawn mower); they were a common sight all over the city, almost quaint. I will never see a panga flash in the sun again without recalling this horrible time.)
Protesters and mourners gathered around the slain MP's house, and were dispersed by tear gas. There are reports that police helicopters may have fired upon mobs in the Rift Valley.
My friends in Kisumu were pulled back today to Nairobi. I'm glad they, as well as other Americans on our team, are out of there; I have really been afraid for them. Virginia and I have been talking daily on the phone, and last night she described a day for which the word "terrifying" is inadequate. I can't share details, but she had to be literally smuggled from her office to her home, through streets full of murderous gangs. Her husband was confronted by a gang manning a roadblock yesterday and escaped only through quick and clever thinking.
Here in Nairobi, I'm safe, but increasingly alarmed.
I couldn't get to my office today. My driver was caught up in traffic, and by the time he got to my house, the security guards wouldn't let us leave the compound. The police had blocked off the main road to the campus, in an attempt to contain people coming out of Kibera slum. By this time, nearly everyone else was at work, so at first my boss didn't believe I couldn't come in. I didn't believe it either. It took a lot of back and forth calls before it was decided that I would wait for a security update before trying to leave. An hour later, I was told not to come in; shortly afterward, the office was closed and staff were directed to leave when they felt safe to do so.
Having heard some of my coworkers' stories, I'm glad I was at home. In the past, few weeks we've heard distant shouts and gunfire in nearby Kibera slum, which lies downhill from the back wall of our parking lot. Today's clashes were much closer, following the railway line that runs near our office. Some staff went to move their cars away from the wall, because our transport staff thought rioters might throw rocks over the wall; to their horror, what came over the wall was not rocks, but stray bullets. Fortunately, none of our people were hurt, but scrambling crouched across the parking lot hoping not to get shot was a pretty frightening experience.
(Note to self: don't park by the wall tomorrow.)
We're sure our people weren't being targeted, but one woman told me that this was the closest the violence had ever come to our offices. Tomorrow we will be having an all-hands meeting to discuss the security situation, and how we can go forward. The mission will have a similar meeting for the American staff later this week. No one expects that we'll be pulled out of Nairobi at this point, although I imagine our movements will be much more curtailed.
I spent the day working from home - thank heaven my net connection is up! - trying without much success to concentrate, as well as to get more information on what was going on. A series of terse SMS messages from the security office provides only the essential details: stay away from X areas.
Of course, when details are available, the news is nearly always bad. The two sides seem increasingly polarized, and the violence may be taking on a life of its own. While there are still large areas of calm around the country (notably the coastal areas outside Mombasa), the affected areas of Kenya may be in danger of spiraling into a cycle of revenge killings.
This afternoon Kofi Annan formally opened negotiations between President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition leader, Raila Odinga. The two leaders observed a moment of silence for those killed in the post-election violence, and issued calls for peace that were broadcast live, nation-wide.
"Unless we here resolve to act quickly to save our nation, we will have no nation to save," said Odinga.
"I urge all our leaders to go to their regions and urge wananchi (citizens) to pursue peace," Kibaki said.
However, their positions regarding the outcome of the election remain far apart . Kibaki has made it clear that he will not step down. Odinga insists that only a re-run election will be acceptable.
Annan has stated that he thinks the "immediate political issues" can be resolved in 4 weeks, and that it will probably take a year to address the damage done in this past month. Sadly, this seems overly optimistic to me...I hope I'm wrong.