Inside Kibera night of violence: Arsonists were armed with machetes, carried petrol

A man ravages through the debris of what used to be stalls near Karanja road in Kibera

A man ravages through the debris of what used to be stalls near Karanja road in Kibera on March 28, 2023, after they were torched by two wrangling groups on Monday night of March 27, 2023.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

What started as a normal day of protests turned into a night of arson, tears, and death as machete-wielding goons torched market stalls and a church in the Olympics area of Kibera in Nairobi.

Mr Idris Ahmad, an Imam at a local mosque, said one man had been shot dead during the attack and two others were nursing gunshot wounds.

The fire that began around 7 pm left a trail of destruction at the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) where the arsonists had gained access and destroyed property whose value is yet to be established.

Part of the items destroyed were podiums, furniture, monitors, kitchenware, documents, window panes, floorings, doors, walls and the roof that was left charred. Other losses were incurred by traders with stalls located behind Masjid Al-Aqsa mosque including a building on Karanja Road that hosted a hardware store and a club.

When Nation visited the scene yesterday, the police were yet to cordon off the church and the adjacent building as a crime scene, which compromised the evidence as curious onlookers trampled all over the site.

Members of the church were forced to close the doors to keep away outsiders even as they counted their losses and condemned the attack.

“They were young men armed with machetes and carrying petrol. They seemed to be enjoying some form of protection as they would often hide behind police vehicles as they fought with another group that was taking part in the anti-government protests,” a witness, who blamed a local politician for the attack, told Nation.

“The two rival groups had been battling each other during the day until around 7 pm when the arson attacks started at the stalls behind the mosque before the attackers stormed the church and an adjacent building hosting a hardware store and a pub,” Ms Lucy Nkatha told Nation.

Police faulted

The arsonists gained access to the church by breaking through the doors before looting from the hall, offices and kitchen. Ms Millie Akinyi faulted the police for targeting protesters, leaving the criminals free to loot and burn.

“Our calls to the police stations did not bear fruit. Only the Woodley chief and an assistant chief showed up,” she said. The police arrived around 10 am yesterday, escorting a team of religious leaders who addressed the media and talked to residents.

“It’s 11 am and police are yet to visit the scene. I have lost everything; millions worth of stock at my pub and hardware as well as the cost of putting up this building,” said Mr George Kebaso, who has lived in the area for over 20 years. The torching of the church and the alleged killing of a Muslim has sparked fears of retaliatory attacks.

PCEA Moderator Rt Rev Thegu Mutahi, who led a team of religious leaders and human rights organisations to a tour of the areas to assess the damage, said the incident was the second of that nature since 2017 when the church was attacked in a similar manner, forcing them to demolish and rebuild it.

“Massive losses have occurred but we shall not take revenge, we know the church belongs to God. We shall not call the arsonists evil but their acts were evil and we want the law to take its cause,” he said. He urged politicians to engage in talks to avert further deaths and destruction.

“This was a criminal act, not a religious fight,” he said.

Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims chairman Hassan Ole Nado said Kenyans do not want a civil war and called on President William Ruto to take charge and “steady the ship of the state”.

“He is the leader of this nation. He should use his power to make Kenya a home for all people. The people of Kibra are not ready to be dismembered or to be used as tools of political convenience in the hands of some politicians,” he said. Amnesty International and Haki Africa executive directors Irungu Houghton and Hussein Khalid called out the police for not heeding locals’ cries for help when the attacks happened.