Violence in Western against foreigners on the rise

Excessively violent attacks against foreign aid workers in Western Kenya could result in the closure of charity projects, and completely crush the hopes of thousands of poor families in the area.

John Bergen, a Canadian missionary with children from displaced families. John was hacked so badly that doctors, lost count of the stitches they did on his face.

John Bergen, a Canadian missionary with children from displaced families. John was hacked so badly that doctors, "lost count" of the stitches they did on his face. Picture by the National Post.

On the night of 24th July, 12 Dutch nationals were attacked, robbed and three of them gang-raped in Kakamega. According to the Standard newspaper, the gangsters took off with Shs185,000 (US$2,800), 650 Euros, among other valuables. The 12 were visiting an orphanage, which they have been funding, and were hosted by a Kenyan couple.

Just three weeks earlier, a Canadian missionary couple was brutally attacked at their home in Kitale. John Bergen, aged 70 was hacked with machetes and clubs and left for dead. The 5-man gang then proceeded to gang-rape his 66 year old wife, Eloise, and savagely beat her as well. Luckily, both survived, but John needed so many stitches to his face that doctors “lost count,” Eloise told reporters.

There is little information on the Kakamega incident concerning the Dutch nationals. In Kitale, police arrested 7 people linked to the attack on the Canadians. Two of the suspects are women. Police have also seized the couple’s two night guards, who had been hired less than a month earlier. However, it is common for Kenyan police to arrest security guards whenever a crime is reported. The arrest of the night guards may not necessarily imply guilt.

John Bergen, has since undergone multiple surgeries to repair a shattered jaw, a broken wrist, two broken arms, damaged knee and multiple lacerations and bruises. Eloise, was released from hospital after receiving 35 stitches for multiple cuts and bruises. The couple told their family that they plan on visiting the local prison to confront and forgive the men accused of attacking them before they board the plane home.

Western Province and neighbouring Kitale are a densely populated area adjacent to Kenya’s border with Uganda. Rapid population growth is exacting massive pressure on land, water and forestry resources. Meanwhile, a high rate of youth unemployment has worsened the poverty situation, resulting in school dropouts, broken homes, alcoholism and rising crime. The erosion of traditional cultural values due to urbanization has removed the taboos that placed moral restrictions in the past.

Western Province and the Rift Valley province where Kitale is located experienced political and ethnic clashes following disputed elections in December 2007. Tens of thousands of people were evicted from homes, farms and businesses due to ethnic prejudice and political affiliation. Roads were blocked, shops looted and farms set ablaze in an orgy of violence that devastated the area’s economy. Government offices were ransacked. Rumours about the entry of Ugandan soldiers into Kenya resulted in mobs of youth blocking transport at border areas for weeks.

An insurgency in Mount Elgon by the Sabaot Land Defense Force (SLDF) drew the wrath of Kenya’s security forces, especially from March this year. Both the SLDF and the government have been implicated in torture, killings and the disappearance of hundreds of people in Mt Elgon District.

Meanwhile, the violence against the Canadian and Dutch aid workers has received scant attention from Kenya’s media. The Standard reported the Kakamega attack through a tiny news brief. Its possible that political leaders from the region fear that continued negative publicity could deter tourists and investors.

Details of the Kitale attack on Canada’s National Post.

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