29 August 2012

Kenya: Politics, Pastureland and Conflict

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
A barbershop burns in Nairobi's Mathare slum in post-election violence, December 31, 2007.

Isiolo — Thousands of people have fled their homes amid renewed clashes between rival communities in Kenya's North Eastern Province, in which some 17 people were killed, according to officials.

The violence follows a massacre earlier this month of 52 people in a coastal village in Tana River District. While the incidents, which have resulted in mass displacement, take place amid a long-standing competition over resources, they are increasingly being triggered by political motives as well.

Revenge killings

In the latest incident in the northwest, five people in the Banissa area of Mandera District were shot dead on 26 August.

"The raiders were out on a revenge mission. They raided our country from Ethiopia, killed five and crossed back," said a local government official, who asked not to be identified.

According to the Kenya Red Cross, 12 people were killed in clashes in Banissa and nearby Rhamu earlier in August.

"At least 3,500 households have been internally displaced in Banissa and Rhamu. The families have been forced to live in deplorable conditions without water, food, medicine and shelter," the Red Cross said in a statement.

Red Cross spokeswoman Nelly Muluki said the total number of displaced was likely to be much higher. "We are told many have moved far away to grazing fields they feel are safe," she said.

"The displaced families have been forced to live in deplorable conditions without water, food, medicine and shelter... The attacked communities have suffered destruction of property and shelter as a result of the clashes," the statement added, noting that livestock had been stolen in large numbers during some of these incidents.

"The Rhamu District Hospital is strained with a shortage of medical supplies and medical personnel to manage the increasing casualties from clash-prone zones around the area. There has also been a lack of ambulances to carry out timely referrals of casualties to the Mandera District Hospital," the Red Cross said, adding that many schools in Banissa had been vandalized.

Commercial activities in Mandera have also been affected and a curfew is in place. "We have no more taxis, shops or hotels that operate at night. We are losing a lot of money. Insecurity has affected many of us. We can't afford to sustain our families," said Mukhtar, a Mandera taxi driver.

Some civil servants have fled the area. "I am now in Wajir. I arrived on Sunday [August 26] from Mandera after being threatened. Many civil servants, including health workers and technical staff, have left Mandera," one civil servant told IRIN. Some of the villages in the Mandera North and Banissa areas have also been deserted.

The Wajir area itself has itself not escaped the violence, with clashes between Garrey and Degodia communities on 23 August leading to the destruction of property and the displacement of almost 100 households to a temporary camp at the local police station.

Tensions high

Meanwhile, tension remains high in the coastal area near the site of the of 21 August killings. Some 600 households from the pastoralist Orma community remain displaced from the area for fear of a new attack, according to County Chairman Salim Golo.

"We are worried by the heavy presence of Pokomo fighters. They are camping at an island in Tana River. We have informed the administration and the police, but it's sad no action has been taken," he said.

A team of government doctors and Red Cross personnel visited one makeshift camp in the area and found "there was no standing shelter or pit latrine. The IDPs had no food and had to feed on coconuts solely. The children were quite exposed to the cold weather and had to sleep on the wet and swampy terrain with no warm clothing."

The team delivered plastic sheeting, collapsible jerricans, mosquito nets, soaps, water purifiers, kitchen sets, rice, cooking oil and beans.

Speaking after the Tana River killings, Red Cross Secretary General Abbas Gullet said more than 200 people had lost their lives during clashes between communities since the start of the year, a phenomenon he linked to general elections scheduled for March 2013.

"Our country was rocked by pre-election induced violence in 1992, 1997 and 2002. In 2008, we experienced the worst post-election violence. It's clear we have not learned or made any commitment to end this pattern of political-related violence, killings, suffering and loss of properties," he said.

"As we continue for the next six to seven months before the election it is clear that this pattern will continue unless something is done drastically, now and not tomorrow," he warned, calling for the speedy prosecution of those orchestrating the violence.

Politics and scarcity fuel violence

Since a new constitution was passed in 2010, considerable political power and associated financial resources have been devolved from the capital to Kenya's regions in the form of positions in newly-created administrative areas.

"While the violence appears on the surface to be a long-standing conflict driven by competition for resources such as water and pasture, there is evidence to suggest the killings have a political component related to redrawing of political boundaries and next year's general elections," Aeneas, Chuma, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Kenya said in a recent statement.

Still, other, more long-standing and less localized drivers of conflict should not be discounted entirely, according to Choice Okoro-Oloyede, outreach and advocacy officer at the East Africa branch of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, a partner in the multi-agency Security in Mobility initiative.

"Pastoralists communities across the Horn of Africa have become regions of low-intensity conflict, begging for sustainable and sustained conflict-prevention interventions," she told IRIN.

"Kenya's regional positioning makes it particularly vulnerable. Cattle rustling incidents have increased in the region as owners seek to restock herds badly affected by the recurrent searing droughts. The country's geographical positioning places it squarely at the epicentre of pastoralists' resource-based conflict in the Horn of Africa," said Okoro-Oloyede.

"Depleted livestock, limited pasture, and water from the cumulative effect of cyclic drought, and the availability of small arms are conditions that have seen an increase in pastoralists' cross-border movement in search of pasture and water in ways that are triggering violent armed cross-border conflict," she said.

In 2011, for example, 370 conflict-related deaths were recorded in the drought-affected areas of north-eastern Kenya. A majority of those affected were pastoralists caught up in ethnic clashes over livestock and pasture. In 2010, 179 such deaths were recorded.

"Freedom and flexibility of movement within national borders and beyond is essential to the viability of mobile pastoralism - more so in the face of climate change," said Okoro-Oloyede.

"However, much evidence points to mobility being restricted on various grounds, increasing pastoralists' inability to minimize risks and cope with climatic and other shocks. Administration borders are being drawn without bearing in mind pastoralists' mobility needs, leading to conflict and insecurity. Consequently, pastoralists are increasingly being pushed to the periphery as other livelihood systems encroach on their land," she said.

This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations

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