The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Goverment Was Warned About Possible Unrest in Tana Delta in May

Tana River residents had in May given a three month notice to the government to revoke the new boundaries. They claimed that residents from North Eastern were attempting to move the colonial and constitutional boundary.

Questions are being asked on what could be the root cause of the on going clashes in Tana Delta pitting the Orma and Pokomo communities. While in the past, the conflicts has been associated with competition for pasture, water and land use, there are also undertones that the skirmishes could be political.

Several people have been killed in the area in the past few weeks in violent clashes between the two communities over rights to land and water resources. The Pokomo who are farmers have been accusing the Orma; who are cattle keepers for letting their animals into their farms thus destroying their crops.

The Orma on the other hand have been accusing the Pokomo's of refusing them to graze their livestock in the area especially during drought. The Orma complain that Pokomo farmlands are too close to the banks of the Tana river and prevent the herders from using the river to water their cattle.

In May, Tana River residents petitioned the government through the Speaker of the National Assembly to address the issue of boundaries between Coast and North Eastern. They gave the government a three-month notice, failure to which, they said they would come out and solve it themselves by all means possible.

They claimed that residents from North Eastern were attempting to move the colonial and constitutional boundary. Their grievances were as a result of the IIEBC's decision to make Tana River the boundary of Ijar and Tana River counties. Initially the boundary was three miles away from the river and part of new Ijar territory.

When they presented their petition in May to Tana DO George Kamweru the residents held a demonstration and vowed that their land would not be taken away by anybody as they watch. "We will not allow our land to be taken even an inch our people will protect it by all means if the government fails to address the issue in time," said one of the residents.

"...We want to tell our neighbours of Ijara and Garissa who have never been respecting this boundary in no uncertain terms that people of Tana River know their boundary and they are fed up with their acts of aggression, provocation and intimidation to conflict," read part of the petition letter.

And three months later, true to their words, the attacks began. The attackers believed to be from the Pokomo community came armed with guns, machetes, spears, and bows and arrows. They surrounded a village of about 120 traditional pastoralist Orma houses and torched 90 homes in Reketa village in Tana River district. The raiders slashed those who attempted to escape and pushed them back into the burning huts.

Revenge killings were reported on Monday which claimed another 38 lives including nine policemen. The provincial security contemplated calling for military assistance to stop the bloodbath. The death toll has now risen to 111 people in the last three weeks in the ongoing clashes between the agricultural Pokomo and the pastoralist Orma.

The Monday attack saw heavily armed men believed to be from the Orma community raid Kilelengwani village at dawn. Police guarding the village were overpowered by the raiders. Some police officers ran for safety after they discovered they were outnumbered, according to a Kenya Red Cross official, Hassan Musa from Malindi, who was taking survivors to hospital.

The Red Cross confirmed that 167 houses were burnt alongside a Landrover belonging to the GSU and a police lorry. The vehicles were bloodstained indicating that most killings were committed there. The writing was on the wall for the impending clashes between the two communities who occupy Tana River and Ijara counties following a meeting by the local residents in February this year over the boundary issue. Tana River County is at the Coast while Ijara is in North Eastern.

During the meeting, leaders from Tana River agreed not to let any part of their land be cut off to benefit their Ijara counterparts. They said politicians were behind the divisions and warned that the issue could escalate to tension and violence between the two groups, but the security systems in the country failed to heed the warning.

Led by Salim Godhana Maro, the councillor of Kinakomba, the leaders said the three-mile strip from the riverbank has been cut off and the locals will not accept the loss of land. There has been constant conflict between Tana River and Ijara residents over pasture, land and water resources, and the boundaries review could cause tension, locals say. "We as leaders in this area, cannot accept any move to cut us off from our land, we shall resist the same with the content that it deserves," said Maro.

The leaders who met on February 27 in Tana River, resolved that they would petition Parliament not to endorse the report when it is debated by the Legal Parliamentary Committee. Maro was accompanied by Ndura councillor Ali Mughana, who said efforts to reach the area MPs, including Garsen's Danson Mungatana, Galole's Dhadho Godhana and Bura's Abdi Huh, have not been fruitful. "We need them to articulate this boundaries issue in Parliament as it is very emotive and may lead to chaos in the area," said Maro.

The leaders said no consultations were made before the passing of the boundaries report, and maintained that any efforts to enforce it will be resisted. "It is high time we lived well with our neighbours. Frequent fights over small things should not be the case, this issue will affect not only Tana River, but also the whole of Coast region, since it borders run from Garissa all the way to Lamu," they said in February.

The residents of Tana River county have opposed the decision to have River Tana as the boundary between the county, Garissa county and Ijara district. Their dissatisfaction was highlighted in February when they accused the defunct Interim Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission of changing their the boundaries without their consent. "We want the colonial boundaries which are three miles away from the river to be maintained," said Ramadhan Babisani, the chairman of the Wailwana community council of elders.

The residents termed the change of boundaries as incitement between counties and therefore asked parliament to reject the new boundaries once the bill is tabled in parliament. "Such incitements on disputes on boundaries are what contributed to the post election violence in 2007/2008 and we don't want a repetition of the same," said one of them who only gave his name as Wachu.

Wachu said he was saddened by the words of nominated MP Sophia Abdi Noor, who is also a member of the legal affairs committee, who had been quoted in one of the local dailies saying that the river will be used as the boundary between Tana River and Garissa counties. The residents said the commission had overstepped its mandate by changing boundaries since Tana River is in Coast province and Garissa is in North Eastern province.

Hassan Abdi the chairman of the Tana River county forum said that the legal affairs committee did wrong by changing the boundaries without considering the implications of the action and also without consulting the residents of the county. Odowa said that this conflicts if not urgently addressed might lead to bloodshed as witnessed in the past, saying that Tana River is a very polarized area especially when it comes to land matters.

He also said that Garissa and Masalani towns in Garissa county should pay their revenues to the Tana River county council since these towns are built within three miles across river Tana a land which belongs to Tana River county. The residents requested that the issue be handled with the seriousness it requires as they don't want to lag behind in development due to constant conflicts.

Politicians have also been blamed of having an hand in the clashes. Last week, Livestock assistant minister Dhadho Godhana was questioned by the police in connection with the violence. The Galole MP recorded his statement at CID headquarters on Kiambu Road in Nairobi and after the grilling session he told journalists that he was not involved in the tribal violence. Godhana said he had voluntarily told the police all he knew about the violence.

He said the police should investigate politicians and other leaders who had a hand in the violence that has forced members of one community to flee from their homes. Yesterday Godhana reiterated that he was not ready to sit in any forum with Internal Security acting minister Yusuf Haji to discuss security matters in the area. Godhana said he has personal differences with Haji.

Local leaders have accused the National Intelligence Service (NIS)for the clashes in the Tana Delta. Led by Fisheries Development minister Amason Jeffa Kingi, the leaders said the NIS failed to gather information on the clashes beforehand that would have otherwise enabled the government to avert the violence.

Speaking to journalists in Kikambala, Kingi said it is the mandate of the NIS to get information before such crimes take place. He said the agency had failed Kenyans. "The lives would not have been lost, that's why they owe Kenyans an explanation," he said. Kingi advised the government to investigate the root cause of the clashes and solve it to avoid a recurrence.

President Kibaki who had been mum on the issue, on Monday directed security organs to impose a security curfew in the area."The killing of innocent women,children men and security officials is a heinous crime and the perpetrators must be punished accordingly," said the head of state.

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