16 January 2013

Kenya: Tana River Delta Community Leaders Pledge to Restore Peace

Nairobi — Community leaders from Kenya's troubled Tana River Delta region have vowed to unite the Pokomo and Orma communities and bring an end to months of intermittent tribal clashes that have left more than 150 dead since August 2012.

At a meeting convened by Internal Security Minister Katoo Ole Metito at the Harambee House in Nairobi on Monday (January 14th), senior security officers, lawmakers from the Tana River Delta, political aspirants, professionals and community elders discussed ways to end the violence.

"The objective of the meeting was to seek ways of ensuring that the communities living in the affected areas co-exist peacefully and eliminate incidences of interethnic conflicts that result to underdevelopment and loss of lives," former Tana North lawmaker Omar Soba told Sabahi.

"Apart from holding interethnic joint rallies, we have agreed to hold interethnic joint peace meetings in all conflict areas in the county so that we can pacify any existing hatred and anger," he said.

He said leaders of both communities pledged to support the government's disarmament exercise and to continue interethnic dialogue.

"We will go to every home and talk to them so they surrender the illegal weapons in their possession that we are using to kill ourselves," Soba said.

Security lapses, hate speech

As the meeting was under way in Nairobi, human rights activists with Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) held street demonstrations in Mombasa condemning the killings and protesting what they say was the government's slow pace at stemming the violence.

MUHURI executive director Hussein Khalid called for a total overhaul of the security team in the Tana River Delta.

"Failure of the police to stop these deaths for months now is a clear indication that there is a serious security lapse," he told Sabahi. "We need a shakeup to inject new tactics that will deal with this violence once and for all."

Unless there is a total security overhaul, violence could get worse and exacerbate other tension-prone areas such as Mount Elgon, Eldoret, Nakuru and northern Kenya counties, Khalid said.

"If they cannot address violence in a small area like the Tana River Delta, what will happen to the rest of the Coast Province, which is already reeling from threats of illegal groups like the Mombasa Republican Council?" he asked. "And what will happen to the entire country where we are seeing election related violence hotspots propping up?"

Metito also addressed these concerns during the meeting in Nairobi. He cautioned politicians against using hate language in their campaigns and mobilising their supporters to cause violence.

"Investigations are at advanced stage and any person, be it politicians or otherwise, found to be behind the violence in either Tana Delta or other parts of the country will be arrested and prosecuted," he said. "We do not want a few people to make the country burn again."

Politics, firearms and land disputes

Benji Ndolo, a policy analyst at the Centre for Law and Research International in Nairobi, said that despite the heavy deployment of security personnel in the region, interethnic flare-ups have persisted because of the poor tactical ability of police and the failure to effectively engage the communities to bring a truce.

"I think engaging the community leaders first is the right step to stem the violence, but it should be enhanced with proper intelligence gathering so that those behind the killings can be apprehended -- and those planning further attacks can be deterred before they launch them," he told Sabahi.

Ndolo said politics, proliferation of illegal arms and competition for pasture land are fuelling the clashes between Pokomo farmers and the Ormas, who are predominately pastoralists. As a long-term solution, he called on the government to fairly carry out land adjudication in the area.

Soba agreed that land disputes are a main cause of violence in the region, but said he was optimistic that the speedy adjudication of land ownership cases would give residents the land rights they seek and produce a lasting peace.

Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo, who also attended the meeting in Nairobi on Monday, denied claims that the police are incapable of dealing with the violence. He said security forces have changed their approach to handling ethnic and politically instigated violence.

"We have intensified [the removal of] illegal firearms from the hands of civilians, not only in Tana River Delta but across the country," he said, although he declined to give details about the disarmament operation.

"Things are not out of control," he said. "As we speak now, we have gotten a grip on the situation in the Tana River Delta and all violence hotspots in the country, to deter any form of violence in the run-up to the next general elections and even after the elections."

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