The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Rift Communities Armed, Report Says

A new report by Human Rights Watch says communities in Rift Valley have armed themselves with guns in readiness to defend themselves in case of a fresh round of post-election violence.

The report "High stakes: Political Violence and the 2013 Elections in Kenya" quotes elders and local government officials attesting to increased arming of rival communities ahead of the March 4 elections.

Done between August and December last year, the report says communities all over the Rift are saying : "This time we won't be unprepared."

"Unlike 2007-2008 when both sides used machetes, spears, bows and arrows, Kalenjin and Kikuyu elders, as well as local government officials, told Human Rights Watch that both communities have now acquired guns," the report says.

The report says that the underlying causes of the 2008 violence remain in place and in some parts of the country the tensions have escalated.

It says a combination of inaction by the authorities in some regions and abusive or discriminatory conduct in others, plus a failure to implement promised reform, have worsened the situation.

The report says since last year, 477 Kenyans have lost their lives in inter-communal clashes in various parts of the country. Another 118,000 people have been displaced.

"The common theme, however, is the unwillingness of the government and other state authorities since the post-election violence of 2007-2008 to address the root causes of violence, reform the police, tackle official corruption, disband criminal groups, resettle displaced persons and hold accountable the many perpetrators of violence," it says.

In Coast, the report says the grievances of Mombasa Republican Council have simply been swept under the carpet.

In Nyanza and Central, powerful criminal groups and armed gangs are backing politicians. In North Eastern, security forces have stoked tensions by using excessive force against local residents, especially after attacks by armed groups on the police and military.

The report says the the Jubilee presidential ticket of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto- two of the four Kenyans facing crimes against humanity charges at the ICC, has raised the stakes of the March elections.

"The Kenyan commission of inquiry that examined the 2007-2008 violence identified the conduct of the police as a fundamental problem, and since then little has changed," the report notes.

As a pointer to police ineptitude, the report says since August of last year, around 180 people have been killed in fighting between the agriculturalist Pokomo and the pastoralist Orma communities with little help coming from the police.

Further, the possibility of violence has been exacerbated by increased struggle for power in the new devolved governance structure.

In the Rift Valley, the report says no proper reconciliation ever took place. To the contrary, the report says the government adopted policies like skewed resettlement have widened the divide.

The report makes a case study of the Kisumu vigilantes whom it identifies as American Marine Prime Minister Raila Odinga and China Group supporting Jubilee leaders Uhuru and Ruto. It says clashes occurred between the two groups last September after Uhuru visited Kisumu and police failed to intervene.

However when a local ODM politician who had been involved in peace meetings between the two groups- Shem Onyango Kwega was shot dead in October police intervened and used excessive force against demonstrators.

There has since be no accountability for the four deaths that followed the aftermath of Kwega's fatal shooting. The report calls on Kenyan leadership, African Union and foreign governments to close ranks and undertake "resolute actions" to make sure the March elections are free of violence.

To compile the report, the group says it interviewed 228 people around Kenya. It says the people included community elders, youths, civil society representatives, government officials, security officials,representatives of humanitarian agencies, victims of violence and perpetrators of violence.

Of the 228, 21 were from Nyanza, 48 from Central, 51 from Coast, including Tana River, 54 from the Rift Valley and 54 from North Eastern and Eastern Kenya.

Out of the 51 from Coast region, three were senior security officers, and four were politicians holding elected positions. The rest were elders, militia members, youth leaders, women leaders, civil society leaders, and victims of violence.

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