News 2007


A trend of ethnic clashes

July 2, 2007


The approach of the General Election brings back memories of deaths and instability in Rift Valley Province.

General Service Unit officers patrol an abandoned village in Mt Elgon after violent gang attacks forced villagers to leave.

It is characterised by a vicious cycle of senseless killings, which has made it a trouble spot like no other in the country.

The provincial administration has known no calm in the area as violence recurs in Likia, Molo, Laikipia and Kuresoi.

And to prevent the recurrence of violence in the province as this year’s General Election approaches, police are on high alert and have put up cautionary measures.

The Rift Valley Provincial Police Officer, Mr Everett Wasige, says police are closely monitoring the areas.

"We are working round the clock to ensure that there is peace in the province as we approach the polls. Police are on red alert for any breach of peace," said Wasige.

He said community policing makes it easier for police to identify the troublemakers.

He said the Provincial Security Committee, led by Rift Valley PC, Mr Hassan Noor Hassan, was prepared for any eventuality.

Before the advent of multi-partism in 1991, no clashes had been witnessed between local communities.

They co-existed peacefully until the bad seed of hatred was planted among them.

In early 1990s, politicians had predicted that the return of multipartyism would result in tribal violence.

The prediction was alarmingly fulfilled as violent clashes between ethnic groups erupted across the country from 1991 to 1998.

However, far from being the spontaneous result of a return to political pluralism, there was clear evidence that politicians helped to provoke the ethnic violence for their selfish purposes.

Wasige said it was unfortunate that politicians were involved in fanning the clashes.

But he said police were closely monitoring utterances by politicians, especially during political rallies, to take immediate action on inciters. A presidential commission of inquiry established in 1998 to investigate tribal clashes pointed out that politicians were behind the violence.

The commission was set up to find out the causes of the violence, the actions of police and other law enforcement agencies in addressing the incidents, and the preparedness and efficacy of law enforcement agencies in preventing and controlling such violence.

The commission was tasked to recommend further investigation or prosecution of perpetrators as well as ways to prevent and control future inter-ethnic attacks.

Land conflicts still unresolved

Just before the 1992 General Election, clashes erupted in Miteitei in Nandi Hills and Kipkelion.

It became a full-blown inter-ethnic fight in Chepakundi and Olenguruone in Nakuru District by election time.

Hundreds of people lost their lives and thousands were displaced as the ethnic violence spread to other parts of the district.

The areas that bore the brunt of the clashes include Ka Mwaura, Londiani, Sitoito, Temuyota, Muchorwe, Enoosupukia, Enalbelbel and Tipis in Narok.

In Laikipia, there were mass killings and displacement of people in Sipili and Olmoran.

The clashes continued even after the elections in 1993 in Kondoo Farm, Kiruka and Kaptagat areas in Burnt Forest.

It was not until the clashes spread to Burnt Forest near Eldoret that the Government stemmed them.

But come 1997, there was a replica of violence in the same areas as local communities turned against each other. Hundreds of people were killed and houses torched as fresh clashes erupted in Njoro, Ndeffo, Mau Narok, Tipis and Likia in Molo constituency.

The violence spread to Nakuru Municipality just after the 1997 General Election.

The clashes were however contained in 1998 after leaders from the two warring communities agreed to find a lasting solution.

The peace talks between the fighting communities were brokered by former President Moi and the then Molo MP, the late Kihika Kimani.

In Molo, clashes were sparked by the Government’s decision to hive off part of Mau forest into settlement schemes. The plan was later stopped.

Mt Elgon District and parts of the North-Rift region have been prone to tribal clashes every election year since the advent of multi-party elections in 1992. In Uasin-Gishu District, areas around Burnt Forest in Eldoret South and Kwanza in Trans-Nzoia have experienced tribal-flare-ups during each election year.

In 1991/92, hundreds of people lost their properties in the Burnt Forest clashes. Some of them have been re-settled while others are yet to.

"The situation on the ground is not bad and those who are yet to re-settle may have decided not to return," says Mary Chepkwony, a peace campaigner with the Rural Women Peace Link. The organisation is involved in peace building initiatives.

Uasin-Gishu DC, Mr Bernard Kinyua, recently warned those who had started circulating leaflets, warning members of a certain community to leave.

Kinyua said the Government would deal firmly with those out to cause trouble and urged the public to help police with information on troublemakers.

The killing of more than 15 people in Matisi and Kinyoro near Kitale town also raised fears of the ugly scenes of tribal clashes emerging as this year’s General Election approaches.

Hassan, who chaired a meeting at Kinyoro after some killings, two months ago, warned politicians to desist from inciting residents against each other. This year and late last year, Kopsiro division of Mt Elgon has remained volatile, with the violence threatening to spread to neighbouring districts. Although Mt Elgon clashes are linked to the third phase of Chebyuk settlement scheme land allocations, politics has also been linked to the problem.

Local MP, Mr John Serut, has been on record blaming his political rivals in the district for being behind the clashes.

The Government is making efforts to contain further clashes, but it remains uncertain as to when peace would be restored in the district.

The land title deeds of about 1,700 beneficiaries of the Chebyuk scheme were nullified by the Government.

Western PC Mr Abdul Mwasserah, while announcing the nullification of the title deeds, had indicated the move would help end the clashes.

The future of pupils in 104 primary schools and 25 secondary schools in the district remains uncertain.

Even more worrying is how the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education candidates would be prepared to sit for their examinations later in the year. Clashes over the Chebyuk settlement scheme have over the last six months left 150 people dead and about 40,000 others displaced, with most economic activities grinding to a halt.

The Kenya National Union of Teachers Mt Elgon Branch Executive Secretary, Mr Willy Songi Masai, says 104 primary schools and 25 secondary schools were closed due to violence.

"Last September, the problem of schools closing due to the clashes started in Emia zone of Kopsiro division but by last January, it spread to other parts of the district. At the end of first term, no school was in session," says Masai. The Reverend Maritim arap Rirei, the head of Anglican Church of Kenya Kitale Dioceses and Development Awareness Programme in Eldoret, says the Government should address general insecurity in the North-Rift seriously.

Rirei says some children had crossed over from Mt Elgon to Uganda, where they are living as refugees.

"ACK and other humanitarian organisations can only offer relief supplies at best, as there is nothing else that can be done without the Government pacifying the fighting groups," adds Rirei.

The National Council of Churches of Kenya national chairman, Bishop Eliud Wabukala, says the council would come up with assistance to children and other vulnerable members of society.