Ending violence more than merely planning talking shops

By Abdikadir Sugow

Death and destruction in clashes between neighbouring communities in the Tana Delta and Northern Kenya struck alarm bells as the National Conference on Peaceful Elections ended at the Bomas of Kenya on Tuesday.

The peace conference opened by President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga was confronted by the tragic realisation that deep-seated causes of conflict continue.

The violent protests in Mombasa during which vehicles were smashed, shops looted, and churches attacked after gunmen killed terror suspect and fiery cleric, Sheikh Aboud Rogo, further showed peace still remains elusive as the country heads to the General Election in March.

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Unlike the clashes commonly associated with politics and elections in certain parts of the country, especially in the Rift Valley, the latest conflicts are also related to social, economic and religious factors.

The Kenya Red Cross has alleged politicians eyeing governor and senator positions may have contributed to the violence in Northern Kenya and the Tana Delta, which left more than 50 people dead.

Red Cross raised the alarm over possible flare-ups ahead of the elections due to tension over the sharing of county positions and new electoral boundary disputes.

Early warnings

As the Government and civil society grapples with peace building and conflict management, it is imperative the communities are directly engaged in the process to ensure a sustainable solution to the perennial ethnic clashes.

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The Government and all stakeholders, it has been argued, must address all the different types of conflict and what must be done to address them.

Red Cross alleges politicians eyeing county positions are pitting clans and ethnic groups against each other in the scramble for the positions, leading to violence.

They have identified Mt Elgon, Marigat in Kiserian, East Baringo, Sotik, Nandi, Turkana, Moyale, Isiolo, Samburu, Mandera, Tana Delta and Wajir as among those likely to explode in violence during the period.

Kenya Red Cross Secretary-General Abbas Gullet says thousands had been displaced from their homes and property destroyed on a wide scale, overstretching the agency’s humanitarian response.

He said the regions could erupt into further violence due to continued political competition and disputes over new boundaries that had taken tribal dimensions, adding there is evidence the violence was related to the coming elections.

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“We have been on the ground and there is tension as politicians from different clans fight for positions of Governor and Senator and there is also tension over new boundaries,” he said.

The early warnings were from intelligence reports gathered by Red Cross officials stationed in remote parts of the country, which Gullet said were particularly vulnerable due to inadequate police presence, and general lethargy of the Provincial Administration.

These security agencies, he added, had failed to act on the early warnings, due to what uncertainty about their jobs, set to be scrapped under the devolved system. “We have had pre-election violence in 1992, 1997, and 2001 and there are indications this could be the worst yet,” he warned.

He appealed to Kibaki and Raila to try and calm the tensions. Pastoralist areas are usually the worst hit due to the availability of illegal guns in large numbers.

However, the Red Cross Secretary General said Kenyans should not remain silent and leave the matter to politicians, saying the country risked looking down at one of the worst pre-election violence as it ushers in county governance for the first time.

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“Kenyans should not keep quiet but instead speak out on the tension generated by the county politics,” he said.

Politics has been blamed for the inter-ethnic and inter-clan clan fighting and violence, with reports that politicians fuelled the violence.

 Questions are being asked regarding the root cause of the conflict involving the Orma and Pokomo communities and in Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit and other conflict-prone areas.

Warring clans

There are economic conflicts (resource-based), livestock rustling, agro-pastoralist conflicts (like the Orma/Pokomo clashes), human-wildlife conflict, extractive industries conflicts, class conflicts and conflicts associated with historical injustices.

Obviously there was a build-up to the conflict in the affected regions and the ensuing bloodbath, arson, destruction of property and residences and the displacement of hundreds of children, women and elderly people.

Months of strategies built by warring clan elites in the vast Mandera, Wajir and Tana River counties could have culminated in the latest attacks and are widely feared to continue into the election period.

In Mandera, the clashes between the Garre and Degodia clans centre on the political future of Mandera North constituency, although their fights initially originated from the other side of the Ethiopia/Kenya border.

The current tension in Mandera might bring discord on a large scale and could spread to other parts of the region, including Wajir, Moyale, Marsabit and Isiolo counties.

The Garre and Degodia clans reside in Ethiopia and each controls two main administrative centres – Dire and Odo. The two districts are separated by River Dawa, which forms part of the Ethiopia/Kenya border.

While on the Ethiopia side, the clans – with their armed militias – have been fighting over the usage of the riverbank, about 100km long.

For the past three months, Ethiopian defence forces have encroached and crossed over to Kenya and even built illegal operation bases, particularly at Malkamari area as Kenyan forces watch.

The animosity between these groups from Ethiopia has planted bad seeds among their respective brothers on the Kenyan side, hence the ugly clan fighting within.

Power struggles

Now the bone of contention is the newly created Mandera North constituency where the clashes are mostly concentrated, with reports of ethnic killings and hundreds displaced in nine centres including Ashabito and Rhamu town.

The Degodia clan aim to hold on to the seat held by one of their own – MP Abdikadir Mohamed. The Garre, who lost in the last General Election, are reportedly strategising to re-capture it.

 Since 1992, the Degodia leadership has been moving around the corridors of power and successfully lobbied for the creation of the constituency, which was carved off Mandera Central constituency.

Tana River County has Bura, Tana Delta and Galole districts, with three constituencies of Bura, Garsen and Galole.

The rivalries

The Pokomo leadership under Assistant Minister Maj (rtd) Dhadho Godhana (who is now subject of investigation following an order by Acting Internal Security Minister Yusuf Haji) and Garsen MP Danson Mungatana are eyeing the county leadership and the rivalry is strongly suspected to be instigating the locals.

The Oromo clan, who recently went into political arrangement with the local Wardey clan, is aiming to capture the coveted Governor seat, with Ambassador Hussein Dado and former MP Molu Shambaro as their flag bearers.

The clashes could spread to the other side of Tana River and the neighbouring Fafi Constituency, where some members of the warring clans live along the riverbank of Mansabubu, Garasweynow, and Bura East.

Certainly, there are crucial lessons from National Peace Conference.

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Violence tana river northern Kenya elections National Conference