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Red flag over deadly tribal clashes ahead of the 2017 general elections

Members of the Maasai community hold a demonstration along the Mai Mahiu-Narok road to protest the move to kick them from the vast Kedong ranch in Naivasha. They vowed to paralyze ongoing projects like SGR and the Industrial park on the land which they lay claim to. Photo by Antony Gitonga

Fresh tribal clashes have left authorities worried about the precarious state of the nation as elections approach. Only two days ago in Olumilil Township on the Kericho-Kisii border, members of the Gusii and Kalenjin communities clashed over the ownership of a parcel of land.

And in another clash, three members of the Marakwet community were killed at their farms along River Kerio by unknown assailants believed to have crossed over from East Pokot in Tiaty Constituency. Last week the Marakwet retaliated by killing two members of  the Pokot community.

These tensions are emerging as the National Council of Churches of Kenya has warned that the country is teetering towards another violent General Election on account of misgivings about the credibility of the electoral commissioners.

Friday’s statement by the NCCK followed another one by Catholic bishops who said corruption and the heated political climate was undermining the social fabric of society and creating tensions.

Every election year, tensions flare  up in tribal and land conflicts in areas where boundaries are unclear or where political rivalries erupt in bloody clashes. But no other part of  the county has been as hit harder as the Rift Valley.

Following the disputed 2007 General Election, more than 1,300 Kenyans died in such violence. Hundreds of thousands others were displaced. The majority of these were residents of the expansive Rift Valley.

But tensions, tribal animosity and violent land disputes are not limited to the Rift Valley region. As shown in the graphic below, authorities have a full plate in ensuring peace and stability across the country.

Lawrence Bomet, a former commissioner with the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), says the sensitive land issue in the Rift Valley must be resolved urgently.

“Unless the land issue is properly addressed before the polls, it could spark a fresh round of  violence,” Bomet warns.

Wilson Leitich, a former Nakuru District Kanu Branch chairman, says the government must work with the NCIC to resolve long-standing issues between communities in the region.

“The issues surrounding land ownership must be looked into by the National Land Commission (NLC). Squatters must not be left out. Doing so will be a recipe for chaos,” said Leitich.

Already, there are signs of trouble in various group farms in Nakuru County. They include Ngongongeri, Ndibithi, Ngati, Kiambogo, Utheri wa Lari, Nyakinyua, Muthera, Kedong and Ndabibi ADC.

ADC, Gema and Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (Karlo) land, which members of the Isahakia community lay claim to, are the other expansive farms whose ownership  has been disputed.

While most of these farms are confined to Nakuru County, others extend beyond the borders to Narok, Kiambu and Baringo counties.

Naivasha, an area where land conflicts date back to the 18th century when white settlers arrived, remains volatile nine years after it bore the brunt of the 2007-08 post-election violence.

Here, hardly a month passes by without reports of land-related conflicts, most with deadly results. Over the last couple of months, land disputes involving various groups have left several people dead, property worth millions of shillings destroyed and hundreds of families displaced.

Since the beginning of the year, two people have been killed, houses torched, farms invaded and tens arrested as cases of land disputes in Naivasha town rise by the day.

These conflicts have drawn the attention of the NLC. While issuing out title deeds in Solai, Nakuru County recently, NLC chairman Mohammed Swazuri assured residents of the commission’s commitment to resolve some of these land disputes.

The dispute pitting members of the Isahakia community and Karlo sticks out like a sore thumb. It has been running for years and a case over ownership is  currently pending in court.

For a long time, conflicts pitted the Kikuyu against the Maasai over Ng’ati farm in the Maella area, until a court arbitrated  over the impasse and ruled on the ownership two years ago. But members of one community living in Ng’ati have now turned against each other, with the directors of the land buying company on the  firing line.

Members accuse the directors of illegally selling part of their land to the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (Kengen) and allocating prime parcels to non-members.  The situation has turned nasty, with some members invading private land and burning property belonging to the directors.

It took the intervention of Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery, who announced  that the sale of the  property to Kengen had been annulled, even though this authority is bestowed on the NLC. Swazuri  quickly moved in, summoning senior Kengen managers as part of investigations on how the 3,000-acre parcel  changed hands.

In Mai Mahiu’s Utheri wa Lari, two elderly residents were admitted in hospital after they were attacked by Maasai morans while working on their farm.

Stephen Muiru, the chairman of Uthiru wa Lari, told The Standard on Sunday that they bought the property 40 years ago but are unable to use it due to perennial attacks. “Senior leaders from Kajiado and Narok have held meetings in the farm. They should know that  we are ready to die fighting for our land,” he says.

A senior land officer attributes the increasing disputes to lack of ownership documents by nearly all government agencies that have set up base in the area. “Schools, hospitals and government offices do not have title deeds. This is a ticking time bomb,” says the officer.

Antony Rebo, a former officer in the Ministry of Lands, says the majority of disputes in Naivasha revolve around resources like geothermal and sand or the proposed Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) route.

“We have seen an upsurge in cases of land disputes around Mai Mahiu and Longonot mainly due to geothermal resources,” he says.

In Rongai, communities are feuding over the 16,000-acre Banita farm previously owned by a Greek settler.

Banita, though a cosmopolitan area, is dominantly inhabited by the Kalenjin. Most inhabitants here are squatters who worked in the Greek settler’s sisal estate.

Also in the same area is Barina Farm in Solai, where residents are up in arms over what they term as illegal subdivision of a 2,000-acre farm by local administrators and unscrupulous businessmen.

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