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Sondu: Why there's no end to bloody clashes at border town

 A victim of Sondu tribal clashes recuperating at Sigowet sub-county hospital. [Nikko Tanui, Standard]

Sondu, a vibrant town on the border of Kericho-Kisumu counties, has hit the headlines in the recent past following inter-tribal clashes.

The latest incident occurred on Wednesday, July 12, when two people were killed and seven others injured when anti-government protests degenerated into an ethnic conflict.

The town is situated to the west of Kericho town about 45km along the Kapsoit-Sondu road. It borders Nyamira County to the South and Kisumu County to the West.

Sondu is a cosmopolitan town with several communities doing business there. 

Clashes have been witnessed in the area since the 1990s, especially during election years.

There have also been differences between Kericho and Kisumu counties over the boundary. This has led to clashes over the years.

Leaders from Kisumu claim the original boundary was behind Sondu Police station, which was under the county until 1992 when it was moved to Kericho County.

Their Kericho counterparts argue that the boundary is Maraboi near Nyamaroka and stretches to Kapsorok and Koru.

The boundary dispute has been simmering between the two counties with each laying claim to the revenue generated from Sondu market.

In the past, efforts by the Kisumu administration to start collecting taxes in the market have met stiff resistance from Kericho officials.

Both sides often trade accusations of trespassing over the disputed market boundary that has been the source of tension for a long time.

Kericho Governor Erick Mutai noted that boundary disputes should not be allowed to fester and destroy the economic potential of the devolved units.

In February this year while on an inspection tour of the ongoing construction of Sondu market, the governor's convoy was stoned by armed youth who thought the county boss had gone there to demarcate the boundary. The goons were repulsed by police and order restored.

Sondu is not the only disputed area. Other disputed parcels of land are LR No 3977 and 3978/2 situated in Kapchebwai sub-location, Koitaburot Location in Sigowet/ Soin sub-county.

The land was leased to Muhoroni Sugar Company.

In 2020, the residents led by Andrew Bett, Kimutai arap Chelule and Joseph Kiprono Saina petitioned the Senate to recommend and investigate how the Koguta clan from Nyakach continued to occupy the two parcels of land.

They called for an audit of the land rates collected by Kisumu County from the Muhoroni Sugar Company Limited that once fell under the defunct Kipsigis County Council as per the valuation report prepared by the County Assembly of Kericho during the transition from County Council to Kericho County government.

They also demanded that Kisumu be stopped from erecting signpost, drilling of water, construction of ECDE classrooms and tree planting.

They also wanted the Senate to ensure the Kipsigis community Cooperative Societies in Soin ward are allowed to lease the two parcels of land which are not being used by Muhoroni Sugar Company Limited which is now under receivership.

But according to the Chairman of Koguta land committee Tom Owuor, they are the genuine owners of the land. “Our forefathers settled here in 1900 and numbered less than 400 but the population has increased. A huge chunk of our land was handed to Muhoroni Sugar Factory in 1968,” he said.

Mr Owuor claimed that the community’s problems have been compounded by their neighbours who now claim part of a 4,000-acre land that was hived off to create Muhoroni Sugar Factory nuclear farms.

The locals are demanding that the government fast-track the implementation of the National Land Commission gazette notice Number 883 Volume 27 issued on March 1, 2019, that gave a verdict that the Ministry of Lands and the Privatization Commission to return the two parcels of land to the community.

The community says plans to survey and resettle the community on the two parcels of land have attracted a counter-claim by a neighbouring community.

On Friday, leaders from Kisumu called on their counterparts in Kericho to show leadership and restrain their people. 

“Of great concern to me are reports that the police from Kericho County are partisan and are shielding those committing various atrocities against those from Kisumu side. Cattle are being taken by force from homes and women and children are being assaulted,” said a statement read by Governor Anyang' Nyong’o.

Yesterday, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kindiki Kithure toured the troubled area and urged the communities to resolve their differences amicably.

Prof Kindiki vowed that the government will not allow violence and lawlessness, saying that was not the solution to disputes.

“I am ready and willing to facilitate all peace-building and cohesion efforts here in Sondu and other parts of the country where there are disputes between various communities. We must have a peaceful country,” said the CS.

Kindiki termed as criminals those who killed, injured and participated in wanton destruction of property, in the pretext of agitating for border issues.

“The chaos on Wednesday here in Sondu had nothing to do with border disputes between Kericho and Kisumu counties,” he said.

He reminded those living in Sondu that Kenya is a democracy and everyone has their political rights, whether they support the government or the opposition.

“But those rights do not extend to violence, hooliganism and lawlessness,” said the CS.

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