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State in slumber as drums of war sound in Tana

By Patrick Beja | August 16th 2015

As the week drew to a close, there was indication that tribal conflicts in the volatile Tana River County had re-emerged following the murder of nine people in villages from Tana Delta.

The latest conflict in Tana Delta pits ethnic Giriama against Wardei on one front and ethnic Somali versus ethnic Orma on the other, signalling a return to tribal bloodletting that assails every electoral cycle. Security analysts believe the state is ignoring telltale signals of an imminent blood bath that appears more apparent due to instability in neighbouring Lamu County and the tribal character of ongoing killings.

The masterminds, financiers and killers in the 2012 Tana Delta massacre between ethnic Pokomo and Orma were never brought to justice despite being identified in a judicial inquest.

Many of those named in the report from the Orma community now hold key political posts in the Tana River County government and there is no indication they will be charged as hundreds of victims of the 2012 violence from both tribes remain displaced in and outside Tana River.

While Orma dominate the county government in a troubled alliance with ethnic Wardei, the Pokomo, who lost out in the 2013 polls, allege marginalisation in Governor Hussein Dado’s government.

Old conflicts refuse to die as shown by the rejection of land adjudication by mainly pastoralist politicians when suspended Land Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu visited the area last year.

The latest round of ethnic clashes occurred last week at the Hurara area of Tana Delta sub-county between Giriama farmers and Wardei pastoralists. Ten people died and hundreds more displaced.

Authorities have reported that an uneasy calm had returned to the area, even as a reconciliation committee of 12 elders from each ethnic group work on a peace deal amid heavy police presence and high tension.

“Calm has been restored and displaced families are back to their homes. We have deployed police officers to all affected villages in Hurara and a local peace committee is reconciling the two sides,” said Tana River County Commissioner Joseph Rotich.

The Hurara killings were blamed on disputes over pasture reportedly ignited when Wardei cattle trespassed into Giriama farms. Wardei allege Giriama farmers kidnapped their kin first, one of who is still allegedly missing.

However, the Hurara conflict is just one of many ethnic battles fought within the Tana Delta region that even the Justice Grace Nzioka Judicial Commission of inquiry could not slay.

The Wardei have once clashed with pastoralist Orma and have also fought with Pokomo farmers just as elections approached. The endless conflicts in the county are causally blamed on competition for grazing corridors and watering points, but the the judicial commission linked prominent politicians to the disputes. The report documented 170 people dead, including nine police officers, 668 houses burnt, 250 head of cattle killed and about 10,000 people displaced.

The most shocking attack was at Kilelengwani village where a militia group believed to be from the Pokomo overran it and killed 38 people, including nine armed police officers. More than 500 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Riketa and Kilelengwani villages are still living in a camp in Dide Waride location in neighbouring Lamu County. The report implicates key local leaders, including one holding a key post in the county government who allegedly directed the violence using 13 mobile phone lines. According to the report, another suspect used nine mobile phone lines during the clashes.

“The commission was able to obtain limited data of the telephone calls made by various persons who were alleged to have been involved in executing or planning the attacks,” the report says.

Following the latest round of violence at Hurara, several leaders have asked that the Justice Grace Nzioka commission report be made public and implemented.

Garsen MP Ibrahim Sane, in whose constituency Hurara and the Tana Delta fall,has demanded the implementation of the judicial report and control on migration into the Delta from Kilifi.

“We also want the police and other government agencies to act fast and fairly when a conflict is reported. Injustice leaves one side in the conflict with a feeling that it is being marginalised, “ he said.

Land tenure in Tana River, he said, is a perennial source of conflicts. “Both the pastoralists and farming communities need the title deeds and it was wrong to distribute just a few to one village,” Sane said.

Former Galole MP Major (Rtd) Samuel Dadho Godana said although natural resources were being blamed for the conflicts, violence was being used to tilt election outcomes.

“The ethnic clashes are always used to undermine one side in the political competition. I strongly believe the end results of the Hurara conflict is 2017 election outcome,” he said.

Major Godana was arrested and prosecuted over the 2012 Tana Delta conflict, but the case was dismissed in January 2013.

Former Garsen MP and assistant minister Danson Mungatana also believes the solution to the conflicts lies in the full implementation of the Justice Nzioka report.

The judicial commission report linked well-organised groups with military or quasi-military training to the mayhem. It also found out that retired military, intelligence and police officers from both Orma and Pokomo participated in the organising the violence and distributing guns and military uniform to the militias.

The commission also found that, for unknown reasons, senior police officers orchestrated a massive cover up of impending violence.

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