The recent wave of violence in Nessuit, Mariashoni and Ndoswa villages in the Eastern Mau Forest have brought to the fore the simmering tensions over land in Nakuru County.
The county has the dubious distinction of having the highest number of land rows that usually degenerate into ethnic conflicts.
The killings, maiming and burning of houses have been the hallmark of the violence in the region since 1992.
Like seasons, the trouble spots in the county are the same and rotational.
If it is not the communities living in parts of Molo and Kuresoi feuding, it is those in Njoro sub-County, the home to Kipsigis, Kikuyus and the minority Ogiek community.
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The clashes in Njoro, Kuresoi, Likia and Molo relate to conflicts over land that date back to colonial era.
Every five years, the county is gripped by a cycle of violence as politicians eager to capitalise on the issue inflame passions among voters.
And interestingly, every time they are triggered by minor incidents like theft of livestock, which mutate quickly to full-blown ethnic conflicts that lead to deaths and destruction of property.
In the wake of the new wave of violence, at least six people had been killed, dozens left nursing injuries and hundreds of houses torched.
At least 80 families who fled their homes for fear of attacks have sought refuge in local schools including Oinoptich Primary School in Mariashoni.
In the recent attacks, intervention by both the county and the national governments has stopped the spread of the violence that came in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Local leaders led by Governor Lee Kinyanjui, Senator Susan Kihika, MPs Charity Kathambi (Njoro), Kuria Kimani (Molo), Joseph Tonui (Kuresoi South) and Woman Representative Liza Chelule joined the Rift Valley Regional Coordinator George Natembeya in asking the warring communities to be peaceful.
The violence has been linked to the recent evictions or illegal settlers in Eastern Mau forest land and alleged political incitement.
Residents and various government agencies involved in restoring peace in the region talk about deep-seated suspicion and mistrust among communities in the region over land-related issues and politics.
On June 27, the Kenya Forest Services (KFS) announced an elaborate plan remove illegal settlers from the Eastern Block of Mau Forest.
According to Frank Njenga, the Mau Forest Ecosystem Conservator, almost 28,500 hectares of the forest land had been encroached on. That is approximate half of the 57,000-hectare forest block, he said.
KFS has been undertaking a multi-agency operation to flush out squatters and reclaim Logoman, Sururu, Likia, Kiptunga, Mariashoni, Nessuit, Baraget and Oleposmoru forests within the complex.
Several settlers have already been kicked out. Leaders and residents interviewed linked the violence to the thorny Mau Forest land issue and political incitement among other factors.
Joseph Tonui, the Nakuru County Assembly deputy speaker, who has filed a petition in court seeking to stop evictions on behalf of 44,000-odd families in Mau, says it’s all about land.
He revealed that a long-standing conflict over land is the cause of the tension that often calumniates in violence at the slightest provocation.
“Before the evictions, everything was alright. But when the government started the exercise, tension rose in Njoro and other areas around the Mau Forest. Our neighbours who were evicted now want to push us away from parcels of land which they had sold to us and moved into the forest,” Tonui says.
As the Nessuit ward representative blames the evictions on the violence, State agencies want to evict some 20,000 more people in Nessuit, Tachasis Chepkosa, Sururu and Likia areas.
Paul Bargetuny, a resident of Sururu, concurs with the MCA saying the conflicts experienced in the areas were as a result of land disputes and bad blood between the two warring communities.
Human rights activists and representative of the Ogiek community want the government to involve the Ministry of Environment and Lands in a joint team to address the land issue.
Magenyi, who has done extensive research on land conflict in Nakuru County, says ethnic flare-ups usually cause instability in the region where residents accuse successive governments of failing to address historical injustices.
However, Kathambi attributed the recurring clashes to unclear government policies on conservation.
“There have been evictions almost every year and the government has never shown us exactly where the boundary is. Some people were legally resettled,” Kathambi said.
Governor Kinyanjui said his administration has already initiated peace talks. “In the fullness of time, we must realise that peace is priceless and we all have a role in its preservation,” he said.