Uneasy calm returns to Sondu as unresolved disputes lurking for decades continue

Kisumu delagation led by Governor Anyang Nyong'o during a press conference on Sondu skirmishes. [Michael Mute, Standard]

An uneasy calm has returned in Sondu town, along the border of Kisumu and Kericho counties after two days of violent clashes that left two dead and scores nursing arrow wounds.

As of yesterday, at least seven people were hospitalized at Nyabondo Mission Hospital in Kisumu and Sigowet Hospital in Kericho. Two others are also undergoing specialized treatment in Kisumu.

This happened even as leaders continued to trade accusations.

It has emerged unresolved disputes that authorities and leaders have ignored for several years and misplaced supremacy contests could have been the key triggers of the violent clashes that hit the border town.

According to residents from both sides, the Wednesday protests by Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition were just a trigger of several underlying unresolved issues facing the town.

Residents say a prolonged boundary dispute between Kisumu and Kericho Counties over the thriving town, a spate of cattle rustling incidents, and a scramble for revenue between the two counties have been ticking time bombs. 

Several attempts by various entities to resolve the problems in the past 10 years have borne little fruits even as tensions brewed amidst the calm the region had experienced.

It is a prolonged conflict that even artists have penned songs to discuss its solution in vain. But still, a solution is yet to be found.

According to residents, the clashes are perennial and are always waiting for a trigger of political upheavals like the Wednesday protests by Azimio la Umoja Coalition.

On Wednesday as Azimio supporters took to the streets to protest against the high cost of living, the protests sparked off a violent confrontation between two communities. The protests left two dead and scores nursing arrow wounds.

And while residents who have been mingling together and have even intermarried have been hoping for a solution, politicians from two sides have been accused of fueling animosity.

Interviews with a number of residents established that the failure by authorities to address the teething issues that has been sparking tensions over the years was to blame for the clashes.

They also faulted the leaders and police officers for failing to urgently address the conflict that always rears its ugly head during periods of political upheavals.

Maurice Okello and felix Kiplagat, traders at the market claimed the unresolved disputes is always at the center of clashes in the town.

"There is a boundary dispute that authorities have not addressed. Both Kisumu and Kericho are claiming the town and politicians have used this to promote political interests," said Okello.

Yesterday, as an uneasy calm returned to the region following a deployment of a huge contingent of police officers to restore calm after two days of bloody clashes, politicians from both sides were still trading accusations over the conflict.

This came as the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) that had remained mum in the wake of the conflict finally broke their silence and called for peace, tolerance and dialogue.

Leaders from both the two counties traded barbs with both Governors Eric Mutai (Kericho) and Anyang Nyong’o (Kisumu), alongside MPs from the two sides accusing each other of fueling the conflict.

Prof Nyong'o in a statement called on the leaders from Kericho side to show leadership and restrain their people from provoking and attacking their neighbors.

"However, 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 take by force from homes and women and children are being assaulted," the governor lamented.

He convened a meeting with leaders from Kisumu to discuss the woes facing the agricultural town as leaders in Kericho also convened a series of meetings to address the clashes.

Nyong'o and his deputy Mathews Owili,MPs Rozah Buyu (Kisumu west ),Joshua Oron (Kisumu Central) and several MCAs protested the conduct of the police deployed to quell the skirmishes.

Without providing evidence, they claimed police officers had also taken sides in the conflict.  

They claimed they have received reports on their partisan behaviour and witnessed them standing by, unperturbed as youths, armed with arrows and other crude weapons from the Kericho side, march into Sondu market to attack traders.

His Kericho counterpart Mutai, also pointed an accusing finger at leaders in Azimio for fueling the ethnic animosity.

"I condemn in the strongest term the act of anarchy and violence perpetrated by these political stalwarts associated with Azimio on innocent business people who comes from communities not supporting demonstrations," read his statement in part.

According to Kisumu West MP Roza Buyu, the governor used a wrong tone to refer to the leaders from Kisumu. 

"Sondu has been a Peaceful town where both Kericho  and Sondu community trade.The demonstrations we have been holding is just to show our displeasure to the hard economic times.It should not be used by any leader to encourage tribal clashes," she said.

But as the leaders continued to trade accusations, several victims were still writhing in pain as the scars of the conflict continued to affect the region.

At least seven people have been hospitalized at Nyabondo Mission Hospital in Kisumu and Sigowet Hospital in Kericho. Two others are also undergoing specialized treatment in Kisumu.

At Nyabondo Missionary Hospital, 20-year-old Isaac Omondi was in pain as he nursed an arrow wound. He claimed he was attacked by six men as he headed to work.

At the facility, seven victims are nursing wounds inflicted on them from the clashes. One succumbed while undergoing treatment while two have been transferred to Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital.

"I had woken up to go to work but I was attacked by six men who were armed. They also robbed all my valuables," he said.

A few meters from his hospital bed, another victim, Robert Ouko was also writhing in pain. He claims he was attacked by a group of assailants who had hid in their maize farm.

"I heard screams outside and when I went to check, I was shot by three arrows," he said.

Yesterday, Interior PS said the government will take action against those perpetrating inter-ethnic violence in the region.

Dr Omollo said the government is putting various measures in place to address the conflicts.   

Speaking at Oriwo Boys Secondary School in Karachuonyo Constituency, Omollo said they will not allow anybody to give lame excuses on why the violence occur

“Whatever justification anybody may give, the government will not tolerate anybody who perpetrates the criminal act. They must face the full force of the law,” Dr Omollo said.

He said the government had sent security agencies to put measures in place to bet a long term solution

The security agencies comprising security committees from both Kisumu and Kericho counties have been tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the inter-ethnic violence does not recur.

“Security committees have held their first meeting to review what has transpired since Wednesday. Their objective is to put a mechanism in place, not only for deterrence but to ensure violence does not recur or get out of hand,” Dr Omollo said.

Reports by Olivia Odhiambo, Nikko Tanui,Blake Keen,  James Omoro and Kiprono Kurgat