Senators put to task the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) to explain what it has done to resolve the conflict between Kitui and Tana River communities that has led to the loss of lives and property.
NCIC Chairperson Samuel Kobia accompanied by Commissioners Phillip Okundi, Dorcas Kedogo and CEO Skitter Ocharo appeared before the Senate National Cohesion and Integration Committee chaired by Mohammed Chute at Parliament Buildings, Nairobi, yesterday.
The committee accused NCIC of preferring to hold meetings in hotels in Nairobi instead of visiting the affected areas.
But the commission defended itself saying it had engaged peace monitors in the 47 counties in the country to alert its headquarters in Nairobi whenever there is conflict.
Mr Chute said the country had high expectations of NCIC which should exercise its roles effectively by sensitizing Kenyans to treat their neighbours like their brothers and sisters and not enemies to be eliminated.
“We will be engaging National Cohesion and Integration Commission and other partners to ensure that we promote national cohesion during our five years tenure and we will not allow anybody to promote conflict and disharmony in the country,” he said.
Kitui Senator Enock Wambua noted that at least 48 people in the county have been killed while hundreds of women and girls have been raped and accused NCIC of doing little to end the conflict.
Mr Wambua said that the notion that there was conflict between the Akamba and Somali communities was misplaced since the two have coexisted in harmony but the conflict is triggered by camel herders who forcefully invade the region.
“Let me make it very clear that members of the Akamba and Somali communities do not have ethnic disputes between them. They coexist peacefully in Kitui and Garissa towns where they do business, what we have here is a case of invaders with camels forcefully entering farms owned by other people,” he said.
The Kitui senator accused the commission of not involving leaders in Kitui and Tana River counties to resolve the conflict saying that the commissioners hold meetings in city hotels instead of visiting the affected areas.
Nominated Senator Beth Syengo regretted that during the latest invasion 14 women were raped and wondered when the conflict which she has witnessed while growing up in Kitui will come to an end.
Ms Syengo said it was sad that innocent residents in Kitui were being maimed and killed simply because they have asked herders to move out of their land peacefully.
“We would like to be told until when will the people of Kitui continue suffering at the hands of people who have invaded their land and forcefully graze their camels, rape their women and even kill them, our people need to be assured of their safety,” she said.
Tharaka Nithi Senator Mwenda Gataya and Nominated Senator Raphael Chimera told the commission to put in place measures to identify triggers of conflict across the country and tackle them before the situation escalates.
Kobia acknowledged that the conflict between Kitui-Tana River residents has led to loss of lives, displacement of the population and destruction of property over the years.
“Research has shown that the resource-based conflict is historical and dates back to the precolonial period but aggravated during drought, the recent conflict is due to the infiltration of the Kitui residents’ farms by the Somali herders from the neighbouring counties, of Garissa and Tana River,” he said.
The NCIC chairperson told the Senate committee that the herders are in desperate search for water and pasture for their camels which has made them to invade farms leading to conflict which has resulted in death of locals.
Kobia regretted that women and girls were raped by the invaders while angry Kitui residents slashed the camels with pangas and other crude weapons aggravating the conflict.
The NCIC chairperson told the Senate committee that the elders from Somali and Kamba communities held a meeting to call for peaceful coexistence but some politicians issued inflammatory statements exacerbating the conflict.
“Kitui governor and Garissa governor, as well as Regional Commissioners for Eastern and North Eastern, have held a meeting calling for an end to the skirmishes, peace committees have been set up in the affected areas to promote peace and report on criminals to authorities,” said Kobia.
The commission convened a meeting with political leaders from herder communities, Kitui county, and County Commissioners from Kitui, Tana River and Garissa on November 4, in Nairobi to reach an amicable solution to the conflict.
NCIC chief excutive Ocharo told the committee that the conflict was regrettable and no Kenyan should lose their life over issues that can be discussed and resolved amicably.
She said there was need to enforce the law and ensure that the herders whose animals had encroached on private land paid for the damages.
It emerged that the herders and farmers have encroached on the Kitui South game reserve.
“The leaders observed that the herders have started moving out of the area to comply with the ten-day ultimate given by the security team, we will be holding another meeting of key stakeholders including but not limited to community leaders, political leaders and security team to find a lasting solution,” said Dr Ocharo.