By Awadh Babo
The death of more than 100 people, mainly women and children, in Tana River County is being blamed on power games ahead of the next elections.
Similar ethnic aggressions were in the past blamed on conflict over pasture and water but in the present case, it has nothing to do with sharing of resources.
The genesis of the aggression against the Orma has been linked to a group of Pokomo leaders who are unhappy with a political relationship involving Garsen MP Danson Mungatana (himself a Pokomo), Bura MP Abdi Nuh (who comes from the Wardei community) and some Orma politicians.
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Galole MP Dhadho Godhana, who has been linked to the conflict, was on Wednesday arrested and was to be arraigned in court for being behind the conflict.
At the weekend, attackers from Tana River killed a man in Ijara constituency in neighbouring Garissa County leading to protests from residents of North Eastern. A political alliance bringing together a section of the Pokomo, Orma and the Wardei is seen as the genesis of the killings.
Politicians who were set to benefit from the arrangements included Garsen MP Danson Mungatana, Bura MP Dr Abdi Nuh and a number of Orma leaders.
But it is widely understood that a section of the Pokomo leadership was not happy with the arrangement and is now being accused of being behind the conflict.
Some locals say that part of the aims of the conflict is to portray Mungatana in bad light. To begin with, most of the conflict is occurring in Garsen Constituency and when Mungatana calls for peace some Pokomo leaders accuse him of abandoning his constituents.
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Since the clashes started, Mungatana and Mr Godana have never been seen together in any peace initiative to bring peace and order in Tana River.
“It is unfortunate that some Pokomos are accusing me of not supporting them but all that I want is peace,” said Mungatana during the last peace meeting held at Garsen.
Without mentioning names, Mungatana said the war in Tana River has been politically instigated and proper investigations should be done to unveil those behind the clashes.
Two weeks ago, acting Internal Security minister Yusuf Haji accused Galole MP Godana of being behind the clashes and for failing to cooperate with fellow politicians in Tana River to discuss pertinent issues concerning the clashes.
Ironically, Godana has never attended any of the three peace meetings organised by Coast PC Samuel Kilele despite being invited to the meetings. Only Mungatana and his Bura counterpart Nuh Abdi have been attending the peace forums.
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Traditionally, conflicts in the expansive Tana River County seem to emerge in the run-up to General Elections. In 1996, there were ethnic clashes in Salama Location near Garsen and in 2001 another conflict broke out in the north affecting several villages and later spreading to Idsowe village and Chara Location in the south. Chara area is now the epicenter of the ongoing clashes, which have left more than 100 people dead.
For decades the perennial conflict between the Orma and Pokomo communities, also the Wardei have been blamed largely due to the Government failure in coming up with an effective policy on the use of the few resources in the county.
However the Tana Delta region has remained to be the epicenter of the conflict because it is essentially crucial to the survival to the fighting communities especially during the dry seasons.
Unfortunately during such dry spells thousands of livestock from Tana River north and even the neighboring North Eastern Province like Ijara district, flock into the delta region creating a worst competition and scramble for the only resource also eyed by the Pokomo farmers.
According to Hassan Dae, a livestock herder from Didewaride within the delta region, the blockage of livestock pathways used by livestock keepers to access River Tana, has been a major concern to the herders and a recipe to the ongoing conflicts, which virtually crop up every year.
“There is a problem on the land use of the Tana Delta because Tarda (Tana River Development Authority) has taken over huge chunks of land for a rice growing project for Pokomo farmers,” claims Dae.
“The Government has sidelined livestock production for decades and does not consider it as a viable economic industry because of the poor land tenure programme,” asserts Dae.
Geographically, Tana River County is mainly an arid land. However, only a small portion of about 40, 000 square kilometres are considered to be an arable land. The county stretches Mbalambala to the north bordering Garissa to Kipini to the south where the River Tana pours its water into the Indian Ocean.
Pokomo farmers have been concentrating on their farming activities close to the banks of the river from where they practice subsistence agriculture because of the soil fertility from silt deposition and occasional floods that water their farmland at free cost.
On the other hand the Orma and Wardei pastoralists roam along the river on both eastern and western sides in search of pastures and maintaining a close proximity to the banks of Tana, which is the only reliable permanent source of water for their livestock and their own survival.
Over the years, the Pokomo farmers have been blaming the Orma and Wardei pastoralists for driving their livestock through their farms leaving a horrific destruction as they try to access the river.
Likewise, the pastoralists keep on accusing the Pokomo for blocking the access corridors that would have enabled them reach the river without destroying crops.
It is such arguments that crop up fights between them which later end up in ethnic clashes between two communities.
However, the Pokomo feel that the pastoralists regard them as a poor and inferior community, which could withstand any fight thinking that their livestock are more valuable and important than crops.