AT LEAST 39 people were killed when farmers raided a village of herders in south-eastern Kenya yesterday in renewed fighting between two communities with a history of violent clashes.
Thirteen children, six women, 11 men and nine attackers were killed during the siege, police said. Forty-five houses were set on fire during the attack, Kenya Red Cross spokeswoman Nelly Muluka added.
A local official called for the military to be sent to the Tana Delta as the police struggled to defuse tension between the Pokomo and Orma communities.
More than 100 people have been shot, hacked and burned to death in the last three weeks as the two sides take revenge for the other’s killings.
The land clashes and deadly riots in the port city of Mombasa following the killing of a radical Muslim preacher last month have raised the prospect of a surge in unrest along the coast ahead of a presidential election in March 2013.
Officials said that the Pokomo tribe of farmers raided a village of the semi-nomadic Orma herding community at dawn in the Tana River Delta, adding that the raiders were armed with spears and AK-47 rifles.
Violence after Kenya’s last general election, in late 2007, killed more than 1,000 people. Officials are working to avoid a repeat during March’s presidential election, but episodes of violence around the country are raising fears that pockets of the country will see violence during the voting period.
The cycle of killings may be related to a redrawing of political boundaries and the elections, United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator for Kenya, Aeneas C Chuma, said earlier this year, but the latest violence seems driven by competition for water, pasture and other resources.
Dhadho Godana, a member of parliament from the region, and defence minister Yusuf Hajji have been accusing each other of involvement in the fighting.
The two have testified before a commission of inquiry led by a high court judge.
The Tana River area is 430 miles from the capital, Nairobi.
The utilisation of the Tana River water has been at the heart of a conflict pitting the Pokomo against the Orma, according to research, following clashes in the Tana River area in 2000 to 2002.
The Pokomo claim the land along the river, and the Orma claim the waters of the river, said the research by the Institute of Security Studies (ISS).
At least 108 people died in the 2000-2002 clashes, according to records.
The long-standing conflict between the two tribes had resulted in relatively low casualties but the increased availability of guns has caused the casualties to escalate and more property to be destroyed.
“The collapse of these schemes forced the nomadic pastoralists to move during the wet season, while the farmers remained along the river. During the dry season, the pastoralists move back to the river in search of water and pasture,” the study said.
The Tana River area has the characteristics of many other conflict-prone areas in Kenya: underdevelopment, poor infrastructure, poor communication and social amenities, and social marginalisation, according to the report.
“Communities are arming themselves because of the need to defend against perceived attacks,” it said. “They feel that government security has not been able to effectively respond to violence. Isolation has led to increased demand for guns.”