KENYA: Clashes, elections and land - church keeps watch in Molo

Monday, July 23, 2007

 “Onyo! Onyo! Onyo! Warning! Warning! Warning! … A warning has been issued to the people who are not from this region! This is our land from before! … Time has come for you to leave our land and return to yours! … Whoever disobeys will die! The Rift Valley Land Owners & Protectors army is ready to fight for its right till the last blood drop is shed!”

The warning was distributed on leaflets in Likia, Molo district, about 250km northwest of Nairobi, in May this year. In that month, 162 people were displaced after five people, including two children, were killed and 15 houses burnt down in nearby Kuresoi.

These clashes are part of a long list of incidents in the Molo area – and stem from land allocations that critics say favoured some ethnic groups, both in colonial times and since independence.

Keffah Magenyi, national coordinator of Kenyan NGO, the IDP Network, says about 3,000 people have been killed, 5,000 houses burnt down and 50,000 people displaced since 1992.

And the violence is not limited to Molo. Since 1992, similar tensions killed 5,000 and displaced another 75,000 in Rift Valley Province, while in Kenya as a whole, 100,000 deaths (according to Magenyi) and 400,000 IDPs have been linked to clashes, says an Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) report. According to La Fédération Internationale des droits de l'Homme, Kenya has the seventh-highest number of IDPs in Africa.

Some have been resettled, but most have become landless and are now squatting or slum dwellers, says Magenyi. No compensation has been given and many have dropped below the radar of national authorities or other agencies.
“I have lost my land, I have lost my goods and my house has been burnt [down]. I have lost everything,” says Mwai Bititao, a 74-year-old IDP living in Likia since 1992. “Before, we were rich, now we have to beg. We feel pain and we are angry, the youth is angry. We want the government to give us another area, somewhere to go.”

Historic conflict

Ethnic clashes have a long and complicated history in Kenya. As the threatening messages issued in Likia show, land is at the core of these conflicts.

During colonial times, white settlers worked closely with the Kikuyu. Then at independence in 1963, some of the best land was taken over by the Kikuyu, even if it belonged to other ethnic groups before colonisation, according to Raphael Kinoti, regional coordinator of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK).

Over time, tensions rose with increased population and land pressures. Even so, Likia resident David Deberwo says: “Kalenjins, Kikuyus, Luos, Maasai, Luhyas, we were living peacefully, together. There were no real problems in the past.”
However, since the advent of the multiparty system, incidents of ethnic violence have peaked during the election years - 1992, 1997, 2002 and 2007.

Both at national and local level, politicians, MPs and civic leaders have used historical land issues and ethnicity to whip up communities against each other and raise more votes.

In Likia, where most land belonged to Kikuyus in the early 1990s, local Kalenjin politicians reminded people of their past ownership of the land. In 1992, the so-called ‘Kalenjin Warriors’ began burning Kikuyu houses and grabbing land.

“Among the Kalenjin candidates, Kalenjin vote for the one who has the harshest speech as they have more to win. They will never vote for a candidate promoting dialogue,” says Magenyi. After clashes, Kikuyu members were forced to flee to areas where they were no longer registered to vote. “In Molo district, 90 percent of IDPs are Kikuyu,” claims Magenyi.

Politics today

This year, media reports say conflicts are emerging not only in Molo district but also in Bura, Tana River, Meru, Tharaka, Trans Nzoia, Mount Elgon, Narok, south Turkana, Baringo, Likoni, West Pokot, Trans Mara and Kuria.

“May is a little bit early for clashes to start,” says Magenyi. “It sometimes begins as early as August when politicians take advantage of the harvesting season, but usually with the opening campaign in the last four months of the year. Violence generally lasts two months after the elections [in December].”

Looking at Kenya as a whole, Kinoti says, “The power of the MPs is barely monitored. Currently, they have too much [licence].”

Despite this, Molo district has high expectations of peace in 2007.

Hope for the future?

A number of organisations, including the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and the International Federation for Human Rights (associated with the Kenyan Human Rights Commission), are addressing the issues of the IDPs.

Measures have also been taken by the current government. In December 2004, the Ndung’u Report, a government-commissioned review of land issues, recommended that all illegally allocated land should be repossessed and an independent Land Commission replace presidential powers to assign land.

A task force has also been appointed to investigate and make recommendations on the resettlement of IDPs. “Kibaki has implemented a big shift. Previously, civil society members were seen as enemies by the government, now it recognises their role and wants to collaborate,” says Raphael Kinoti, National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) South Rift regional coordinator.

Jan Ireri, District Commissioner of Molo (since January 2007), says the government acknowledges the IDPs have been forced to leave their land after clashes.
“We are currently trying to resettle some of them in Kivulini, an area recently bought by the government. Kivulini can hold 359 people,” he says. “We have received a government allocation to buy land and resettle IDPs as well as other people needing land.”

Grassroots change

One of the most important developments has come from civil society. NCCK’s Nakuru District Coordinating Committee has 35 officials, representing each ethnic group and each area of Molo. “We have carried out civic education training sessions since September 2006. We have told the locals that they are not only members of their tribes, but also Kenyans,” says Kinoti.

The education programme is backed by the government and concentrates on democracy and the right to vote, constitutionalism, nationhood, human rights and governance. It also tackles issues of gender awareness, the environment and HIV/AIDS.

As a result, a Peace Committee with members of all groups has been set up in Likia. Chairman Vincent Wekesa says: “It has 50 members who constantly check on early-warning indicators such as rumours, suspicion or quarrels at water points.”

From September 2007, NCCK will also tackle the other main issue – local politicians’ lack of accountability. “We want to monitor the political campaign and keep a check on how it unfolds ... inflammatory speeches, and so on,” adds Kinoti.

The NCCK initiative is the first of its kind in Kenya. Kinoti says: “We have been able to prevent the escalation of violence. Now, even if there is an attack, we do not think it will go the way it used to. People are aware. There is also less political impunity now and many arrests have been made by the police.”

Commissioner Ireri confirmed that the people responsible for the May clashes in Kuresoi have been arrested and taken to court. “We have held encouraging meetings with members of the Peace Initiative. We want people to go to these meetings. I call for peace in the area. I don’t think we are going to witness any more clashes this year.”

The outcome of this pilot programme in Molo has been positive and more of these committees are planned elsewhere in Kenya. As the election campaign heats up before December, its effectiveness will be put to the test.

Source: IRIN
See Also