KENYA: Inefficient peace committees frustrate reconciliation in clash areas

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mother-of-four Ann Wacu is afraid to return to her home in Kenya's New Molo District, where inter-ethnic violence has killed dozens and displaced thousands of people since September.

"I don't want to go back because all our property was destroyed or looted; this happens every five years when we have general elections," the 24-year-old said. "The attackers have even injured the police officer who was guarding us after we left our homes. He is now admitted to the district hospital here in Molo.”

“Who will guarantee my security if I go back? They tell us elders who are members of peace committees will help, but how can we be sure of their intentions?" she added.

Before violence broke out, Wacu had a home and farm, earning a living from selling her vegetables at the local market. Now, she is seeking refuge in a church compound in Molo town, along with hundreds of other internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The New Molo District, recently carved out of the larger Nakuru District, has been the scene of periodic violence since 1992. Fighting has intensified during general election years – held in 1992, 1997, 2002 and 2007 - and in 2005, when the national referendum on the country's constitution was held.

The district has an estimated population of 600,000 and is divided into two constituencies, Molo and Kuresoi. Kuresoi has 10 administrative divisions while Molo has six. Kuresoi is the constituency most affected by the clashes, which pit three communities – the Kalenjin, Kikuyu and Kisii - against one another.

This year’s violence, in the run up to the 27 December elections, has mostly affected the Kuresoi divisions Keringet, Kuresoi, Kamara and Olenguruone. Neighbours turn against their neighbours, burning homes and looting property, in what political observers say is incitement by politicians who promise them the land of those who flee.

"The constituency has not fully recovered from the 1992 clashes, hence the constant eruption of violence every time elections approach," Mohamud Salim, the New Molo district commissioner, said. "As a result of the tension between the communities, opportunists have taken advantage of the fluid situation to fuel hostilities."

An issue that cropped up many times during a recent visit by a delegation of UN officials to Molo and the Mount Elgon region, another clash-torn area in Western Province, was the role of local peace committees.

In Mount Elgon, where fighting that erupted in late September is between two clans of the dominant Sabaot community, civic, religious and local authority leaders have questioned the make-up of the peace committees and whether or not they were operational before the conflict.

At a meeting between local leaders and the UN delegation on 10 December, chaired by District Commissioner Birik Mohamed, leader after leader urged Mohamed to help revive and restructure the peace committees, which they believed could play a pivotal role in pacifying the warring groups.

The committees were an initiative of the Kenyan government to boost conflict resolution and peace-building efforts in the two regions, where fighting has caused the displacement of 15,000 people in Molo and 45,000 in Mount Elgon.

"These committees are supposed to hold monthly meetings, chaired by the district officer, to assess the situation on the ground and make recommendations. Unfortunately these committees are dormant in some areas," Salim said on 11 December during a meeting with the UN delegation in Molo.

"The displacement that has continued in Molo is not only because of fighting; there is a need to address the issue of fear, people are afraid to go back to their farms. If the anxiety among the people is removed, then the security situation would improve," the Rev David arap Metet, the peace committee chairman for Keringet division, said. "Peace committees are in a position to help remove this fear, if they pursue peace-building seriously."

Meanwhile, Laurence Achami, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission coordinator for Kuresoi, said peace committees need logistical support to be effective.

Jeanine Cooper, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Kenya, who led the delegation to Molo and Mount Elgon, said: "There doesn't seem to be cohesion to make peace-building last.”

She said the UN was planning a joint programme on conflict and displacement for the two regions that would help reduce the tension and assist the displaced.

"The security efforts to restore law and order may seem to be harsh and unpopular but there doesn’t seem to be any alternative; we must have short-term and long-term interventions in place if we hope to end the violence. We hope to design a programme in the next few weeks to tackle these, the needs of the displaced in the short term and the structures for peace-building and conflict resolution in the long term," she added.

Source: IRIN