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February 17, 2019

When will violent clashes in Tana Delta end?

GSU Personnel patrol Miti Charaka area near the wooden bridge where there was a camp for pastoralists who had already gone missing following the clashes between them and farmers.
GSU Personnel patrol Miti Charaka area near the wooden bridge where there was a camp for pastoralists who had already gone missing following the clashes between them and farmers.

Tension is still high in Tana Delta after the latest spate of killings in the region.

It all started after a herder was allegedly stabbed in Miti Charaka early on Monday last week.

The herder had taken cattle to graze in a farm with crops that were ready for harvest.

Angered by the provocation, farmers protested but the herders countered them.

Reports indicate that one of the farmers speared the herder, killing him on the spot. The body has not been found to date.

On the fateful day, the herders regrouped and staged an ambush in the villages inhabited by farmers, majority from the Mijikenda community. They torched houses and killed two people in Wachu Oda.

This was the genesis of the latest clashes in the area that has claimed the lives of three people —one herder and two farmers.

Witnesses say the herder ‘deliberately’ grazed his cattle on the farm, destroying crops, which were ready for harvest.

When questioned, the herder reportedly retorted that the crops were ‘khat’ (Miraa) for cattle.

For four consecutive days, the pastoralists raided the homes belonging to the local farmers, causing tension in the region, an island that is probably bigger than Mombasa.

The farmers fled to the forest where they have been surviving on wild fruits.

This is the first time the Mijikenda have clashed with the pastoralists to a point of killing one another since they settled in the area in 2004.

Traditionally, the pastoralists — the Orma — have always been at loggerheads with the farming Pokomo community over pasture and water, particularly during the electioneering periods.

Local historians say the Wardei constantly clashed with the Ormas but were the allies of the Pokomo. This arrangement made it very difficult for the Pokomo to get into power.

However, during the 2013 elections, the Orma for the first time united with the Wardei and managed to win nearly 90 per cent of all the seats, ranging from members of the county assembly, parliamentary, senatorial and gubernatorial.

Since then the communities have been coexisting peacefully and were healing from the 2012 deadly clashes that left more than 200 people dead and over 40,000 displaced.

However, since they took over leadership, they started wrangling over control of resources.

The Pokomo and Orma are said to own vast resources including ranches while the Wardei own very little owing to their nomadic lifestyle.

As a move to control the politics and resources in the region, some say a plan was hatched to root out some communities from the area.

The easiest place to start was Katsangani in Wachu Oda location that is largely inhabited by the Mijikenda.

For the Wardei to own more resources, and in particular land, the move to push out the Mijikenda was allegedly hatched.

It has also emerged that some influential tycoons have ownership documents of the land in Wachu Oda.

The land in question is prime with beach plots and vast swathes that largely remain unexploited.

Reports indicate that on July 3, an elected member of parliament held a meeting in the area with a view to plot the eviction.

Before reaching the venue of the meeting, the politician reportedly called pastoralists and some farmers at Hurara stage.

He allegedly announced that all the farmers would be evicted as the land belonged to the pastoralists since time immemorial, as it was part of the Livestock Marketing Development.

On the material day, one Wanje Kazungu Lughanje from Vibao Viwili challenged the legislator about the decision only for him to be arrested.

Lughanje said the ‘senior legislator’ ordered security personnel to arrest him and was locked up at Garsen police station. “Since I was in touch with the DO and I had already briefed him about the report, he ordered that I be released and I was driven back home at 11.05pm,” he said.

Lughanje said many people have lived in the area for more than seven years and they have nowhere to go if they are evicted.

“Our farms are destroyed each year during harvest time. Right now we have nothing left to eat — we want the government to intervene and resolve the matter amicably,” he said.

A source, who sought anonymity as he is a government officer, revealed that there are plans to evict the farmers as the area is prime with beach plots and large grazing area.

When journalists toured the area it was clear that it is prime and surrounded by the ocean and those who settled there planted crops.

On Thursday last week, more than 1,500 victims of the clashes in Hurara area crossed over to Kilifi county and sought refuge in schools and churches for fear of being attacked.

This follows the continuous attacks that begun last Monday and led to the death of three people, leaving six others with serious injuries.

The Kenya Red Cross has set camp at Vibao Viwili area where the victims are hosted.

Majority of those affected hail from Kilifi county and went to settle in the controversial area more than eight years ago.

Evaline Dama, a mother of nine children, lost fives houses which were reduced to ashes.

Her younger brother, who had come to alert her about the imminent attack, was shot in the thigh while returning to his house less than 500 metres away.

“We just heard gunshots and the next minute a group of heavily armed men raided our home and asked to see my husband who was away. They then burnt all the houses and kept guard until everything was reduced to ashes,” she said amid tears.

That night they were forced to sleep in the forest fearing that the gang would return. “We have been left with nothing — no clothes, food, or shelter and have been sleeping in the forest since Monday,” she said.

Yawa Makupe, who owns the largest shop in Miti Charaka, lost property worth over Sh300,000 after the gang burnt down his four-bedroom house, which is adjacent to the shop.

“I was not at home when the incident occurred. My second wife told me about the news the following day,” he said.

Thomas Dzombo from Katsangani said the conflict between them and pastoralists was not new.

He said the pastoralists come to the area during harvest time with thousands heads of cattle which usually feed on crops indiscriminately.

“Whenever we ask them to leave, they normally tell us that the crops are ‘Miraa’ for their cattle. We have reported the matter several times but there seems to be laxity from the government to resolve the dispute,” he said.

Security personnel toured the area on Tuesday before leaving.

In the desolate region, one can walk for more than 10km without finding any homestead. Motorcycle operators fear to operate in the area for fear of being attacked. It seems almost everyone is leaving the area.

Those affected, according to the Kenya Red Cross records, are 1,393 residents from 240 households, including 403 children less than five years, 511 children of between six to eight years, and 479 who are over 18 years.

Among those affected are also 13 elderly women, 14 pregnant women and 40 lactating mothers.

Miss Evaline Riziki, a teacher at Miti Charaka primary school, says she doesn’t think she will return to the school as the problem recurs every year for the past five years.

The mother of two says the insecurity in the area is out of hand.

She says she witnessed the bloody attacks forcing her to flee to the forest with her two children, aged four and two.

Narrating her ordeal at Kanagoni primary school where she sought refuge after five days in the forest, she says the problem has affected her psychologically.

“It’s difficult to do any development activity in the area… even the education sector has been paralysed,” she said.

Riziki said she slept with her young children in the forest infested with snakes and wild animals.

After three days, she got a Good Samaritan who offered to take her to Kanagoni primary school, where an IDP camp had been set up.

Her story is just one of the many facing families who fled for fear of being attacked.

Most of them walked long distances on foot, spent nights in the cold and crossing the island with young children.

Rose Monje, a village elder at Katsangani, lost everything in the clashes. “I spent one week in the forest with my children, there was no food or water,’’ the mother of nine said.

Most of the victims now depend entirely on relief food and sleep in classrooms.

Majority are not willing to return home until they are assured of their safety. It’s unclear when that day will be.

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