Panga wars persist despite peace talks

People draw their machetes at the slightest provocation and tit for tat is a fair game

In Summary

• Grudge attacks and subsequent deaths abound in various villages in Lamu East

• People are attacked and even killed just for trespassing in the ‘enemy’ village

Lamu county commissioner Irungu Macharia
Lamu county commissioner Irungu Macharia

In Lamu and adjacent islands, it is a common habit for people, especially young men, to walk around with pangas and other crude weapons tucked under their clothes.


Its means they are ready for war at the slightest provocation.

In November 2015, the county administration of Lamu, under the then county commissioner Fredrick Ndambuki, banned locals from walking around in public with pangas, knives, swords or any kind of weapon that can cause bodily harm.

The ban came in the wake of growing panga-induced murders and attacks in the region.

Despite threats of jail and numerous arrests by police, the situation has not changed. Six years down the line, local youth hop around the various towns and villages armed for a fight.

The ban remains active. The county administration has made it clear that being found in public with crude weapon is a punishable offence. However, not enough measures are being put in place to ensure the directive is fully enforced.


Areas hardest hit by panga gangs are Lamu island and Kizingitini, Faza, Tchundwa, Mbwajumwali, Siyu and Pate, all in Lamu East.

Lamu East subcounty is also the most affected by the narcotics trade, with the same villages being renowned for drug cartels.

County administrators have urged residents not to take the law into their hands, but panga attacks have persisted.

In June last year, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission launched peace and reconciliatory talks. They sought to restore peace among feuding villages in Lamu East, where inter-community conflicts are rife.

So escalated is the situation that villages in these areas hold open grudges against each other. The resultant environment has seen people attacked and even killed just for trespassing in the ‘enemy’ village.

Schoolchildren as young as seven are also being used as ‘agents’ to peddle drugs.

Liban Guyo, assistant director for peace building at the NCIC, asked locals to resist conflicts that breed instability. He said only societies that coexist peacefully and respectfully while observing all set boundaries, both legal and local, can progress and develop.

Kizingitini Polytechnic in Lamu East is running low on student population as vengeful grudges between communities keep learners away, police said in February. Some of them have even withdrawn.

Many of the affected villages are locked in decade-long spats mostly brought about by the narcotics trade. Panga gangs attack, maim and kill at the slightest provocation, says Shamsa Omar, an elder.

“These gangs walk around freely and are always armed," he said. "Say, for instance, two men from Kizingitini and Myabogi for some reason disagreed and fought. The grudge goes from the two individuals and becomes an affair affecting the two villages. If one side encounters the other, it is war and bloodshed. That's how bad it is.”

Lamu county commissioner Irungu Macharia said the unrest is hurting progress. “We are at a level where now the grudges are stalling education, development and provision of other essential services,” he said.

"When people can no longer enrol at any given learning institution for fear of being attacked by an enemy community, it is unfortunate."

In April last year, the security department sought the help of religious leaders and elders to help end the drug menace and panga wars. Former Lamu county police commander Muchangi Kioi said time had come for collaboration to wage war against them.

Residents are proposing the establishment of more police posts in the affected villages to be able to deal with the situation.

Elder Omar Kassim of Kizingitini village accused the police of not being serious and consistent with their approach.

“Mbwajumwali village, for instance, which was renowned for criminal gangs, drugs and murders, is now peaceful due to a new police post in the village. Let’s have the same measures taken for all these other villages,” he said.

Edited by T Jalio