Death toll mounts in tribal wars


Mark Huband in Kolongo, western Kenya, reports on rising homelessness

The Guardian, 28 April 1993


TRIBAL clashes throughout western Kenya, which have left 1,000 dead and up to 250,000 homeless, are threatening to become bloodier as victims prepare for revenge with weapons brought from neighbouring countries, relief workers and church leaders said.

An upsurge in killings in the past two weeks, provoked by supporters of the ruling party, has left a further seven dead and scores homeless after armed attackers slaughtered rival tribes in the town of, Narok, 80 miles west of Nairobi.

Guns, hand-grenades, machetes, knives and arrows with poisoned tips have been used in attacks during the past year.

Refugees who fled Narok are being sought by leaders of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), who are feeding 130,000 homeless in the Rift Valley area. Throughout the valley, attackers from President Daniel Arap Moi’s Kalenjin tribe and vice-president George Saitoti’s Maasai are trying to force members of two of Kenya’s largest tribes, the Kikuyu and Luhya, off their land.

In Kalenjin attacks on Kikuyus around the town of Burnt Forest, 160 miles north of Nairobi, 30 houses were burned to the ground within three days last week, a Roman Catholic priest in the town said.

Kikuyu victims in the town have now sworn oaths to defend their tribe. “One man came to confession and was in a state of great shock. He said he had taken an oath to defend the Kikuyus. Definitely there will be some kind of resistance. People have been intimidated for quite a while now,” the priest said.

Three sources in different parts of the Rift Valley also said that guns were being obtained from Uganda and Somalia, threatening an escalation in the violence.

The expulsion of tribes seen as sympathetic to Kenya’s opposition political parties from areas Mr Moi’s ruling Kenya African National Union (Kanu) claims for itself first erupted when Mr Moi was reluctantly forced to lift a ban on multiparty politics in 1991. Kanu seemed keen to ensure electoral victory by forcing its rivals out of constituencies it had to win to keep power.

Up to 90,000 people, were displaced and deprived of their vote during clashes before the election in December, 1992. But since then, up to 40,000 more people have lost their homes. This has led to claims that Kanu’s aim is to expel the Kikuyu and others indefinitely from the areas it claims, using the historically inaccurate argument that its ownership of the disputed land predates colonisation.

This strategy reflects a growing fear among Kenya’s smaller tribes – such as the Kalenjin which represents only 4 per cent of the population – that multi-party politics will lead to their political eclipse. Despite Kanu’s victory, it only secured one-third of the popular vote and is barely represented in Kikuyu areas.

“The Kikuyus are running away because they fear the warriors will come. Now they are running away without even seeing the warriors,” Jonathon Olelila, pastor of the Presbyterian church in Narok, said.

The security forces have done little to stop the clashes and some police and local administrators have been identified in several NCCK reports as participating in the killing and burning.

A pre-multi-party parliamentary report last year, which named hardline Kalenjin MPs who encouraged the clashes, was successfully thrown out by those it identified.

In the western Rift Valley district of Trans-Nzoia, Luhyas expelled by the Kalenjin Pokot clan now watch from the village of Kolongolo as Pokot shepherds wander across the hills which they cultivated until the Pokot attacked them and burned their houses.

Grazing his goats among the charred mud bricks that are all remain of a deserted homestead outside the village, Pokot shepherd Mark Mereng said he knew who attacked the Luhya farmers.

“The damage was done by people from Pokot It’s because of the clashes that the people left. But I’m happy that I can graze now they have gone.”

Some Luhya have tried to return to their land in the past few weeks after government assurances that it was safe to do so. But the returns have led to fresh killings and the disappearance of any confidence the victims may have had in the security forces.

“I can’t go back to my land and I have to stay here because I have nowhere else to go”, Paul Kibate, who lives as a refugee at the Endebess camp for victims 30 miles west of the town of Kitale, said.


© Guardian Newspapers Limited