Fresh fighting between supporters of rival politicians along Kenya’s coast has killed 19 people in two days, raising the spectre of a return to the election violence that left more than 1,300 dead five years ago.
By Mike Pflanz, Nairobi
5:08PM GMT 10 Jan 2013
Ten people, including five children, were shot dead or killed with machetes and spears during a dawn attack on Thursday, in apparent revenge for the deaths the day before of nine others in a nearby village.
More than 180 people have died in the area, the Tana River Delta, in the last six months in a series of raids initially blamed on long-standing disputes between tribes over access to water and grazing land.
But officials now admit that the violence is politically motivated, designed to force those opposing some candidates in polls due in March to flee from certain constituencies.
Already, one assistant minister has been arrested and accused of links to fighting last year that left 110 people dead in less than a fortnight.
Police now say that more political figures are in their sights, accused of arming young men from the rival Pokomo and Orma tribes to carry out the deadly assaults.
Dozens of stick-and-thatch homes were yesterday burnt to the ground and livestock was killed or stolen. Hundreds of people were fleeing their villages, joining thousands of others who are already in temporary camps in the area.
“These guys, they crossed the river and attacked the village, it was revenge for what happened the day before,” said Omar Bocha, a health worker in a town close to Kibusu, the village that was raided yesterday.
“People were shot, people were attacked with machetes. No one feels safe here any more, the police always come too late.”
Suggestions that the violence was provoked by arguments over grazing and arable land were “nonsense”, Mr Bocha added.
“This is elections, it’s all about elections,” he said. “There are politicians who want to decrease the number of voters who oppose them, they want to chase them away so they have a greater chance to win.”
One local leader called the violence an attempt to “Balkanise” the Tana River Delta, an area of 15,000 square miles two hour’s drive along the Indian Ocean coast north of the tourist town of Malindi.
“We have names of several politicians, business people and local elites who we believe have been, and are still funding the attacks in the Tana,” said Aggrey Adoli, the most senior police officer for Kenya’s coastal province.
“They are using grazing land and water as excuses. When we arrest them, they will tell us how and where they are acquiring illegal firearms and other weapons to arm these locals.” More than 450 people died in separate outbreaks of apparently communal violence across Kenya in 2012, the United Nations reported in December.
Although politics has not been proven to be behind all the attacks, Kenyans are increasingly worried for their safety as the country enters the most intense period of campaigning ahead of the March 4 general election.
More than 1,300 people died and 300,000 were forced to flee their homes in six weeks of violence following the disputed poll in December 2007.
Since then, Kenya has passed a new constitution that clipped the president’s powers but also introduced significant numbers of new political offices, including an upper house of parliament.
Analysts fear that election battles to win these new seats could provoke a series of outbreaks of violence across the country, similar to the Tana Delta clashes.