By William Maclean
NAIROBI, July 17 (Reuters) - Outraged by violence that cost 80 lives in the north, Kenyans have accused their government of dangerous indifference to a region where clans on the verge of survival decide access to land and water at the barrel of a gun.
The ease with which bandits fled after committing a massacre that triggered a cycle of bloodshed near Marsabit town reflects poorly on government control of the economically marginal region of poor but well-armed pastoralists near Ethiopia, they say.
"The authorities' attitude is 'let them kill each other'," Jirma Galgalo, a development worker in the north, told Reuters.
"When an incident happens, the officials fly in but quickly fly out again. It's very frustrating and disappointing but it's not new. We are in the territory of Kenya but we are not part of this government in terms of service provision."
Government spokesman Alfred Mutua denied the north was being neglected, saying the government was spending 10.5 billion shillings ($137 million) to improve infrastructure in a region with few roads, telephones, schools or hospitals.
"We have been in power just 2-1/2 years. You cannot reverse 40 years of neglect so quickly. It will take five to 10 years to bring the area to the level of the rest of Kenya," he said, noting President Mwai Kibaki had visited aid projects in the north in January.
But some say the authorities have perpetuated the indifference shown by colonial Britain and all post-independence governments to a remote area long seen as disconnected commercially and socially from the political and economic heartland to the south.
"The worst of it all is the callousness and insensitivity on the part of the government," said the Daily Nation. "The highest ranking government official to visit the scene has been an assistant minister."
The violence began when at least 400 cattle-rustlers killed about 50 ethnic Gabra villagers early on Tuesday. Then members of the Gabra clan attacked a truck full of rival Borana, whom they accused of the initial massacre. A further two Boranas were killed Thursday morning in another reprisal by the Gabras.
NORTH "A NUISANCE STEPCHILD"
Police say they have killed 15 of the bandits responsible for original massacre but by Sunday afternoon said they had yet to make any arrests, although some were believed imminent.
Although Health Minister Charity Ngilu visited survivors in nearby Marsabit, almost a week after the violence no cabinet minister had visited the scene of the massacre, locals say.
As police hunted bandits, some ministers flew to a luxury Indian Ocean coast hotel to discuss constitutional reform.
The day after the killings, Kibaki went ahead with a visit to an agricultural show in Nakuru, far to the south, from where he issued a statement condemning the killings.
Kenyans were not impressed.
Security expert Ambrose Murunga wrote: "The least a head of state can do is to show up on site, even as a publicity stunt, to condole with the bereaved and console the injured."
"Successive regimes have treated this part of the country like a nuisance stepchild - not quite detested as taken for granted like so much furniture. It is as if the people and the hostile terrain will go away if they are ignored long enough," wrote commentator Lucy Oriang.
Commentators drew unflattering comparisons with the speed with which British Prime Minister Tony Blair reacted to the London bombings by flying down from a G8 meeting in Scotland.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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