Thousands displaced by clashes in west

BARINGO-NORTH, 30 May 2012 (IRIN) - Clashes between two communities in western Kenya's Rift Valley Province have led to the displacement of thousands of people, the closure of several schools and calls for the government to beef up security.

Relations between the Tugen and the Pokot in what is now known as Baringo County have for decades been marked by tit-for-tat cattle raids and the occasional attendant fatality. Over the years, firearms have replaced more traditional weapons, especially among the Pokot.

An escalation - in intensity and frequency - of hostilities since January has, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), left more than 7,500 Tugen people displaced from their homes, living either with other members of their community or in rudimentary shelters in the bush.

A dozen schools have been forced to close, affecting around 2,000 children, said KRCS.

Local media listed the worst-affected locations as Rondinin, Chepkewel, Kaborion, Tuluk, Kapturo, Chepkesin, Kamwetio, Boruiyo, Chemoe, Barketiew, Kagir, Kosile, Yatia, Loruk and Kalabata.

Five deaths and at least 16 serious injuries have been reported.

KRCS has warned of a risk of communicable diseases among the displaced, which could be exacerbated by inadequate sanitation as well as limited access to health care. The conflict has forced some health centre staff to flee their posts, meaning the only functioning health facility is up to 40km away.

The displaced are in need of health care, mobile toilets, food and other humanitarian aid, according to KRCS.

"The clashes are foreseen to continue if security measures are not addressed well," KRCS warned in a statement.

KRCS assistant secretary-general for the Rift Valley, Patrick Nyongesa, told IRIN a dispute over the boundaries of administrative areas established under a 2010 devolutionary constitution had contributed to the escalation of hostilities.

"The government must. look into the boundaries issues so that communities may not fight for land resources in the name of cattle rustling," said Nyongesa, adding that in the absence of adequate government intervention the Tugen were likely to try to acquire firearms.

Even children among the Tugen community are determined to use force to protect their families and livestock, with many using bows and arrows to do so. "I will not wait for the Pokot to kill my family, I have to take charge and remain alert," Brian, a 12-year-old boy, told IRIN. "Raiders stole our 11 cattle. Only three remained and I have to guard them," he said, adding that he had dropped out of primary school because of the conflict.

Mary Chemos, who was displaced from the village of Setek after an attack by cattle raiders, told IRIN: "I am lucky to be alive, the attackers shot at my house but somehow, no bullets hit either me or my three children.

"I know the Pokot will come again if I restock my cattle. I am now poor and without peace. I wish I would get somewhere to live peacefully even without owning a single head of cattle."


In a recent pastoralist peace meeting in Rift Valley's capital of Nakuru, Internal Security Minister George Saitoti said additional security officers had been deployed to Baringo North.

But residents insist the government is not doing enough.

"We have been reporting to security agents but no action has been taken. Sometimes we have given the names of suspects," said Richard Chepchomoe, a local leader.

Ten government security officers have been killed in the past year in cattle-rustling incidents, according to Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner Osman Warfa.

"Our officers don't want to be posted in cattle-rustling prone areas," said Warfa. "Leaders must learn to preach peace rather than division. It is a shame that we are still talking about cattle-rustling in this century."

At least 82 people have been killed in cattle-rustling incidents across Kenya in the past year, with 47 injured and 24,000 heads of livestock stolen, according to Saitoti.

Ethnic clashes, fuelled by pre-election politics and planned development schemes have also been reported in the northcentral county of Isiolo.