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Update on conflict and displacement in Kenya

In the past six months Kenya has experienced increased violence concurrent with the run-up to general elections. Tensions between rival ethnic groups, sometimes fuelled by constituency politics, has given rise to recent violent clashes in Mt. Elgon, Tana River, Trans Nzoia, Turkana, Baringo and Meru districts respectively. In other regions, such as Likoni, Trans Mara, Kuria Districts as well as the newly created district of West Pokot, tensions are high and there is potential for politically-induced conflict. In Kiambu district, clashes have occurred between armed gangs and Matatu bus operators necessitating police intervention. This report highlights the most recent clashes and gives a special focus on the humanitarian situation in Mt. Elgon.


In Mt. Elgon, clashes occurred between rival communities of the Soi and Ndorobo clans over a controversial land settlement scheme. The Soi clans have traditionally resided in the lowland areas of Mt. Elgon and are seeking the eviction of the Ndorobo who resided in highland areas of the mountain.

The implementation of Phase III of the Chebyuk Land Settlement Scheme had granted title deeds to 1,732 families out of a total of 7,000 applicants. The land allocation process was marred by allegations of corruption and favouritism causing outrage and resentment from members of both communities. There were numerous allegations of interference from local political leaders and sentiments that the land allocation scheme, instead of rectifying historical injustices in land settlement, had compounded long-held grievances. Disgruntled clansmen formed the Saboat Land Defence Force (SLDF) which was responsible for the burning of thousands of houses, the displacement of close to 66,000 persons and more than 150 deaths(1). The government dispatched security forces, including a contingent from the feared General Services Unit, since January in an attempt to neutralize the conflict and disarm the militias but the situation worsened before showing some improvements recently.

The displaced population in Mt. Elgon represents close to 40% of the district population. People have taken refuge within the district but also in neighbouring districts of Bungoma, Busia and Teso, as well as fleeing across the border to Uganda. Meanwhile, UNICEF, MSF Belgium and World Vision Kenya have joined with the Kenya Red Cross Society and Kenya Government line ministries to deliver much needed food and non-food items to the affected population in the area. UNIFEM, Action Aid, PeaceNet have supported advocacy and peacebuilding efforts from local faith-based organizations and the Coalition on Violence Against Women. Several organizations are also in the process of establishing a more robust presence in the area. The Government in turn has announced the cancellation of the controversial Phase III land allocations in Chebyuk Land Settlement Scheme, the implementation of which initially sparked the violence among the rival communities. A committee from Parliament has visited the area as have the Minister of State for Internal Security, Mr. John Michuki and the Minister of Lands Mr. Kivutha Kibwana. The ministers requested the two fighting clans to identify teams of 30 people each who could jointly vet the list of the 7,000 applicants for land titles.

Despite substantial efforts to restore peace and security in Mt. Elgon, there is a climate of fear and intimidation with the population being alternately accused of collaboration by both the Saboat Land Defence Forces and government security forces. In early April a humanitarian volunteer from Action Aid was shot dead by the police for being an alleged Sabaot collaborator. The Kenya Red Cross was forced to replace all its local volunteers with non-locals when their impartiality was questioned early in the humanitarian response. The suspicion and distrust between the communities themselves and between them and the authorities presents a serious challenge for the humanitarian response and underscores the highly sensitive and potentially dangerous environment for aid delivery. The SLDF as well as the government security forces have both been accused of human rights violations. All sides have carried out rape and sexual abuse but with retaliatory threats and other forms of intimidation being made towards victims and their families, documentation of these violations has been challenging. Nevertheless, human rights organizations are collaborating not only to gather evidence of the crimes but also to protect the victims. Two 14-year old girls who had been gang raped by armed men have been removed out of the district for care, treatment and protection. Human rights organizations have taken up these cases in an effort to expose perpetrators and to end impunity and have documented several cases of violations by security forces. Civil society organizations collaborated to lobby the government and Parliament, prompting a 2 ½ hour parliamentary debate on Mt. Elgon. The Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW) visited the district to carry out a survey over allegation that women were being harassed sexually and they keep up the pressure on the government for a lasting solution to be found and implemented.

The First Lady, Mrs. Lucy Kibaki visited Mt. Elgon on Tuesday 17th April and distributed food, blankets and mosquito nets. However well-intentioned, the distribution was itself a cause of violence when IDPs at Kopsiro trading centre began fighting for the food; five people were seriously injured.

1.1 Kenyan Refugees in Uganda

Three UN agencies in Uganda -OCHA, UNHCR, UNICEF- joined CARITAS Tororo to investigate reports of a sizeable influx of Kenyan refugees into Uganda. The joint mission was conducted on 16th and 17th April to assess the humanitarian situation of the host communities, the status and capacity of local response and to prioritize urgent actions required to address the critical needs of those affected. Initial indications are that there are over 5,000 Kenyans who have crossed into Uganda and have taken refuge in already densely populated region with their Sebbei kinsmen and host communities. Overcrowded living conditions are deplorable and already under-resourced health and education facilities are unable to cope with the new influx. Despite the high risk potential outbreak of cholera and dysentery, it is feared that most of these people may not be able to afford medical services due to lack of financial resources. The onset of rains has further exacerbated the lack or inadequacy of shelter, poor access to health services and food. Logistic constraints are also a major factor with the district earth road network badly affected by the rains. A major bridge has been washed away and two others may not hold up. The lean/hunger season is beginning and residents can ill afford the additional burden placed by refugees. The refugees themselves are unwilling to be moved, preferring to stay close to their lands even if they don't foresee return to Kenya until after elections. Their only source of survival is bartered labour and the possibility of petty trade in exchange for food and accommodation. However, following the inter-agency fact-finding mission, several recommendations have been made to all stakeholders to ensure that the needs of the affected are addressed.

1.2 Mt. Elgon Humanitarian Response:

The nature of the violence in Mt. Elgon has necessitated a two-pronged response: delivery of emergency humanitarian assistance as well as concerted efforts to restore peace and resolve the conflict.

  • The Kenya Red Cross has led the relief effort, delivering food to up to 50,000 persons and NFIs to 24, 000. Due to the sensitive nature of the conflict, all humanitarian interventions have been closely coordinated with the KRCS.

  • Donations channelled through the KRCS have come from the government, from aid agencies and faith-based organizations, Rural Women Peace Link, and the National Council of Churches of Kenya, among others. The KRCS continues to conduct regular assessments to determine emerging needs among the IDPs and host communities.

  • UNICEF has been very active in the area delivering 2,000 family kits and is supporting the rehabilitation of 12 primary schools. UNICEF has also delivered drugs to through the Ministry of Health and is working on water and sanitation with the KRCS. The Protection department has also been coordinating with World Vision to assist victims of abuse.

  • UNICEF has deployed two field officers to Mt. Elgon to assist with coordination and also follow up with the Children Department to ensure that the sexually assaulted children receive the much needed assistance.

  • MSF-Belgium is working with the Ministry of Health and the KRCS to address health needs in the district. There is a medical team posted to Laboot to cover 2 health centres in Laboot and Toboo, among the most inaccessible areas of the district. MSF-B is also supporting the MoH to reopen the health centre in Kopsiro (as of April 28th) and will operate a mobile clinic serving the area from Cheptais to Kaptama.

  • World Vision Kenya has donated 1,525 blankets, 1,000 mosquito nets, 1,686 tarpaulins and 764,320 water treatment tablets worth four million shillings to assist Mt. Elgon Clash victims.

  • The GoK donated 500 MT of food and has shown greater willingness to resolve the problem of Mt. Elgon by engaging with all stakeholders involved.

  • UNIFEM has provided a key link between COVAW and other Civil Society Organizations to the government, the UN system and to other stakeholders. UNIFEM has also coordinated the inter-sectoral response to sexual violence in Mt. Elgon.

  • Civil society actors including the International Medical Legal Association are working on protection issues related to the cases of sexual abuse and human rights violations. Some of these organizations have documented 22 cases of human rights violations carried out by security officers.

  • Action Aid and PeaceNet have worked with church leaders, Civil Society Organizations, local leaders and local NGOs to lobby local and national authorities for conflict resolution and peace building among the rival communities.

  • The INGO Solidarités visited the Mt. Elgon region along with the emergency officer of the KRCS and plans to support emergency distribution of seeds and tools to facilitate planting before the rains make it impossible.

1.3 Current gaps in the response:

  • About 11,000 people have not received food or non-food assistance. Most of these are from the Ndorobo clan who have taken refuge in the most inaccessible areas in the upper reaches of the mountain in places such as Chepkube, Chepkitale, Toboo and Laboot. Relief agencies have only recently been able to access these areas but with considerable logistical difficulty. The roads are treacherous at the moment with daily rain and extremely steep inclines. Vehicular transport cannot reach all destinations.

  • Most donations that have been channelled through the Kenya Red Cross have been given in kind. The logistic cost to distribute food and NFIs is seriously under funded constraining relief operations.

  • 15 schools remain closed with students having missed key examinations necessary for completion or entry into national systems. Sanitation systems and overcrowding in the remaining operational schools remain problematic.

  • Need for family tracing and reunification. KRCS has plans in this regard but have not yet operationalized the system.

  • As some families have begun to return to their farms and rebuild homes, there is an urgent need for seeds (sourced locally) and tools to complete planting before July and ensure an improvement in food security by September.

  • Psycho social care for victims of the violence and counselling needs are also not addressed although organizations working in protection are looking into providing this service.

  • The consistent and continuous presence of national human rights organizations and women's groups to serve as deterrents to abuses and to improve monitoring of violations.

  • Currently, there are no humanitarian agencies involved in the response to assist the displaced Kenyans on the Ugandan side. In fact there is no technical disaster management capacity in Manafwa District, eastern Uganda, to respond to further influxes.


2.1 Bura Division, Tana River District: Three persons were confirmed to have been killed in politically linked violence between rival Orma and Wardei tribes. 300 houses were burned down in two separate incidents. Security forces have been deployed and several arrests have been made in an attempt to neutralize the situation. The perpetrators of the clashes apparently seized voter registration cards and national ID cards from the victims, killing or injuring those who could not or would not comply. This supports allegations that the clashes are fuelled by local politicians. UNICEF dispatched a rapid response team immediately following the reports and were able to distribute 381 family kits and to give support to local health and water authorities. The KRCS also assisted the displaced with NFIs.

2.2 Meru Central and Tharaka Districts: Disputes over the border demarcation between Tharaka District and Meru Central led to the burning of 20 houses and the displacement of dozens of families. Members of the Tharak community and Imentis in Meru Central claim that the new demarcation encroaches on their land. The houses were set on fire by a group of youths from Tharaka District.

2.3 Trans Nzoia District: Raiders killed 6 persons on the 24th of April and another 11 persons on the 3rd of May. The raiders demanded cell phones, cash and other items from their victims and the motivation behind the killings seems to be linked to a larger land ownership grievance with historical ties dating back to the colonial era and related to the situation in neighbouring Mt. Elgon district.

2.4 South Turkana, Turkana and Baringo Districts: A total of thirty four persons have lost their lives in deadly raids in three districts since March 30th with the heaviest death toll occurring on May 1st in Turkana District with 24 persons being killed. Thousands of animals are also stolen at the time of the killings giving all 3 incidents the general characterisation of cattle raids. Nevertheless, there have also been tensions over border demarcations for the newly created South Turkana District and over unresolved communal land issues in all three districts.

2.5 Banana Hills, Kiambu District: six persons were killed during violent clashes between the banned Mungiki sect and Matatu bus operators during the month of April. Although the police response has been robust in seeking out the killers and the sect members, they have been unable to identify the main perpetrators as residents are reluctant to point fingers. Nevertheless, the community themselves burned several houses believed to belong to Mungiki members. The Mungiki sect has been extorting money along transport routes for many years and, although banned in 2003, has continued to harass bus drivers for protection money. The Mungiki were widely believed to have been linked to key politicians and their re-emergence to national prominence is indicative of the intricacies of the political climate.

2.6 Other Areas to watch: These clashes and conflicts highlight the potential for further violence in Kenya where constituency boundaries have been re-drawn and communities struggle for dominance in the forthcoming elections. Residents from Likoni and Molo Districts report that threats have been made either warning displaced not to return to their homes and farms or simply threatening to burn down houses. Burning houses is a tactic commonly used during election years in Kenya since displaced populations are often unable either to prove their identity or to actually vote during the elections. With the creation of twelve new districts and dozens of new constituencies in a country where multi-party politics is strongly linked to ethnic origin, it is inevitable that there are tensions as ethnic groups and communities adjust and adapt to the changes. There are already the signs of impending conflict in the newly created West Pokot District as well as between Trans Mara and Kuria Districts were tensions are rising over land settlement and ownership. In Baringo District, more than 700 residents of Perkerra Irrigation Scheme claim that a neighbouring community has threatened to evict them although they have lived in the area for many years and have contributed to the development there.


The escalation of violence throughout Kenya will probably worsen before improvements are noted. The most common reaction by the government is to deploy security forces to the area but that is only a short term solution and does not address the underlying causes that continue to simmer and erupt occasionally. Aid agencies are pressed to respond after the fact and not enough is being done to address violence at its roots so that preventative measures can be installed.

There is an urgent need to prepare for possible conflicts with a credible early warning system that can also prompt pro-active advocacy to pre-empt new clashes and consequent crises. The establishment of a rapid response mechanism among humanitarian partners that can give assistance immediately after a flare up could possibly serve as a deterrent for further escalation. While humanitarian assistance can address immediate life-saving needs of the affected populations, the nature of the crises in Mt. Elgon and other places, requires a collaborative and coordinated approach between humanitarian assistance, conflict resolution and peace-building and proactive advocacy to prevent further conflict. Effective solutions will need to build on an understanding of the historical specificities of each potential conflict and an appreciation of how the dynamics of each small conflict ties into a broader national picture.

UNDP Kenya Office, Block Q, United Nations Office in Nairobi, Gigiri, P.O.Box 30218-00100 Nairobi, Kenya. Tel: (254-20) 7625522 and 7625155. Fax: (254-20) 7624661. Email: Jeanine Cooper at or Mercy Manyala at for more information.


(1) Source: Kenya Red Cross reports.

MAP - Mt. Elgon District - Kenya


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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