NAIROBI, Kenya – More than 200 people have died since January in several separate clashes that follow the pattern of pre-election violence that Kenya has experienced in most elections since the early 1990s, the head of the Kenya Red Cross said Friday.
This week's attack by a farming community, which killed more than 52 people of a cattle herding tribe, falls into that pattern, Kenya Red Cross Secretary General Abbas Gullet said. In addition to the dead, the Kenya Red Cross said that at least 50 people are missing from the attack by Pokomo tribe farmers on the Orma people, who are largely semi-nomadic livestock herders.
Gullet also attributed the killing of 12 people in fighting between the two tribes in Kenya's north this week to pre-election violence.
Violence occurred before voting in three out of four of Kenya's elections since 1992, Gullet said. The exception was the December 2007 polls, when deadly clashes erupted after voting. That violence was set off by a dispute over who won the presidential contest.
What started as street protests over the presidential results, which international observers said was flawed, soon degenerated into tribe versus tribe violence, in which tribes that had rallied behind an opposition movement targeted members of President Kibaki's Kikuyu community and tribes that had supported him. More than 1,000 people died and 600,000 people were displaced from their homes in the wave of violence which lasted for two months.
The fighting ended when former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan brokered a peace deal in which opposition challenger Raila Odinga became Prime Minister in a coalition government, while President Mwai Kibaki retained his post.
As the next year's general election approaches political tensions have increased due to competitions among potential candidates for the presidency, exacerbating tribal animosity. Polls put Prime Minister Odinga above the rest of the presidential hopefuls. Two other possible presidential challengers face crimes against humanity charges at International Criminal Court for allegedly orchestrating 2007-2008 violence.
Gullet says if the rate of the current killings continues the deaths will overshadow those in 2007-2008 post-election violence.
"Learning from that experience we are bound to have pre-election violence in this country ... This year it looks like it is going to be worse than the past because the area involved is far bigger," he said.
People in Kenya's north and southeast, where the recent violence has been occurring, have easy access to guns, Gullet said. The regions are close to porous borders with neighboring countries that are either war-torn or are emerging from conflict.
He said political competition for positions in the newly restructured seats in the legislature and administrative posts, which were created in a new constitution that Kenya adopted in 2010, is causing the violence.
Another cause of the violence is that communities are disputing boundaries between counties and constituencies, divisions that were formed by the new constitution, he said.
"It's about governorship, it's about senator-ship, it's about members of parliament, and women representative, and boundaries of communities that have co-existed for centuries," he said.
"As we continue for the next six to seven months before the election it is clear that this pattern will continue unless something is done drastically, now and not tomorrow."
A deputy minister is being investigated over his alleged involvement in the killing of the 52 people. Acting Internal Security Minister Yusuf Haji directed the Criminal Investigations Department Thursday to probe Livestock Development Assistant Minister Dhadho Godhana over possible complicity in the killings.
Kenya's government has also announced that it will conduct a countrywide operation to disarm all communities with illegal weapons after the massacre of 52 people in earlier this week when hundreds of farmers attacked cattle herders.
Witnesses said some Pokomo were armed with guns and shot the Orma. Other Orma people were burned to death in their houses, while others were hacked to death or shot with arrows, and livestock stolen in the dawn attack on Wednesday. The attack was retaliation for the killing of two Pokomo farmers last week, said officials. The conflict started with accusations that the Orma graze their livestock on Pokomo farms.
The Tana River area is about 430 miles (690 kilometers) from the capital. Kakai says at least 700 people were displaced from their homes by the attack and urgently need aid.
Experts argue that the utilization of the waters of the Tana River has been in the middle of a conflict pitting the Pokomo against the Orma. According to research by the Institute of Security Studies in 2004, following clashes in the Tana River area in 2000 to 2002, the Pokomo claim the land along the river and the Orma claim the waters of the river. The research by Taya Weiss titled "Guns in the Borderlands Reducing the Demand for Small Arms." At least 108 people died in the 2000-2002 clashes, according to the parliamentary record.
The longstanding conflict between the two tribes had previously resulted in relatively low casualties but the increased availability of guns has caused the casualties to escalate and more property to be destroyed, said the report.