NAIROBI, Kenya – Clashes between farmers and herders in southeastern Kenya escalated Monday with 38 people killed, including nine police officers, and a government official and the Kenya Red Cross suggested the military should be deployed to the area.
The tit-for-tat cycle of killings may be related to a redrawing of political boundaries and next year's general elections, the U.N. Humanitarian coordinator for Kenya, Aeneas C. Chuma, said late last month. However, on the surface the violence seems driven by competition for water, pasture and other resources, he said.
Political tensions and tribal animosities have increased due to competition among potential candidates in the March election.
At least 100 people have died in the clashes, which started three weeks ago, according to an AP count.
In the latest bloodshed, armed farmers allegedly attacked a village of their semi-nomadic livestock-herding neighbors, the Red Cross said. Eight children were among those killed in the morning attack in which more than 300 people from the Pokomo tribe allegedly raided Kilelengwani village of the Orma tribe of herders, said Kenya Red Cross Secretary General Abbas Gullet. The raiders torched 167 houses.
Hassan Musa, a Red Cross official who led the rescue of the more than 10 people hurt in the attack, said the children suffered machete wounds to the head. "I am traumatized," Musa said.
Abarufu Dhado, who survived the attack, said the people who died were burned to death, shot with guns or arrows, or hacked with machetes.
Dhado, a member of the Orma community, said the attackers were youths from the Pokomo tribe. "They arrived at our village at around 7:30 a.m. and started shooting in the air, causing panic," he said.
Dhado said one group of attackers went after police officers guarding the village and burned their van, and the another group pursued villagers and killed them. He said he escaped by hiding in bushes.
Villager Omar Shure said he lost his wife who was burned to death.
"We were together with the police reservists when they struck, but they overpowered us as the officers shot at them, and we had no option but to flee to a nearby forest," Shure said.
Gullet said the government should consider dispatching the military to the area to reinforce police patrols and to impose a curfew in the area to prevent further escalation of the deadly counterattacks.
Samuel Kilele, the regional administrator, said that should happen if the situation worsens.
On Friday, 12 members of the Pokomo tribe were killed by members of the Orma community in a revenge attack. The Pokomo had earlier killed 52 members of the Orma tribe in the Tana River Delta, a region that includes savannah, coastal forests, grasslands, beaches, dunes, lakes and mangrove swamps, with homes usually made of mud walls topped by thatched grass roofs.
Gullet 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, could be fueling the violence.
Violence occurred before voting in three out of four of Kenya's elections since 1992, according to the Red Cross. In the December 2007 polls, clashes erupted only after voting amid a dispute over who won the presidential contest. More than 1,000 people died and 600,000 people were displaced from their homes in that wave of violence which lasted for two months.