KENYA: Tana River farmers claim compensation
NAIROBI, 4 December 2001 (IRIN) - Over 1,000 members of the Pokomo community who lost their homes as a result of violent clashes with neighbouring Orma pastoralists in Tana River District, eastern Kenya, are planning to sue the Kenyan government for compensation, Kenyan news organisations reported.
Local lawyer Danson Buya Mungatana said he would support the Pokomo people in their legal action because "the government has refused to take responsibility" for their problems, the East African Standard reported on Monday 3 December.
Some 1,000 Pokomo agriculturalists were continuing to shelter in the catholic mission in the village of Tarasaa as their manyattas (dwellings) had been burned down in Orma attacks, Pius Murithi, Assistant Development Coordinator for the international nongovernmental organisation Caritas told IRIN on Tuesday 4 December. "The people cannot go home because they do not have shelter," he said.
Nineteen people were killed and some 20 seriously injured during violent clashes between the two communities from 20 to 22 November resulting from competing claims over land and water resources. While the Pokomo accuse the Orma of allowing their livestock to encroach on their farms and of destroying crops, the Orma complain that Pokomo farmlands are too close to the banks of the Tana River and prevent the herders from using the river to water their cattle.
Some 600 pastoralists who had fled the area in search of greater security were also in danger of food shortages as they had been forced to move away from essential grazing lands, humanitarian sources told IRIN. "Everybody has run away from the place," Murithi said.
Some 70 people have now been killed over the last year as a result of repeated clashes between the communities, and Pokomo elders have claimed that the Orma have been accumulating firearms in preparation for more attacks.
Conflict in Tana River was initially triggered in December 2000 by a controversial land adjudication programme, which could have given the Pokomo title deeds to the land on which they farm, according to regional analysts. The Orma community feared this may lead to loss of access to vital grazing lands, and their opposition to the programme has put the land adjudication process on hold indefinitely, analysts say.
Despite the presence of some 50 armed police officers and another 20 members of Kenya's paramilitary General Service Unit, the security situation in the region was "still quite tense," Murithi said. "People in the district are not sure what is happening."
Kenyan police and security forces in October began an operation to recover illegal firearms in the district, and the government announced last week that it would repossess all firearms that had earlier been given to homeguards in the Pokomo and Orma communities. "We have a total of 500 homeguards in the whole district and we want to repossess all their weapons to improve security," Tana River District Commissioner James Waweru said on Monday.
A Kenyan church official claimed on 22 November, however, that police had released a large number of illegal firearms just days before the outbreak of violence. "We have information that a lorry full of sophisticated illegal weaponry was recently apprehended [by police] and knowingly released into the community by local Tana River District personnel," Bishop Julius Kalu of the Anglican Church of Kenya was quoted as saying by AFP.
Although aid agencies had provided emergency assistance to persons displaced by the fighting, many were still in need of vital supplies, and would also require building materials to be able to return to their villages and construct new homes, humanitarian sources told IRIN on Friday 30 November. Mosquito nets were also in great need as recent heavy rains meant that mosquito breeding was now "at a peak," sources said.
Caritas has recently joined together with several national and international agencies to establish a Local Peace Coordination Committee in Tana River District. According to Murithi however, the two communities were not talking to one another at the moment. "We are hoping we can talk to them and bring some of them together before the end of this month," he said.