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Kenyan Community Faces Escalating Violence Amid Tribal Clashes

  • Gabe Joselow

TANA RIVER, Kenya — The Orma community in Kenya's Tana Delta region launched a revenge attack on the rival Pokomo clan Friday, killing at least 10 people. Orma men had been threatening to retaliate for a raid on their village last month by Pokomo fighters that killed more than 50 people.

Weeks after their village was raided by members of the Pokomo clan, men in the Orma community say they are getting ready for a fight.

The government has tried to mediate peace between the communities, but villager Hassan Leke said they would rather take matters into their own hands.

“We are requesting the government to leave us alone with the Pokomo to sort out our differences. We no longer want peace. We want the war to continue. We want it to continue to the end,” said Leke.

Pokomo raid kills mostly women, children

On August 22 of this year, the Pokomo clan raided a village occupied by the Orma, killing 53 people, mostly women and children. Hundreds of animals also were slaughtered, depriving this pastoralist community of its livelihood.

Hundreds of families have been displaced by the fighting in Tana River. The Red Cross has set up three camps to assist some 230 households they say were affected by the violence.

Many Pokomo also have fled to the camps, fearing retaliation.

Revenge attacks could spike

Ruth Sanyo is a Luhyo woman married to a Pokomo man.

“We are scared because there is still tension around our homes," said Sanyo. "We can’t go back there because if the Ormas get us, they will kill us.”

The two communities have fought over resources for years, but officials say the recent violence has taken on a political dimension as politicians fight for power ahead of next year’s elections.

Kenya’s defense minister has ordered an investigation of Assistant Minister for Livestock Dhadho Godhana, suspected of involvement in the attacks.

Suspicion about political involvement

Godhana told Kenyan investigators in Nairobi Thursday he had no role in the violence.

“There was tension already arising from the conflicts between, misunderstanding between the farmers and the pastoralists and then followed by other instances of injuries, and then murder and all that," said Godhana. "So already the situation was building up. So, in my view, we have to get deeper to understand which hand was really behind these other series that led to the clashes now.”

Underdevelopment remains a challenge in the area. Some Orma say they want the government to play a more productive role by building hospitals and schools. Fuad Hajj is among those who want development rather than war.

“Education is very important to sustaining a family and uplifting one’s life," said Hajj. "So we are asking the government to build for us new schools and homes so we can continue with our livelihoods.”

Tana River is not the only region in Kenya seeing inter-ethnic fighting this year.

Red Cross officials say if nothing is done, violence across the country could be worse than after the last presidential election in 2007, in which more than 1,000 people were killed.

Amos Wangwa contributed to this story.