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Ethnic Clashes Over Land Continue in Kenya - 2001-10-16

More than 50 people have died in Kenya this year during ethnic clashes between the Pokomo farmers and Oroma herders over land in the coastal Tana River district. Four seasons of drought have made fertile land scarce.

When it is dry, everyone wants the fertile land near the river. Kenya continues to be affected by drought, and the rains in the Tana River region have failed for the last four seasons.

In recent months, huge herds of livestock have been driven to the river in search of water and pasture.

The confrontation between the Pokomo and Oroma tribes erupted in May. Three villages in Kenya's Tana River district have been burned down, leaving thousands homeless.

Father Alex Kambor, who is involved in a local church peace initiative, worries the situation will worsen, if it does not rain soon, and that could lead to more fighting. "Normally, in September and October, we have some showers, which we have missed completely," he said. "And the rainy season that was in April was very, very poor. We have a situation here, if there is no rain. Pokomos will not be able to plant, if there is no rains, and the Oromas will not go to the hinterlands, because it will be dry. So they will remain still there in the same place, near the river, where the problem is. There is a lot of tension because of the killings that have occurred. So, I guess that the problem will still continue. If it does not rain, it will be really, really difficult."

The Roman Catholic Church is holding regular meetings to bring the two tribes together. Father Kambor says those hosting the meetings try to point out that the warring communities need each other. For example, the Oroma usually trade their milk for maize grown by the Pokomo.

Father Kambor says the police should set up their camps closer to the conflict areas, as they often complain they do not have gasoline to reach the trouble spots.

In the long-term, he believes the government must address the issue of land ownership, and invest in the region's development, particularly in the Hinterland, where there is no water.