Kenya: Ethnic clashes in the run up to elections

21 Jan 2013

Violence since August 2012 in Kenya’s Tana Delta region has led to the displacement of scores of people. Here, a boy stands in front of a small hut, home to 15 displaced people. Credit: UNICEF/Limbu
Violence in the Tana Delta region displaces scores of people, leaving many reluctant to return home.

Houses set ablaze, women and children killed, a student shot dead on his way to school, thousands fleeing with nothing more than the shirts on their backs - these were the scenes in Kenya’s Tana Delta region in recent weeks as ethnic clashes broke out again. Humanitarian agencies are responding to the needs of displaced people, who are reluctant to return home.  

Concerned about the deteriorating situation and amid fears that the violence could affect elections in March, Humanitarian Coordinator Modibo I. Toure has urged Kenyans “to exercise their democratic rights in a peaceful manner with respect for the rights and dignity of all concerned.”

So far, more than 180 people have been killed and over 34,000 have fled from their homes since clashes between the Pokomo and Orma communities began in August 2012. Some 120 deaths were reported at that time; the Government of Kenya increased security in the region and imposed a curfew in response. Renewed fighting was reported on 21 December in the predominantly Orma village of Kipao, in which 49 people including 13 children and six women were killed. More recently in January, at least 18 more were killed and scores of others were injured in attacks on Nduruv and Kibusu villages. 

People from both the Orma and the Pokomo communities have fled from their homes to neighbouring towns and villages as a result of the violence. An estimated 1,250 people left the area after the violence in December, in addition to around 33,000 who have been displaced since August.

“It is a tragic humanitarian situation and very worrying as, despite all the security and methods of conflict mitigation deployed by the authorities, such massacres continue to be repeated,” said Patrick Lavand’homme, Head of Kenya Coordination at OCHA. “The humanitarian community is shaping its response to and getting prepared for the long-run as the local communities are not feeling secure enough to return and to reconcile with their neighbours,” he added. 

Earlier in January, a humanitarian assessment mission visited five sites where people have sought shelter.

The mission found that the majority of the displaced people were living with host communities where they felt safer compared to being in camps. However, there are growing concerns that host communities, whose resources have been stretched, will not be able to support the displaced families over an extended period of time.

“More than eight families are now living in my small house,” said Yusuf, an elder from the Orma community. “We are congested but what can we do? We cannot let them go back to die. We will help them and share whatever little we have.”   

Humanitarian organizations such as the Kenya Red Cross, Médécins Sans Frontières and Action Aid have been helping the displaced and host families. They have provided food, water, shelter, healthcare and livelihood support to hundreds of people, especially targeting vulnerable groups like pregnant women, children and the elderly.

Reporting by Admirela Ancion/ OCHA Eastern Africa

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