Potential Hot Spots: November 22, 2001
Kenya's Tana River Range War- A long-standing "Range War" worthy of America's frontier days is raging in Kenya. Fourteen people were killed in southeastern Kenya's Tana River District over the 17-18 November weekend, when armed Orma (traditionally cattle farmers) raided Pokomo (traditionally herders) villages over grazing rights.
Over 60 Orma armed with G3 and AK 47 rifles, along with GPMGs, raided the villages of Golbanti, Odha and Tarasaa at dawn on 18 November. The raiders were clad in full combat gear and overwhelmed police officers at around 05.30 at a nearby police post.
Initial reports noted that seven people (including a 70-year-old woman and her four grandchildren) were killed and over 14 people from the Pokomo community (including children) suffered gunshot wounds and were admitted at Ngao Hospital, while over 100 houses were razed. The seven were killed as they tried to vacate their house, which had been set on fire at Golbanti.
The final casualty count was 14 dead and 13 wounded. Police spokesman Peter Kimanthi as saying that eight of the dead were Pokomo farmers and six were Orma herders.
Tarasaa, Odha and Golbanti villages were ghost towns, following a mass exodus of 1,200 Pokomo to the nearby Catholic church compound. Tensions between the two tribes rose sharply after the murder of a Pokomo man who was collecting firewood, by Orma tribesman on 17 November. The man's sons (who had been accompanying their father) fled to a nearby Pokomo settlement and told villagers that he had been kidnapped. Upon returning to the spot where they had left the man, he was found to have been hacked to death.
Youths from Tarasaa blamed the killing on the herders and sought revenge and the situation escalated when an assistant chief opened fire on a group of Pokomo youths, injuring four of them
The Government deployed 50 General Service Unit personnel from Garsen and Tarasaato to the area to contain the situation. Tana River District Commissioner James Waeweru and the OCPD Mr Peter Muthike accompanied the policemen.
The Pokomo accuse the Orma of allowing their livestock encroach on their farms and destroy crops, while the Orma complain that Pokomo farmlands are too close to the Tana River banks, which prevents the herders from using the river to water their cattle.
The feud, lasting at least 10 years, erupted again in April this year. Around 70 people had been killed since then during repeated clashes between the communities, and Pokomo elders claimed that the Orma had been accumulating firearms in preparation for more attacks.
The police had tried to rid the area of arms many times, but had always failed since both sides will only give up their weapons if the government can first guarantee their safety. Efforts to resolve differences between the two groups had been unsuccessful because of what the provincial administration describes as "inflammatory statements from local politicians". - Adam Geibel