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Conflict

Communal violence erupts in Kenya's Tana Delta

Dozens of people have been killed in inter-communal violence in Kenya's Tana Delta region between the Orma and Pokomo, highlighting security fears ahead of next year's presidential election.

DW: Can you describe what happened in the Tana Delta region on Friday?

James Shimanyula: The Orma woke up at dawn to find the Pokomo swarming into their villages, attacking them. No reason was given at the time and since the Orma were taken by surprise they had to regroup and then it was fighting free-for-all on both sides with Pokomo having the upper hand against the surprised Orma. Then it was just a question of each side using lethal weapons, they had machetes, some had sticks, and that was what triggered the continuation of fighting that resulted in the deaths of these people.

Rights groups say the violence is politically motivated. Is that accurate and how is the violence linked to the upcoming elections?

You have to bear in mind that each time Kenya comes closer to elections, maybe two or three months preceding elections, we have hard violence. This has been happening since the 1980s. This violence is believed to be instigated by local politicians, colluding with local authorities. By way of example, electoral boundaries have been redrawn in Kenya with the result that there will now be more members of parliament in the next legislative assembly than there were in the present one. So whereas before there was just one person representing the Orma, now there are going to be two. It is all about power. A politician from one ethnic group might seek to scare the other ethnic group so his own people end up voting for him. So it is loosely tied to politics in that particular sense.

Last time there were political consequences, a parliamentarian was sacked. Why hasn't this had any effect?

Revenge among the two ethnic groups has been on and off over the years and they don't even look at who was arrested for doing whatever they did. It has been boiling for a long, long time. We have intelligence there from the government but it is very difficult to detect, because these people are pastoralists, farmers. The way they behave in rural areas is completely different (to urban areas) so the authorities were taken unawares and things just happen. There is one member of parliament whose case is still pending, but it will have had no impact on any efforts to avoid a fight.

These two groups have been fighting one another for generations, as you said, over land and water resources. Is there any way the government could end this dispute once and for all ?

We are talking of a remote area. It is very remote and there are limits to the powers of the administration there. The population has increased and some areas are not accessible and the administration seems to be rather weak in controlling the population when it comes to ethnic tensions. So the government can do very little, especially in areas that are far-flung, far away from Nairobi.

James Shimanyula is a Nairobi-based correspondent who reports regularly for Deutsche Welle's Africalink show.

Interview: Asumpta Lattus

DW.DE