KENYA: IRIN special focus on Kenya's NEP 1998.11.9

KENYA: IRIN special focus on Kenya's NEP 1998.11.9

U N I T E D N A T I O N S Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network for Central and Eastern Africa

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KENYA: IRIN Special Focus on killings in Kenya's North Eastern Province

A massacre on 25 October in Kenya's remote Wajir District, North Eastern Province (NEP), has caused large-scale displacement of local pastoralist communities. The remote desert-savannah roads are filled with camels, cattle and goats moving towards "safe centres". But the trek of several hundred kilometres has put stress on the livestock and the watering points and dying camels dot the route, independent journalists say.

Members of the Degodia community, a Somali clan living in the North Eastern Province, were hit in an early morning dawn raid. Officially the death toll has been put at 142, but the real number, believed to be much higher, will almost certainly never be known. More than 10 days after the military-style attack, survivors are still emerging with bullet wounds and fractures.

The massacre took place through a series of attacks within a 20 km-radius, in four sites, Tuli, Buthutha, Jerar and Tularoba. Bodies were given a hurried burial two or three days after the attack. In Tuli, an ancient volcanic bowl with lush grazing and a large watering point, independent journalists counted 60 graves along a 12-km stretch alone.

Some 17,000 animals were stolen by the raiders, but the government - even though aided by military helicopters - has reportedly so far failed to track down either raiders or animals. Survivors also claim dozens of people were abducted.

Local residents and observers point out that such a huge number of stolen animals would be difficult to conceal.

The theft has rendered victims destitute. Survivors interviewed by journalists record their individual losses at anywhere between 30 to 100 camels, and similar numbers of cattle and goats. Locals say a camel is presently worth between 8-10,000 Kenyan shillings (US $150). Supplying shelter and food to pastoralists can, therefore, only be an emergency stop-gap measure.

Oxfam and the Kenyan Red Cross are giving assistance to some 600 survivors and displaced families in Arbahajan, Giriftu and Eldas, Wajir district, with shelter material, water containers, blankets and food. Recent rain and continued fears about insecurity are hampering humanitarian efforts.

The attack was executed with automatic guns and rocket propelled grenades and turned a traditional dispute over grazing and water rights into unprecedented slaughter.

Raiders from the Borana community reportedly enlisted the support of Ethiopian rebels from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Survivors claim to have captured,

interrogated and killed one of the Borana raiders who said about 200 OLF rebels were involved.

Up to 2,000 OLF fighters have been reported by the Kenyan media to be in the country this year. Sources in the ministry of foreign affairs acknowledge their presence, but say security forces recently "flushed out" a large contingent in the Marsabit and Moyale areas.

The OLF withdrew from a government coalition in 1992, complaining of electoral manipulation and harassment by the dominant party of current Prime Minister Meles Zenawi (see "IRIN background brief on the OLF 1998.11.6").

Regarding the recent massacre, a senior Oromo dissident said the OLF "has no official haven in Kenya", but relies on border communities to accommodate and supply its soldiers. Ethnically related to the cross-border Borana community, the renegade OLF soldiers would be "duty bound" to assist in the vendetta against the Degodia, said the dissident.

The role of the OLF relates to what one expert called a "creeping Borana identification with Oromo nationalism". The Borana have, over the last few years, become better armed because of the spill-over of weapons on the Ethiopia border.

Proliferation of small arms has increased incidents of banditry in the NEP, as well as affecting the delicate balance between pastoralist communities. Until recently, there was an alliance between the Degodia and the Borana, but issues of grazing and trespass have led to killings (notably the killing by Degodias of nine Borana last September). New alliances have developed in the Northern communities, principally between the Gabbra and the Borana. These shifting alliances draw on support from heavily-armed kin in neighbouring Somalia and Ethiopia, local leaders say.

Of urgent concern - relating to the proliferation of arms among the border communities - is the inevitability of a revenge attack, particularly in the absence of effective government action. The Degodia are criticising the current official response and security operation as "poor" and "insufficient". Rumours are already circulating in Wajir town that the Degodia have sent men to neighbouring Somalia to buy guns and get help from related Somali clans.

Gun control is a significant problem in the NEP. Since May, the Degodia community have surrendered thousands of guns in a three-month government amnesty; but the operation, without increased government security and a new force of promised "home guards", has clearly left the community vulnerable. Local opposition MP, Adan Keynan, Wajir West, says people will buy guns "if they feel they have to". He says a cycle of revenge attacks arises from a "lack of decisive government action in an area where people are treated like second class citizens". Local residents say automatic guns are readily available at affordable prices.

Gun control in the NEP, where security personnel are killed every year, is a difficult issue for the Kenyan government. Foreign Minister Bonaya Godana says small arms have proliferated dramatically in the area because of collapsing governments and civil wars in Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Great Lakes region.

Under a state of emergency until 1991, the NEP has suffered brutal security exercises in the name of gun control (most notorious of which was the Wagalla massacre in 1986 when security forces killed hundreds at a local airstrip) and chronic underdevelopment. Although more political freedoms came after the lifting of the state of emergency and the introduction of multi-party politics, NEP remains comparatively closed and inaccessible as a region.


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Date: Mon, 9 Nov 1998 16:58:35 +0300 (GMT+0300) From: IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <> Subject: KENYA: IRIN special focus on Kenya's NEP 1998.11.9 (fwd) Message-ID: <>

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