Why Tana Needs Healing
“Tana Delta is a place of “Wanaume halisi” (that is, real men) says the driver of one bus I was traveling in, while describing the Tana Delta. His sentiments sent a cold tingle down my spine but couldn’t deter my mission of unraveling the mystery behind insecurity in the Tana Delta.
|A woman looks at what remained of her house in Tana Delta P.Courtesy|
Beautiful and scenic Indian Ocean in the horizon, baobab tress and large scale sisal farms was what struck my eyes as I covered the more than 300 kilometers distance north of Mombasa to Tana Delta.
Upon arrival in Malindi, we took a rest for a few minutes before embarking on my journey to a place that witnessed the loss of 116 people and more than 12,000 displaced as a result of ethno-political clashes according to the Kenya Red Cross Society.
I managed to cover the 110 kilometers distance from Malindi to Garsen in less than two hours. However my journey was distracted by the numerous roadblocks heavily packed with armed regular and administration police officers clearly depicting how insecurity is rampant in this northern part of Kenya.
I arrived in Garsen, one of the three constituencies in Tana River, at around five o’clock in the evening. Little did I know that it was only an hour before the dawn to dusk curfew was effected.
As I rushed to book a room to spend the night, I brushed shoulders with heavily armed General Service Unit (GSU) officers on foot patrol while others took hawkeyed vigilance atop their trucks.
On the roadside, there were women dressed in traditional Islamic outfits commonly referred to as “buibui” busy selling milk, an indication that Garsen was a region where farming was practised.
I managed to get a room although it wasn’t the best but at least it was a safe place to rest for the night. As I had my evening meal, I managed to have a discussion with 20 year old Salat Ijena who admitted that the curfew was a result of their undoing.
“We are the ones who fought amongst ourselves and we must face the consequences of our actions,” Ijena said.
He admitted that the curfew had enormously affected the economic activities of the town but said it was better as it had ensured security in the town that harbors individuals from different ethnic affiliations.
“Are you afraid of the curfew?” The waitress who was attending to me asked. I told her I was, since I didn’t want to cross paths with the no-nonsense GSU officers.
She laughed and told me that the officers would stick around only until 8 pm and then they would be gone. I told her I didn’t want to take that risk, so I cleared my bill and hurriedly rushed to my room but wondered how effective the curfew was in curbing insecurity if it’s only conducted for two hours.
My night was fine but I had to constantly wake up and battle it out with mosquitoes and the excessive heat in the four by six room which was ironically among the best rooms any one could get in the entire Garsen town.
I woke up early the next day and made my quick arrangements to travel to Dide Waride, a small village in the Tana Delta, which plays host to the victims of the tribal conflict from Riketa and Kilelengwani.
The journey to Dide Waride was very tiring as it was approximately 50 Kilometer from Garsen and the half tarmacked road made it worse. It’s on my way that my taxi driver Mohammed told me that the violence in Tana Delta had nothing to do with land or water resources but was caused by politics.
“We have stayed together, gone to school together and played together regardless of whether you are Orma or Pokomo. The government was blind folded to believe that this conflict was caused by ethnicity yet its politics that caused it,” Mohammed said.
At this point I realized that there was more than meets the eye on the causes of the brutal violence that rocked Tana Delta.
I asked Mohammed what he thought needed to be done to end the violence and he told me that it was almost impossible to end the conflict as some people lost their entire family members and it would be extremely hard to forget.
After almost one and half hours drive, we arrived at Dide Waride to the reception of a GSU lorry packed just beside Dide Waride dispensary. Some of the paramilitary officers were just relaxing while others were busy doing their washing, a positive indication that at least calm had returned in the area.
Few meters from the dispensary was Dide Waride village filled with dozen of grass thatched and mud walled houses closely bonded together. On the other side of the dispensary were a dozen of makeshift camps that house the victims of the violence from Kilelengwani and Riketa where 91 people lost their lives.
I was ushered into the compound by 78 year old Area Peace Chairman Waride Dela and immediately he called the victims of the violence who slowly gathered around me as I sought to get the story behind the causes of the violence in Tana Delta.
The look in their faces depicted broken hearts, their watery eyes signifed the fear within and their talks revealed deep pain. As I waited for all of the victims to arrive, I sought to get Mr. Dela’s opinion on what he thought caused the violence between the Orma and Pokomo.
“Pokomo and Orma are neighbors and have over the years coexisted peacefully. Even our Sheikh here is a Pokomo. We love and understand each other to the extent of inviting one another to wedding and Idd ul Fitr celebrations,” Mr. Dela narrated to me.
He revealed to me that the violence ensued in Kilelengwani after Pokomo farmers hacked Orma’s cattle’s claiming that they had destroyed their crops.
“They moved from hacking the cattle and started hacking human beings. One young adult was hacked to death and his head chopped off. The head hasn’t been recovered up to date,” he said.
Furthermore Mr. Dela said that as elders they tried to resolve the violence but it was all in vain as the Pokomo continued taking away and killing Orma’s cattle thus triggering the violence.
He revealed that in Riketa, there is no farming activity ongoing and wondered why the Pokomo claimed that their crops were destroyed consequently attacking and killing dozens of Orma.
“For you to get to Ozi and Kau where there is farming activity, you must cross three rivers. It’s far from Riketa, so why did they attack Riketa and kill innocent men, women and children?” Mr. Dela posed.
Moreover he said that before the violence started, leaflets were circulated in Hola demanding pastoralist communities to vacate the Tana Delta. Immediately after the leaflets were found, Riketa was attacked.
“As an elder I believe the violence was caused by politics and land issues and not the argument that Pokomo’s crops were destroyed. Politicians are behind this for their own selfish gains,” he held.
Mr. Dela admited that if they take revenge, the dead will not resurrect and neither will the destroyed houses and property be recovered thus calling on the residents of Tana Delta to live peacefully with no regard to their ethnic affiliations.
At this point the room we were in was already filled to capacity with the victims of the violence from Riketa and Kilelengwani who were eager to tell their stories on how they survived the brutal early morning attacks.
Koro Tubulu, a resident of Riketa, said he managed to escape by the grace of God as the village was heavily surrounded by armed Pokomo youth who were killing people and animals and setting houses ablaze.
“I lost two of my family members including my daughter and her three months old child. My wife survived by a whisker and she is currently nursing injuries at Wito hospital,” Tubulu narrated.
On his part, Adi Konchorokoro, a resident of Kilelengwani, who lost his daughter and three grandchildren, believes politicians played the biggest role in the violence as they had nocturnal meetings with the Pokomo only yet Kilelengwani was a cosmopolitan area.
“When we asked why they had meetings with the Pokomo only, we were told it was a cultural thing. This is why we believe area politicians engineered this violence,” said Konchorokoro.
While echoing Konchorokoro’s sentiments, Amina Ware, who lost seven of her family members including her father, attributes the cause of the violence to the area legislators who organized secret nocturnal meetings with the Pokomo only.
“Our Member of Parliament came at night and even spent the night in the Pokomo villages at Ozi. Why didn’t he hold the meetings with us? We suspect him to be behind the violence,” Ms Ware said with her eyes heavily drenched in tears.
Upon concluding the meeting with the victims of the violence from Kilelengwani and Riketa, it was evident that majority of them attributed the cause of the violence to the area legislators who have resorted to tribal politics.
Additionally, they have pointed accusing fingers to their counterparts from Pokomo tribe who have hidden under the allegations of their crops being destroyed thus resorting to killing of innocent individuals.
From the look on their eyes and the tone of their voices, the victims still have deeply rooted hatred towards the perpetrators of the violence and if the state doesn’t move with speed to reconcile the two communities then chances of retaliatory attacks are inevitable.
It’s on this note that I sought the opinion of the area District Commissioner on the strategies they are putting in place to ensure that retaliatory attacks do not occur and that the two communities coexist peacefully. Sadly I couldn’t speak to him as he was away for an official duty in Mombasa.
I however spoke to the District Administration Police Commander Charles Mbatu who informed me that they had sent enough officers in the affected areas and had put community policing in place.
“We have a partnership with the communities and we have established peace committees. We are getting information daily and it’s through that we are able to control everything in the district,” Mbatu added.
Lastly, Mbatu called on the Tana Delta residents to utilize the community policing platform and inform the police on any security threat immediately and promised to take prompt action on any information received.
Reforms and Advocacy Reporter
Safari Africa Radio.
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