What’s Going on in the Tana River Delta? [updated]

You know things are getting more on edge politically in Kenya as the media becomes more prone to euphemism and indirect language in writing about the stakes and the players in pre-election conflict.

The VOA today offers more clarity on the political interests in the most conspicuous current fight and “calls out” the presence of uniformed ethnic militia:

Though people on both sides have been killed, the majority of victims during the most recent violence have been Orma pastoralists. Survivors describe an organized Pokomo militia, wearing red and black uniforms and having a clear command structure.

“They are after this delta, it is the only good delta in Kenya, the only big delta in Kenya,” said Omar Bacha, an Orma health worker. “That is why our tribe are being killed, and their cows are being destroyed.”

The Tana River region contains some of the nation’s most arable, but least developed land. Through the process of devolution outlined in Kenya’s new constitution, local administrators soon will have more control over regional resources.

A Human Rights Watch report released last week implicates Tana River politicians in the attacks. Last week the government arrested parliament-member Dhadho Godhana in connection with the violence. Godhana is running for governor of Tana River Country in the elections scheduled for next March.

The Daily Maverick ties the Tana River violence into an especially bleak outlook for election violence in “Kenya: the cauldron of violence is hotting up again:

After the brazen attacks continued in September it was clear there was more to it than access to land and water. Kenya is six months out from a national election and political violence has marred the run-up to votes in 1992, 1997 and 2001. The Kenyan Red Cross warned the same might occur as communities arm themselves in preparation, voters come to terms with new demarcations pitting ethnic rivals against each other, and politicians cope with a new system of devolved power.

“It is 100% political,” said National Cohesion and Integration Commission Chairman Mzalendo Kibunjia, who was tasked with investigating the causes of violence. “One community wants to destabilise the area and block the community from registering as voters so that it does not influence voting in the coming election.”

Kibaki, whose response to the disaster made Jacob Zuma’s reaction to the Marikana killings look statesmanlike, acknowledged it was politically motivated this week by sacking an MP who had been charged with inciting violence. He blocked parliament’s move to send the army into the area, instead opting to deploy 2,000 General Service Unit police (think Tactical Response Team).

So far, security forces have shown a complete inability to deal with the threat. Despite warnings of violence, police have continually been outnumbered, outgunned, arrived late to the battles, or have been forced to simply watch on in horror. Inquiries into the post-election violence found they failed to act on warnings, and it seems they’re doomed to repeat their mistakes.

Update: AFP reports that Kenyan police Monday found a mass grave in the Garsen area where recent killings have taken place, suggesting the real death toll may be higher than reported so far.

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