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MRG condemns ethnic and religious attacks in Kenya and calls on the government to address the root causes of conflicts to avoid escalation of violence

12 September 2012

Minority Rights Group International condemns the on-going retaliatory attacks between the Orma and Pokomo tribes in the Tana River District, Kenya, and calls on the government to take immediate steps to protect the lives of affected communities and prevent a further escalation of violence.

MRG especially encourages the government of Kenya, building on the positive environment created by its new and progressive constitution, to address the thorny land issue via appropriate legal and institutional reforms in order to reduce marginalization and ease tensions.

‘Cattle rustling and clashes over grazing and farming land are relatively common between communities in arid areas of East Africa and often escalate into revenge attacks,’ says Chris Chapman, MRG’s Head of Conflict Prevention.

‘This will continue to threaten the stability of many countries in the region, including Kenya, unless the governments act swiftly to ensure dialogue among warring groups, inclusive representation for all communities, and equitable access to land and natural resources,’ he adds.

The Red Cross has stated that last month’s clashes between two northern Kenya ethnic groups, the settled Pokomo farmers and semi-nomadic Orma pastoralists, have sparked a humanitarian crisis, with over 100 killed and thousands displaced.

According to media reports, violence broke out last month when about 200 armed Pokomo youth attacked Orma villagers in the Tana River district, in an alleged revenge attack over the deaths of three Pokomo at the hands of Orma people. It is estimated that over 50 Orma villagers were killed in the scuffle. Several days earlier, the Pokomo had accused the pastoralists of grazing cattle on their land.

For many years the Pokomo and Orma pastoralists have clashed over access to grazing, farmland and water, along the River Tana.

‘These attacks are related to poverty, competition for scarce resources and marginalization of minorities. On many occasions, communities use violence to attempt to regain possession of lost land or secure access to other land resources. Pastoralist communities like Boorana, Maasai and Samburu are currently facing stiff competition from increasingly expanding land grabs by government and private actors,’ says Chapman.

‘If governments in East Africa continue with policies like the privatization of rangelands, commercial ranching and sedentarisation of nomads, without the active participation of communities, peace will continue to elude the region,’ he adds.

In a seemingly isolated but related event, the killing of a Muslim cleric Sheikh Aboud Rogo has sparked deadly riots in Mombasa and continues to stoke fears of more unrest along the coast ahead of the general elections next March.

Despite Kenya sliding in MRG’s Peoples under Threat global ranking this year (at number 46), it risks following in the footsteps of its new neigbour, South Sudan where a history of cattle raiding between the Lou Nuer and the Murle, as well as the Dinka Bor and other groups, has developed into inter-communal violence on a highly organized scale in Jonglei state, affecting some 120,000 people.

The Peoples under Threat ranking is MRG’s innovative early warning tool and is specifically designed to identify the risk of mass killing or other systematic violent repression.

According to this year’s ranking, South Sudan was the biggest riser, coming in at number eight.

Notes to the Editor

  • For our latest report on Kenya titled Kenya at 50: Unrealised rights of minorities and indigenous peoples, click here
  • Download a related report: Land, livelihoods and identities: Inter-community conflicts in East Africa
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.

For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].