By Ni Sisi
The Tana River Delta Violent Conflict
Conflicts in Africa.
Apparently Africa has more conflicts than the other continents. Many studies have been done on different types of African conflicts in various parts of the continent. And many of the local conflicts of the Tana River type are resolved by local initiatives of leaders of the conflicting communities. Furthermore, there are for example t fewer conflicts in Ghana than in Nigeria, while in East Africa there are fewer conflicts in Tanzania than in Kenya. Here we need not go into the reasons for the differences. However studies have shown that most of the conflicts in African countries are caused by a combination of the following factors:-
1. Conflict over resources – land, water, minerals etc.
2. Involvement of foreign individuals (often politicians), companies and countries – especially in mineral rich areas and countries considered to be strategic by foreign powers;
3. Involvement by neighboring groups, and in neighboring countries as well as states;
4. Political oppression by the state and a very weak or non-existence administration and security in the conflict area.
5. Historical legacy – especially those tensions/conflict deliberately created by the colonial powers
6. And such conflicts tend to continue but explained as revenge.
Conflicts within countries and between ethnic or other types of groups are caused by a combination of these factors and the conflicts continue even intermittently because these same factors continue to affect the conflicting groups and often are not taken into consideration in attempts to “resolve the conflict” or “bring peace” by a state or CSOs based in the capital mainly concerned with human/political rights of the middle class (also mainly the educated in capital and major urban areas). In Kenya there are no organisations concerned and which fight for the welfare of the poor in rural areas – especially in marginalized regions. Political parties are concerned with continuing in power and achieving power by factions of the Political Class mainly to serve their interest and their middle class supporters. Hence when politicians deal with conflicts in rural areas they generally tend to manipulate groups in conflicts for purposes of increasing their votes or reducing votes of their rivals. Politicians thus are not the right people to bring about serious resolution to conflicts. They often are involved in initiating these conflicts and then blame each other as perpetrators of conflicts.
The Orma-Pokomo conflict in the Tana River Delta.
The violent conflict along the Tana River (especially in the Tana Delta) has been going on for many years. Every three to five years a conflict takes place along this part of the Tana and generally resulting in a few (one to four) person killed. Some of these conflicts are settled through negotiations and the Wazee playing a critical and essential role. Others carry over to the next conflict which is then justified as revenge. Yet during the last fifty years, the level of killings in these conflicts has generally remained low. However the recent burning of whole villages, the gruesome killing of fifty two women and children and the latest revenge killing of twelve persons as well as the killing and maiming of a large number of animals has raised the conflict to a higher level not seen before. And the difficult to explain aspect of this particular conflict is that it involves Muslims groups only – the Christian groups of the Pokomo were not involved – at least not so far . The Orma are all Muslim. And the likelihood of further revenge killings continuing at this level raises a serious question at the state of security in this part of the country as well as the evil minded nature of those involved in inciting these conflicts – whoever they may be. And if some politicians are somehow involved, in one way or another(especially in not preventing these conflicts), then this speak volume of the nature of our political class and the political system which not only allows such violence but takes them for granted. And the negligent attitude of the media and the Government which Kofi Annan describes as “crony capitalist state” and which caters mainly for the political and middle classes, has given scant attention to the real causes of the conflicts.
The Government has sent APs, Police and now GSUs as well as holding barazas (meetings) of elders. But reaction comes after the fact. And Government has done this in every conflict, but conflicts continue. One of the DO stated that he wants to hold many barazas in different villages, but he does not have a vehicle to travel with!
The Witu Peace Group of Elders.
Witu town in Lamu county used to be an independent Sultanate before the colonial period. It was first colonized by the Germans who came through Kipini the Tana River Delta port and moved up the river to Witu. The British then cleared the Germans and took over Witu becoming part of British Protectorate. Witu is the economic and transport capital of this part of Lamu and Tana Counties. Its population is mainly Swahili/Arab with long standing strong relationship (marriage and economic) with both the Pokomo on one side of Witu and the Orma on the other side of Witu. People from both these groups visit Witu daily and some live in the town. Witu is thus seriously affected by this conflict and has decided to undertake an important initiative to try and bring peace as well as find solution to the continuing conflicts between the two Groups.
The elders of Witu town have now formed a Group of 12 persons whose main purpose is (a) to stop the conflicts from continuing and (b) to find out the deep causes which have led to the many conflicts and find a solution which is acceptable to both groups. They understand that their task is difficult and will take a long time ( six months, one year, whatever time it takes) talking to the two groups - both their leaders and villagers. They intend to have meeting with the villagers by visiting all the affected villages and with leaders of various levels. The Group is made up of Witu elders and a representative of the Pokomo and Orma – two individuals who are well known and respected in their respective groups. This means that all discussions and decisions taken by the Witu Group will be known by both the Pokomos and Ormas.
An important aspect of this Group is that it deliberately excludes Politicians and Aspirants of local Political Offices as well as the Government – which has been informed of the existence and mandate of the Group. It is made up entirely of non-political non-governmental elders.
The meeting which formed the Group was held on 2nd September during which a Chairman (Sheikh Abdulrahman Atik) was elected. They will be holding their second meeting on Monday 10th September to work out their Programme of activities. The Group also has a Secretary and a finance officer – member of the Group. At their second meeting, they will decide on a formal name of the Group, have Box No. in Witu and a Phone No. and will open an account of the Group in Mpeketoni, since there is no Bank in Witu.
They are clear that that this local initiative will not earn them any money and indeed they will be contributing to some of the cost. The activities which will require funding are transport of people to meet the Group and the Groups visit to the different villages. Some other minor activities will also have cost.
They intend to have several meetings per month and they estimate that they might need about Ksh.20,000/- per month for the next four months.
They are not requesting for funds from external donors, but if there are individuals or Coast organisations which can contribute to fund the activities of the Group, they will be happy to receive such funds.
If any individual or organisation wants to send support (clothes, food, money) to those affected, the Group will be happy to receive such contribution and will make sure that it goes to those affected – those directly affected (lost house, effects and relatives) will be given priority. Those who left their villages in fear but which have not been attacked will be provided support after the first group. Looting has started in these villages and those who left them will soon be forced to go back.
This Group is the initiative of Professor Abdalla Bujra and Commissioner M. Alawi (IEBC) both are related to Witu. Professor Bujra went to Lamu to discuss this initiative with the DC and to Mpeketoni to discuss with the DO. The Government fully support the initiative even though they are not involved. It expects to be given the findings of the Group at the end. The Government has it own process including a Peace Committee. Professor Bujra spent two days in Witu meeting with elders and encouraging the setting up of the Witu Peace Group. After the Group was established he left Witu. Bujra will keep in constant touch with the Group and will participate in some meeting when required. Commissioner Alawi will do the same in his spare time. Bujra and Alawi will now inform individuals and organisations in the Coast and in Nairobi who will give moral and political support and possibly small contribution to the Group’s activities. The NCIC, IEBC, the Red Cross and others are being contacted to provide support to the people and the Group. It is expected that CPF and MUHURI will strongly support this initiative with the MUHURI coordinating the support of Coastal CSOs.
It is also hoped that Wapwani Yahoo Group and Pwaniprofessionals.com site will provide publicity for this and other initiatives to as many Wapwani as possible.