The trouble with the Tana River Delta is simply a failure of leadership. Politicians have been blamed, and rightly so, for fanning the violence with their utterances, especially as the campaigns for the March General Election gain momentum.
Galole MP Dhadho Godhana has been accused of playing a role in the flare-ups in Kipini, where 52 people were killed at Riketa last Wednesday. Though he has denied the accusation, the Livestock assistant minister seems to acknowledge the role of politics in the recent clashes.
“We need the National Security Intelligence Service to investigate these clashes that have become the norm, especially as we approach the General Election,” he said on Wednesday.
Acting Security minister Yusuf Haji has ordered the CID to investigate the MP over his utterances, but in his response on Friday, Mr Godhana accused the minister of being the “cause of insecurity” in the area.
“He has been agitating for the adjustment of the boundaries between Tana and North Eastern,” the assistant minister said.
As the minister and the MP spar over the violence in Tana River County, one of the issues that may take centre stage is the long-running conflict between the Pokomo farmers in Galole and Orma pastoralists from the neighbouring Ijara district. Mr Haji is Ijara MP.
The Pokomo have always claimed the three-mile strip on the east bank of River Tana on the side of Garissa and Ijara districts. According to them and government officials, the strip is trust land held by the Tana River County Council.
“The strip was allocated to the Pokomo as part of their farmland,” said a Lands official.
But that land is not always available for use by the Tana River farmers.
Conflicts in Tana River seem to heighten in the run-up to elections. Statistics show there were clashes in Salama in Garsen in 1996; in Zubaki, Duwayo, Kinakomba and Mnazini in Galole, and Idzowe and Chara in 2001; and in this year in Kipini. This is an indication of the jostling for power between the communities in the area.
The Pokomo generally control Tana River politics, so an influx of pastoralists in a Pokomo stronghold in an election year may be worrying for some leaders as the herders might just swing the vote in favour of an Orma candidate.
Take Garsen constituency, for instance. It is now teeming with pastoralists from all over the county. If they register and vote there, they could very well determine who the area’s next leaders will be.
And now, the political stakes are much higher. The real battle is the race for governor. There are at least four Pokomo hopefuls in the race, including Garsen MP Danson Mungatana and Galole’s Godhana. And the Orma have former MP Molu Shambaro and his cousin, former ambassador Hussein Dado, eyeing the seat.
Though Mr Shambaro and Mr Dado are bitter rivals, there is a likelihood that they will close ranks to front one of them against the Pokomo candidates. Such a candidate could romp to victory, buoyed by the new voters from the north, if they register. That possibility could fuel ethnic animosity.
But the root of the perennial conflict between the farming Pokomo community and the nomadic pastoralist Orma and Wardei is in the failure of the government to efficiently administer the few resources in the county.
Tana River County is largely arid, with only a small portion of the 38,437 square- kilometre area being arable. The Bura and Hola irrigation schemes, which were the county’s breadbasket in the 1980s and early 90s, dried up years ago. They were recently revived, but they are now more or less dead. Again.
Only the rice-growing Tana Delta Irrigation Project, run by the Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority (Tarda), has survived the vagaries of nature and politics. But it was badly hit when River Tana changed its course in the mid-1990s, and the 1998 el Nino floods almost brought the project to its knees.
With a large population of nomadic pastoralists roaming the county, conflict over the available pastureland has become endemic.
The pastoralists traverse the length and breadth of the county, from Mbalambala in the north to Kipini in the south, grazing their livestock where there are pastures and staying close to the only reliable source of water — River Tana.
Even when they move west of the river, their large flocks keep drifting back as the wells, water pans and dams in areas such as Boka, Bangale and Chardende dry up.
They keep close to Mbalambala, Madogo, Nanighi, Bura, Milalulu, Zubaki, Wenje, Mnazini and Garsen before they enter the Tana Delta, the final destination.
But why do the herders graze everywhere and anywhere? A failure of leadership.
The land in Tana River County is either government land or trust land. Pokomo farmers occupy most of the trust land while herders roam the government land.
The Pokomo cultivate along the riverbank, often blocking the pastoralists’ access to the river. So the Orma and Wardei drive their animals through the farms, leaving destruction and a seething community of farmers in their wake.
The farmers descend on the offending livestock and slaughter or maim them. And the herders, who tote illegal weapons, usually react with gunfire. Result: tears, blood and death. And the vicious cycle of violence and tribal animosity continues.
Yet it could be easily avoided if the government implemented the land adjudication and settlement programme that has been on the books for decades.
Lands officials are allocated money annually to conduct the exercise, but it almost always runs aground. There are leaders who just don’t want the land subdivided.
A source in the Lands ministry, who declined to be named as he is not allowed to speak on policy matters, yesterday told the Sunday Nation that the demarcation is on-going in parts of the county but has run into trouble. There is a court case challenging it.
The adjudication is meant to allocate farmland to the farmers who already occupy it, and partition the rest of the county’s grassland into group ranches to cater for the livestock keepers.
One of the recommendations is the creation of malka or livestock corridors through the farms to the river to avoid destruction of crops.
Some were created, but the pastoralists don’t always use them.
“If they were legally created through adjudication, the herders would have to use them,” said a lands official who worked in the county. “But some have even been blocked by the farmers because they have no legal standing.” The councils of elders, Gassa for the Pokomo and Matardeda for the Orma, are supposed to help the government ensure the success of the livestock corridors. But this has never happened. Politics always crops up.
In the mid-1990s, for example, the World Bank, through the Kenya Wildlife Service, donated about Sh500 million for the conservation of the Tana River Primate Reserve at Mchelelo in Wenje division. The project involved relocating residents to the Witu settlement scheme in Kipini division and settling them, complete with social amenities.
But the local leaders differed on the modalities and stopped the adjudication of the Witu scheme. The World Bank withdrew the money.
And now, just as it was just gaining speed, someone has gone to court to stop it.
There are also rich and powerful individuals within and outside the county who have been allocated large chunks of government land. Indeed, there was a time there was talk of a Somali warlord having bought a huge tract of beach land in Kipini.
Tana Delta remains a conflict hotspot as livestock are led there between August and the time the rains begin in late October.
Incidentally, when it was conceived, the adjudication had taken into account the need for a dry season grazing zone and, according to Lands officials, adequate land would be set aside for use by the herders.
But without such measures, the Tana Delta is a free for all. Indeed, even herders from across the river in Defence minister Yusuf Haji’s Ijara constituency and other areas in North Eastern Province sometimes find their way there, too.
In the early 1990s, the Galgeel Somali entered the Tana Delta and settled there. Their status in the area has been in question.
With uncontrolled movements, small arms keep coming into Tana River from North Eastern Province, another reason it has been difficult creating lasting peace in the area. As the government hunts for illegal guns, they find — or are given — old ones, and their owners acquire new AK47s and sub-machine guns.
And so as the State moves in to restore peace, its officers might want to work towards regularising land use and block the entry of small arms into the region.