Leaders raise alarm as land wars in Rift Valley could fuel poll violence - Daily Nation

Leaders raise alarm as land wars in Rift Valley could fuel poll violence

Thursday October 18 2012

Mr Anester Omboko is rushed to hospital after he was attacked during the funeral of Francis Mwangi by people opposed to the burial at the Banita Settlement Scheme in Rongai District on July 23. The attackers filled the grave with soil and sisal before shooting at the mourners with arrows. The burial later went on under tight security. Photo/FILE

Mr Anester Omboko is rushed to hospital after he was attacked during the funeral of Francis Mwangi by people opposed to the burial at the Banita Settlement Scheme in Rongai District on July 23. The attackers filled the grave with soil and sisal before shooting at the mourners with arrows. The burial later went on under tight security. Photo/FILE  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By EDDY NGETA [email protected]

Conflicts over land could drive the Rift Valley region into ethnic violence ahead of next year’s General Election.

Community leaders and security agencies say the emotive land issue is already creating a security nightmare, which could be exploited to cause mayhem in the cosmopolitan province.

At the Banita settlement scheme in Rongai District, people have been killed and others barred from farming or building on their land even as various communities fight over the 14,000-hectare parcel.

At the Rafiki farm, thousands of land owners are fighting over their rights to settle even as a former owner insists they would have to move out to pave way for new owners.

The bone of contention is the lack of title deeds amid claims of double sale.

According to Rongai DC Joseph Motari, conflict over land is pegged on perceived historical injustices and political interests.

New owners

“We all know that the land issue in Kenya is an explosive one and that the elections are usually used as an excuse to cover up for people intending to settle old scores,” Mr Motari recently told a peace baraza at Kampi ya Moto.

“Intelligence reports tell me that some of you are planning murder and mayhem because of this issue. I will not allow that to happen,” he warned.

The Kalenjin and Kikuyu communities are fighting over the 585-acre Rafiki Farm.

The Kalenjin claim the area is part of their ancestral land, while the Kikuyu maintain they were allocated the land by the government and will not leave.

The Kalenjin have declared vast swathes of the land in Banita Settlement Scheme that the government bought from a Greek sisal farmer in 1997 their communal birthright, and want to be allocated at least 60 per cent of it.

The Kikuyu and other ethnic groups insist allocation must be done equally among all squatters.

Mr James Ngethe, chairman of a taskforce constituted by the Provincial Administration to arbitrate between rival communities, told Nation in a previous interview that an office had been set up to settle land disputes.

“The problem is between pastoralists and farmers, not warring tribes. The pastoralists are afraid that if farmers settle on the land, it will diminish their grazing land,” Mr Ngethe said.

Rift Valley PC Osman Warfa is categorical that land disputes can be resolved between both parties locally or in a court of law.

Ulterior motives

“Land issues can be resolved between two parties even at community level. Two ethnic groups cannot go to war simply over land unless there are other ulterior motives.”

According to residents, the Kalenjin have barred other communities from burying their dead in plots they consider their own, even if the land originally belonged to the dead.

This is because according to Kalenjin culture, land in which the dead have been buried cannot be bought or sold.

Since December 2011, eight funerals have aborted over land disputes.

In July 2012, a fracas broke out at the funeral of Mr Francis Mwangi Ibrahim, 34, after unknown assailants attacked a group of youths digging the grave.

Four people were seriously injured during the attack. The burial could only go on after hundreds of heavily armed policemen provided security.

Bishop Abraham Gitu affiliated with the Likia and Beyond Peace Initiative accuses selfish politicians of using the land as an excuse to stir up ethnic animosity.

“Land disputes cannot be the only reason why people should take up arms and kill their neighbours? I see a hidden political hand in Banita.”