The fighting between the Pokomo and the Orma has often been blamed on rivalry over pasture and water, but recent developments indicate that competition for political power is behind the violence that has claimed 109 lives in the past two weeks.
It is also emerging that the dispute has to do with land ownership as opposed to use, with the two communities fighting over land rights.
Recent boundary changes effected by the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which resulted in some villages, sub-locations and locations being shifted to different constituencies, are also said to be fuelling the bloodletting.
According to local residents, politicians seeking elective positions in the coming elections are to blame for the intensified fighting between the Pokomo and the Orma.
Inquiries by the Nation have established that politicians eyeing governor, senator and MP seats have been mobilising their supporters ahead of the coming voter registration.
There is also talk of politicians forging alliances for the senate and governor seats ahead of the General Election. These machinations have raised fears of some communities being disenfranchised.
Currently, the Orma do not have an MP in the three constituencies of Tana River County— Garsen, Bura and Galole. Mr Danson Mungatana, a Pokomo, is the MP for Garsen, Mr Dhadho Godhana, also a Pokomo, is the Galole MP, while Dr Ali Nuh, a Wardei, is the MP for Bura.
National Cohesion and Integration Commission chairman Mzalendo Kibunjia supports claims that power politics is to blame for the violence between the Pokomo and the Orma.
“It is 100 per cent political. One community wants to destabilise the area and block the rival community from registering as voters so that it does not influence voting in the coming election,” Dr Kibunjia said at the weekend.
Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims secretary-general Adan Wachu also blames the violence on the fight for political supremacy.
“If you talk to the Orma, they complain that out of the three MPs in the county, none of them is an Orma. (Danson) Mungatana, who is a Pokomo, defeated Molu Shambaro, an Orma.
Dhadho Godhana is also a Pokomo, while Dr Ali Nuh, who defeated Ali Wario, an Orma, is a Wardei. So the Ormas feel they are politically marginalised,” he said.
Nature Kenya’s natural resources environmental expert Francis Kangema says there is more to the resurgence of conflict in Tana River than the scramble for resources in the recent times.
Mr Kangema holds that Tana River County could have had the worst conflict in 2009 and 2010, when drought was experienced for a long period.
“During this period, people lived, herded and farmed together. While there was a more serious shortage of resources, the situation never aggravated to levels being experienced today,” he said.
He adds that the area remained calm even with the influx of livestock from Mandera, Kajiado, Wajir and Ijara.
There was a lot of water and rivers flooded forcing people to wade through swamps this year, he says.
“With these resources at their disposal, we are wondering why the situation is bad to the extent of losing lives. There is enough water and pasture for the farmers to harvest a good crop and livestock to feed on,” he says.
Mr Ahadi Gonchoro, 68, a resident of Tana River, says last week’s attack at Kilelengwani in Tana Delta District, where 38 people including nine police officers were killed, was politically motivated “because it had nothing to do with pasture or watering points.”
“The Pokomos have harvested their crops so we have no problem of cattle going into their farms, and there is enough water to cater for all of us and we suspect the attacks are politically motivated.”
He accuses some MPs from the Pokomo community of holding public meetings where they only invite their Pokomo clansmen to attend and they exclude Ormas and other communities.
A study done on land ownership and ethnic distribution in Tana River County by the Kaya Ecological and Cultural Organisation (Keco) blames an MP from North Eastern Province for the ongoing violence.
Mr Mwakio Ndau, who conducted the research on the conflict in Tana Delta, says the MP was behind the influx of the Somalis in the Tana Delta region, which has disenfranchised Pokomos both economically and politically.
“He influenced the creation of several locations in the region to be occupied by the Cushites from North Eastern Province,” he said.
Mr Mwakio says the dispute is on land ownership as opposed to that of use and tenure, applicable before 1995 when Tana River District was demarcated and gazetted as an adjudication area.
Mr J.S. Rawlands, the Tana River district commissioner in 1962 in his book: An outline of Tana River History, accuses the government of being insensitive to the Pokomo claims on land rights and turning the district into a dumping ground for other tribesmen. (READ: Minister Godhana arrested over Tana clashes)