The violence that rocked Likia in Njoro District on February 2 brought to the surface the simmering conflict over land in the Rift Valley.
The region has a long history of ethnic clashes, and the incident in which 70-year-old Kuria Wakaba was hacked to death and seven others critically injured brought to the fore the stark reality of unresolved land-based animosities.
The Rift Valley was the epicentre of the 2007 post-election violence in which 1,300 people were killed and 350,000 left homeless.
Although the warring communities appeared to have agreed to live in peace, the resettlement exercise hit a snag, and some IDPs are still languishing in camps.
The government had planned to resettle 850 families living in a camp in Nakuru town on a 2,400-acre piece of land in Mau Narok by December 31 last year.
But the plan was put on hold when members of the Maasai community opposed it.
Special Programmes minister Esther Murugi visited Pipeline camp on Christmas eve and declared that the IDPs would be moved to the farm by January 15. That did not happen.
The government reportedly bought the land in dispute from David Hampshire Rose.
The attempt to resettle the IDPs in Mau Narok has led to a standoff between the government and Maasai leaders led by National Heritage minister William ole Ntimama, and has been blamed for the rising hostility in the area.
The government has also found its will questioned as it has promised several times to resettle the displaced without delivering.
The planned resettlement has divided IDPs at Pipeline camp with some expressing a willingness to move while another group is unhappy with the way the issue has been handled and the animosity it has sparked.
Most of the families living in the camp were displaced from Rongai, Nakuru, Kericho and Timboroa in late 2007. The controversy has stoked fears of more violence in the area.
Rift Valley PC Osman Warfa said the government was aware of the intention of some people to derail the planned resettlement of IDPs in Mau Narok.
But he played down the standoff, saying the media had exaggerated it. “There’s no problem on the ground. This land has changed hands five times in the past, and no one has ever complained,” he said.
The Integrated Regional Information Network (Irin), a UN-affiliated humanitarian news and analysis agency, traces the root cause of ethnic violence in the Rift Valley to the colonial era.
The agency also faults post-independence land policies and the tendency for all matters political to be viewed through the lens of ethnicity in Kenya.
Clashes over land use and ownership have been fuelled by politicians for their own benefit since the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1991, the agency notes.
According to an Irin report on the post-election violence published in early 2008, vast tracts of arable land in the Rift Valley were designated as White Highlands and reserved for European settlers during British rule.
The pastoralist communities, mainly the Kalenjin and Maasai, were edged out.
In the run-up to independence in 1963, Kenyan leaders argued over whether the land should be returned to the indigenous population under a federalist system of government or kept under the control of a centralised state.
At independence, President Jomo Kenyatta was keen to reassure the British who stayed on so he did not repossess the land they had occupied.
Instead, the government used a loan received from the British government to buy land from those willing to sell it and then sold it to Kenyans.
The Kikuyu fared well in this arrangement partly because there was already a large Kikuyu squatter population in the Rift Valley that had been displaced from Central Province by European settlers, the report notes.
Irin adds that despite protests from the province’s original pastoralist inhabitants, politicians from central Kenya took advantage of the situation and formed many land-buying companies using the political and economic leverage available to them during the Kenyatta regime.
This matter was captured in the Ndung’u Commission Report into the Illegal/Irregular Allocation of Public Land which noted that many well-connected politicians were illegally allocated public land.
However, with politicians now eyeing the 2012 elections, IDPs fear their plight will soon be forgotten. “Our fear is that this thing is getting out of hand and the conflict may not be resolved soon.
“We do not want to move from one problem to a bigger one. Personally, I cannot stand seeing people fighting again. It is better we stay here,” said Esther Wanjiru, a mother of four. For the moment, calm has returned to Likia.