alexa Many factors to blame for violence, conflict in Mau region - Daily Nation

Many factors to blame for violence, conflict in Mau region

Wednesday September 19 2018

mau clashes

Some of the displaced families camping at Sigaon Academy in Nessuit, Eastern Mau, Nakuru County on September 13,2018. PHOTO | AYUB MUIYURO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

JAMES KAHONGEH
By JAMES KAHONGEH
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The violence that has rocked the Mau region in Narok and Nakuru counties in recent months is a toxic concoction of multiple triggers.

Among them historical land disputes, political incitement, fight for scarce resources, banditry and alleged negligence by the national government.

Locals fault the national government for its consistent failure to address the root problem that has routinely caused animosity between the Maasai, Kipsigis and Ogiek communities occupying the expansive Mau ecosystem and its environs; land and border disputes.

It is said that the Ogiek were the original settlers in the eastern periphery of Mau Forest. But when the Kalenjin moved in the 1990s, the Ogiek sold them land and penetrated into the Mau Forest, where they lived on hunting and collecting wild honey.

DESTROYING PROPERTY

"They now want back "their" land. That is why they have been fighting us and destroying our property to frustrate us," Mr Simon Sitienei, a resident of Nessuit revealed.

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Even after buying the land, locals claim that the government has over the years failed to process title deeds for them.

"Our only proof of ownership of this land is the agreement we entered into with the people who sold the land to us," Mr Samuel Kirui, a resident, said adding that lack of title deeds has often exposed them.

But in what appears to be a complex scheme to illegally strip genuine land owners of their property, some of the agreement documents were destroyed when the Ogiek raided and torched homes at Tritagoi, Sigaon, Ndarugo, Nessuit, Marioshoni, Kapsinendet and Tagitech villages earlier last week.

Banditry in Mau is a common and thorny issue. Armed gangs are said to operate from the depths of Logoman Forest in Nessuit in the guise of grazing.

ARREST BANDITS

Inaction from authorities has allowed the wound to escalate to virtually uncontainable levels.

Locals say that the government has failed to investigate and arrest the bandits despite having intelligence on their activities.

They say that these "criminals" live in manyattas within the forest despite the government's order for forest occupants to leave.

"The pastoralists make arrows and train for war in the pretext of discussing grazing issues. The morans are responsible for theft of livestock in the area and the rape of women whenever they go to fetch firewood in the forest," said Mr Emmanuel Rotich, a resident of Nessuit.

"Unless the morans are forced out of the forest, there will never be permanent calm in this area and other surrounding villages," Mr Rotich added.

By employing "dangerous intervention measures" in the crisis, the government has only fanned the dispute, they say.

ANTAGONISM

"Is it sensible to dispatch police officers to patrol areas inhabited by members of their own communities?" wondered another resident Simon Kipyegon, saying that this trend has fuelled dangerous antagonism between security officers deployed to restore calm in the Mau region.

Last week, Rift Valley regional coordinator Mongo Chimwaga ordered the immediate closure of camps in Njoro in Nakuru County and the evictees to return to their homes even before the cloud of tension hanging in the area had cleared away.

To them, going back to their farms is impractical as their houses, grain stores and other facilities were destroyed during the chaos.

"We are camping here because we have nowhere to else to go. The national government should solve land issues in this region once and for all for peace to prevail. The government cannot afford to waste any more time," Simon Cheruiyot, a resident of Tritagoi told the Nation.

LAND ISSUES

Ironically, even development is not left out of the unease in Mau, with some arguing that their community is cut out of the bracket of development.

The new 70 kilometre Olenguruone-Mauche road that snakes through Njoro and Molo Sub-Counties is expected to open up the agriculturally productive region. But this blessing has been a potential quicksand, with the Ogiek community feeling that they equally deserved a similar road project through their area.

"Why couldn't the road pass through our area? Are road upgrades and the electrification programme meant for a section of the population? Are we being deliberately left out of development?" Posed a member of the Ogiek community from Koilonget.

What is astonishing though about the intricate web of conflict in Njoro, from instance, is that the warring Ogiek and Kipsigis communities speak the same language, and belong to the larger Kalenjin tribe. The former are hunter-gatherers while the latter are farmers.

Curiously, the warriors have been targeting key installations such as shopping centres, burning down shops, posho mills and even government property to disrupt the order of life and to cause maximum suffering to the locals.

SUDDEN ATTACKS

When the Nation toured the area last week, Mzee Richard Ruto, a Tugen living in Nessuit had sought the protection of police to move his posho mill to a safer place after the Ogiek threatened to burn it down.

Government officers have not been spared the agony either. On Friday last week, bandits raided and burnt down the home of Kapkatet area administrator before driving his livestock away in a provocative display of disregard for authority.

While they would ordinarily be tilling their farms, young men in Tagitech, Sigaon, Chiminit and Ndarugo villages have been keeping vigil all dayto spot the fighters should they strike without warning.

Even school boys here carry daggers tucked in their school shorts "for our own safety".

The Ogiek are mostly nocturnal fighters, but they have been utilising the cover of tall maize stalks to launch sudden attacks even during daytime before vanishing.

"They shoot arrows at unsuspecting villagers before running away. It is hard to pursue them once they have shot and injured someone," a villager said.

VIOLENCE

Factor in local politicians in the potent matter and the situation becomes a landmine waiting to go off any time.

Only last week, several MCAs and Nakuru County deputy speaker were arrested and questioned for "inciting" their communities in the build-up to the violence.

The arrest of Samuel Tonui, a local MCA only made a stormy situation worse, with the Kipsigis community threatening to storm Central Police Station in Nakuru to order his release and that of other leaders who had been detained over the violence.

Last week, the police were hesitant to arraign the suspects in Nakuru courts, fearing protests by their followers in the town.

The volatile politics of Mau Forest date back to 1995 when Kipsigis bought land in the area from the Ndorobos.

The complex matter has seen the rise and downfall of politicians as leaders use it as political ammunition against their opponents. This bickering, which often involves politicians defending their communities, has eroded the possibility of finding a lasting solution to the historic mess.

CAUSED DIVISION

The raw subject has recently caused division even within government, a case in point being the public spat between Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja and Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, both of Jubilee Party, on eviction of illegal settlers in the vast ecosystem.

The Kipsigis community in Nessuit and Marioshoni in Njoro, for instance, blame Narok Governor Samuel Tunai, Narok Senator Ledama Ole Kina and Environment Cabinet Secretary (CS) Keriako Tobiko for their woes.

"Tobiko is using his position as the environment CS to frustrate the Kalenjins in favour of his fellow Maasai community. He is behind the incitement of the Ndorobos and Maasai to forcefully evict Kalenjins from the forest," said an incensed member of the Kipsigis community who sought anonymity.

"We shall disrupt his meeting should he ever come to Nessuit or Marioshoni. We are ready to die for the sake of fairness," he threatened.

On the other hand, the Maasai community accuses Mr Murkomen and other senior Kalenjin leaders for allegedly inciting the Kalenjin community against the government's plan to kick out communities staying within the forest.