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World

Kenyans concerned about bloody clashes

A spike in violence, two months ahead of elections, has Kenyans worried. In the last week alone, 19 people were killed. Experts say the clashs are not ethnic-based and are really taking place for different reasons.

Ten people, among them five children, were killed on Thursday (10.01.2013) alone in Tana River Delta, in southeastern Kenya, following clashes between two ethnic groups: the Pokomo and Orma. The latter attacked the Pokomo using guns, machetes and arrows. In the end, 19 huts were burned to the ground. The attack is being viewed as an act of revenge – nine people were killed in the Orma village of Nduru a day earlier. The Pokomo are believed to be behind those deaths.

More than 150 people have died as a result of clashes between ethnic groups in the coastal region. Another 100 have been severely injured. Acts of revenge are to blame in most of the cases. The two ethnic groups have been fighting for more than 30 years, but the clashs have more to do with economics and survival. The Orma, a group of semi-nomadic herders, have been fighting Pokomo farmers mainly over land and water rights.

Conflict as a campaign strategy

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki is seen in Nairobi. (Photo: Sayyid Azim, AP)

Kibaki was re-elected in Kenya's closest presidential election ever

To make matters worse, however, what was initially viewed as a bloody confrontation between two ethnic groups is now being considered by observers a deliberate effort to stir up trouble ahead of the general and presidential elections on March 4, 2013.

Kenya has a plethora of ethnic groups - more than 40 - and it is in the interest of some politicians to incite trouble so that they kill each other or displace themselves, says Iris Karanja from the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Nairobi.

"These conflicts are leading to a decrease in members of certain ethnic groups, and through that the participation of other ethnic groups in the elections increases," she said.

A Kenyan woman holds a Bible as she prays for peace in front of riot police (Photo: Karel Prinsloo/AP)

Clashes in Kenya followed the December 2007 elections

Kenyans find the ongoing violence disturbing. Many fear that the clashes could increase in the weeks leading up to the election. The first clashes broke out during the last election, in December 2007. Despite the fact that the incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was already declared the winner, supporters of the opposition party, Orange Democratic Movement, protested that their candidate, Raila Odinga, was actually the victor. This led to violent clashes between the supporters of the two candidates. More than 1,000 people died as a result, and some 600,000 were displaced. It was Kenya's worst crisis since independence in 1963.

Authorities are to blame, Kenyans say

The mood in the country is tense. "The problem is the young people with no perspective. They have no money and are easy to bribe. They can get carried away for very little money or few benefits," Karanja told DW.

Residents observe the remains of their houses which were burned down during clashes in Chamwanamuma village, Tana River delta, north of Mombasa in Kenya Friday, Sept. 7, 2012. Fighting between a community of cattle herders and farmers over land and water (Photo: AP/dapd)

Residents watched helplessly as their homes were burned down during clashes

Most Kenyans blame the government. "These events make us very sad," a Kenyan said. "The government has to get it. A regular citizen can't grab a weapon from another citizen, but the government can."

Kenyans believe they can do little to stop the conflict and that's why they think the government has to do more.

"Everyday, we hear that these people are killing each other," another woman said. "We don't know whether the clashes are based on ethnic differences, or whether they have political reasons."

Kenyan security authorities have done little to end the clashes. Iris Karanja believes that the police have not done their job. "2,000 police officers were hired just for such conflicts, but where are they when there are clashes?," she says.

Kenyan political analyst Kimani Njogu is not surprised about the absence of police officers. "Security Forces cannot get to the people because the roads are bad. In addition, there aren't enough police stations," he said.

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