The escalation of inter-communal violence in the Tana River basin has left more than 110 people dead, including several police officers.
Tribal clashes are not uncommon in Kenya, but the recent fighting between Orma pastoralists and Pokomo farmers, in a series of revenge raids, has been particularly ferocious. The bloodletting started on August 22nd, when Pokomo raiders killed more than 50 Ormas, before a reprisal raid on September 10th caused 38 further fatalities. Despite the government imposing a dusk-to-dawn curfew and sending in 2,000 paramilitary police, smaller-scale clashes have continued.
Inter-communal violence can often be traced to conflict over resources, especially land and water, which certainly applies to the Orma and Pokomo, who have a long-standing rivalry. However, the intensity of the recent violence shows that additional factors are to blame. These include an influx of weapons from war-torn Somalia, hesitant policing (because of concerns about subsequent legal action) and political rivalry linked to the next election. In particular, the devolution of power to a county level, which will see Kenyans voting for both local and national representatives for the first time, has increased the level of competition, while boundary changes have fuelled local-level ethnic fall-out. One Tana River legislator, Dhadho Godana, has already been charged with incitement and sacked from the cabinet, and others could follow.
More forceful government intervention and the establishment of an official inquiry (which is due to report back within 30 days) will probably see a decline in tension. However, the intensity of the clashes and the initial weak police response have raised fresh concerns about a repeat of the post-election violence in early 2008 that killed some 1,300 people and left more than 250,000 homeless. Although the Tana River conflict can be attributed partly to local causes, it also illustrates how minor incidents can escalate in the absence of a strong institutional response.
Impact on the forecast
The adoption of a new constitution, judicial reforms and the creation of a new electoral commission will reduce the threat of election-related violence and instability. However, the Tana River clashes show that the risks are far from being eliminated, and confirm our forecast.