Continued violent attacks on security agents and civilians highlight Kenya’s ongoing struggle with insecurity, creating widespread unease ahead of the March 2013 general elections. Some of the worst-affected areas are North Eastern, Rift Valley, Coast and Nairobi provinces.By Noor Ali/IRIN, ISIOLO, 10 December 2012, published on IRIN
In the latest such incident, the detonation of an improvised explosive device in the Eastleigh neighbourhood of Nairobi on 7 December, a member of parliament was among those injured. Five people died as a result of the explosion.
In November, as many as 42 police officers pursuing cattle rustlers in Rift Valley Province were killed when attackers from the Turkana community ambushed them in Baragoi, an area of Turkana County. Following the army’s subsequent deployment to the area, some 11,000 people were displaced, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Aid agencies told IRIN that efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to around 8,400 internally displaced people from Baragoi were being hampered by poor infrastructure.
“The displaced families are scattered. The main factors that triggered the movement are fear of revenge attacks, more raids, [and the] security operation. Tension is still high. We are the only organization offering emergence relief assistance,” said Mugambi Gitonga, Kenya Red Cross’s coordinator in the Rift Valley.
Also in November, the town of Garissa, in North Eastern Province, saw some 40,000 people lose their livelihoods during a bloody confrontation between civilians and military officers. The violence followed the killings of two army officers by suspected Al-Shabab militants.
The government says it will compensate those whose business premises were destroyed.
“We are still collecting and verifying the names of those whose businesses were razed by the fire. The case is being investigated. A number of traders with stalls outside the market were also affected. We are, however, sure that this market supported more than 40,000 people,” said Mohamed Gabow, assistant minister for special programmes, told IRIN.
Abdinoor Ibrahim, a trader, said, “I plan to sell my livestock and start afresh. I will help my cousin, who was shot as he tried to stop the army from burning my shop, to seek legal redress.”
In September, 10 police officers were among those killed when inter-communal clashes broke out in the coastal district of Tana Delta. A total of 102 civilians were killed in the attacks, and many more were displaced.
Security agencies overwhelmed
The violence and efforts to prevent further attacks have spread the country’s poorly equipped security agencies thin.
“We are doing the best we can with the available resources, but we at times feel overwhelmed, and we can’t be everywhere,” Kenya police spokesperson Charles Owino Hongo told IRIN. “We are getting concerned because some of these attacks are being carried out with very sophisticated weapons. We must move quickly and ensure we mop up illegal firearms in the hands of criminals.”
The government says it has begun a disarmament programme ahead of the elections.
“Nobody, no group, will stop our plan to get rid of all the illegal weapons or end cattle rustling. We know this group of bandits that attacked and killed our officers took the action to indicate they are opposed to disarmament exercises or any attempts to end cattle rustling,” Osman Warfa, Rift Valley provincial commissioner, told IRIN.
Many families have been forced to move due to the insecurity.
“I have stayed here for over 25 years,” said Muiruri, a government worker in Garissa. “My first-born daughter has just completed university. They will miss this place. I have moved them to Kitui; it’s not my home area. I can’t take any more risks [by bringing] them to my home in Njoro, as I fear politics might cause another conflict.”
Ahmed Yassin fled attacks targeting ethnic Somalis in Nairobi’s Eastleigh. The attacks, by angry mobs, followed an explosion inside a public transport van that killed 10 people – the deadliest incident in Nairobi this year.
“How do you expect me to stay in Nairobi, pay rent, [and] feed my family when all my merchandise was looted? I am here [in Isiolo, Eastern Province] for safety and to survive,” said Yassin.
Aid workers told IRIN that there has also been movement in and out of northeastern Kenya’s Dadaab refugee complex, as Somali refugees seek safety from criminals, insurgents and security forces.
“Hundreds of Somalis have migrated from Nairobi [to] Garissa. They have closed their businesses and settled in Ifo, Dagahaley, Kambioos and Hagadera [camps in Dadaab]. A significant number, almost 5,000, have crossed the border back to their country,” said an aid worker who preferred anonymity.
Rights groups and civil society organizations have accused Kenyan security forces of using excessive force against ethnic Somalis and refugees under the guise of fighting terrorism and hunting for Al-Shabab militants, claims the government has consistently denied.
“We don’t use excessive force because we are operating within the law,” said the police’s Hongo.
He also denied claims the government is conducting a biased disarmament exercise among pastoralist communities.
“Ours [the government’s job] is to ensure that illegal guns out there are mopped up. The government has no interest in disarming other communities and leaving others holding guns. We will get every gun available out there without any discrimination,” Hongo said.
(Photo by Noor Ali: 40,000 families lost their property in Garissa in a bloody confrontation with the military)