Kenya: la dispute territoriale de Mt Elgon continue/ Kenya: Mt Elgon’s territorial dispute continues

(Liens en anglais/ links in english)

IRIN nous indique que le district de Mt. Elgon est toujours aux prises avec une dispute Région de Mt Elgonterritoriale opposant les communautés Soy et Mosop du district situé près de la frontière avec l’Ouganda. Elle a mené à la création d’un groupe armé et violent le Sabaot Land Defence Force.

Les origines d’un tel conflit sont expliquées dans le site de Pambazuka depuis quelques temps déjà. On comprend que les gouvernements Kenyans qui se sont succédés ont joué la carte de la distribution des terres aux communautés afin de gagner leurs allégeances politiques. Créant des tensions par ce procédé arbitraire, ils se sont pourtant tenus loins des conflits que cela a pu créer malgré le fait qu’ils en sont les responsables. Cette hjistoire ce répète avec le gouvernement Kibaki qui “dort” tout simplement alors que le conflit atteint, voire dépasse pour certains médias, les 200 victimes.

IRIN tells us the district of Mt. Elgon is still the site of violence between the Soy and Mosop communities. The issue is land distribution:

KENYA: Displaced numbers grow as more flee attacks in volatile district

NAIROBI, 9 August 2007 (IRIN) – Fresh killings in the Mt Elgon District of Kenya – where a long-standing dispute over land ownership has sparked violent clashes between two communities – have left more people displaced and heightened tensions in the area, aid workers said.

Seven more people were killed on 5 August and another three on 7 August in the Kopsiro area of the district, said William Kebeney, a church minister aiding the displaced.

He claimed people were being killed despite the presence of hundreds of police deployed in the area to beef up security. “The situation remains tense, people are worried. We are depending on God,” he said.

The Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) estimates that more than 116,000 people have been displaced by the conflict during the last nine months.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki on 8 August warned that the government would “ruthlessly deal” with those perpetrating the violence, saying his government would team up with neighbouring Uganda to stem insecurity in the border area.

He said some members of the armed groups responsible for the violence escaped across the border to Uganda after committing crimes in Kenya.

“We will not allow criminals to continue spreading insecurity among innocent Kenyans. Let’s work together to end this menace,” he added.

Kebeney said the displaced have been unable to cultivate their farms and are likely to be dependent on food aid from KRCS and church-based charities until a solution to the conflict can be found.

He called on organisations with conflict-resolution skills to help reconcile rival communities in Mt Elgon.

Fighting broke out in December 2006 after inter-clan disputes over land between the Soy community and their Mosop neighbours.

A group calling itself the Sabaot Land Defence Force has been blamed for most of the violence. It was formed after claims of injustice over land allocation in the Chebyuk settlement scheme.

At least 180 people have died in the region since.

The origins of the conflict are explained in Pambazuka. The successive governements of Kenay have played the land distribution scheme as a political card. Giving land to the communities who support him and not getting involved if conflict arises from such politics:

Kenya: The politics of land clashes

Josh Ogada (2007-04-13)

The rising death toll from on-going land clashes in Kenya and the apparent inability of the government to protect the lives of its citizens attests to the complex nature of the underlying problem. To date, 147 people have been killed and an estimated 60,000 have been left homeless, by the violence that has gripped the slopes of mount Elgon in Western Kenya.

To be sure, the government does indeed have the wherewithal to quell the conflict and disarm all parties involved, as evidenced by the swift and effective, if not brutal, suppression of political dissent in recent times.

The issue of land is a contentious one right across the continent. In Zimbabwe, the government’s land redistribution programme has triggered violence and adversely affected food production. In post-apartheid South Africa land redistribution has been ongoing. Although some land-claims have been settled, there is still a significant lobby by those who remain landless. In other instances, land clashes have been a result of population growth, environmental degradation and an increased need to rationalize land tenure regimes. Pastoralist and agricultural land-use practices vie for increasingly scarce land.

In Kenya, the government’s centralised control of land distribution and registration has been highly politicized, leading to frequent conflagrations, such as the current one. At independence, the government assumed control of large tracts of arable land. Some of these were distributed through settlement schemes which sought to distribute parcels fro subsistence farming to those without land. Others were retained by the government through the parastatal Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) whose purpose was to support the country’s agricultural production and through large scale farming.

The economic declines of the recent years and the subsequent state divestment gave way to selling off of these lands that were previously controlled by government. In the process, land became an instrument of political patronage, much like the case of Zimbabwe.

With increasing political dissent, the Moi regime began to trade land for political support, allocating it to influential individuals and to groups whose support the government needed. Whilst in some instances, the land redistribution exercise targeted deserving groups; in other cases it alienated groups who felt they had been denied land to which they had historical claim. In the 90’s clashes broke out in the Rift Valley between the maasai and other groups whom they perceived as interlopers who had settled on land that was historically theirs.

The common thread linking past land conflicts in Kenya is that they tend to flare up at times of intense political activity such as elections. Given the strong influence of ethnicity and clannism in Kenyan politics, it has been convenient for politicians to use land distribution as a bargaining tool or a rallying point.

The self-styled Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) purports to fight for the land rights of the Sabaot community who inhabit the Mount Elgon region in western Kenya. Their campaign of violence has left hundreds dead and thousands more evicted from land that had been allocated by the government for settlement. This is no departure from the form-book of previous clashes that have been witnessed in Kenya in the last 30 years.

The government is complicit in the violence and terror against its own citizens. There have been accusations of direct or indirect government involvement in the violence that has plagued the area. This is not the first time that aspersions of this nature have been cast, especially given the well-orchestrated way in which the present and past attacks have been carried out.

At a more significant level, until such time as government reviews land policy, the system will remain open to manipulation and exploitation for political gain. A clearly defined land policy will go a long way in poverty eradication by ensuring a means of subsistence. Furthermore, land ownership provides access to credit for the poor.

As long as the current inequalities exist and the economic vulnerability of populations provides a means of control, not only in Kenya, but across the continent, governments’ commitment to human development will be schizophrenic at best.

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