Hundreds of families displaced during weeks of fighting between two communities in the northern Kenyan district of Moyale have ignored pleas to return by government officials who say the situation has returned to normal.
“Calm has been restored, we have not had a single incident of attack [lately], our intelligence personnel, local leaders are vigilant just in case any person or group plans to attack any group,” Issaih Nokuru, the regional commissioner for Upper Eastern, told IRIN on 19 January.
Nokuru said police and the army had been deployed to the district and 24-hour patrols were ongoing.
A few hours after the commissioner spoke to IRIN, fresh clashes broke out in Manislle, a village on the outskirts of Moyale town.
“’Fighting between gangs, tribal militias from the Borana and Gabra communities started at around 2 pm today,” said one local official.
“Regular police and rapid deployment teams were send to Mansille. They were unable to access the place because of the heavy fighting. They are back in [Moyale] town. We fear many have been killed. A number of people are fleeing to the town,” he said.
Residents said the weeks of conflict had led more than 15 settlements and grazing areas to be abandoned, with those who used to live there fleeing to Marsabit, Wajir and Isiolo districts, neighbouring Moyale.
Fighting between the Borana and Gabra communities broke out in December. While longstanding tensions over resources such as cattle and pastureland have frequently degenerated into conflict, some analysts suggest these latest clashes are driven more by competition over new political positions resulting from a national process of devolution. General elections in Kenya, which frequently spark violence, are due later this year or early 2013.
Nokuru said plans were under way to help displaced families return to their homes, adding that they would be provided with food and shelter.
“We cannot talk of assisting people who are nowhere to be found, they need to go back to the villages to enable us to establish what they need so that we can make a request to the government and appeal to aid agencies for assistance,” Nokuru said.
Regarding measures to curb the fighting, Nokuru said all home guards in the district had had their government-issued weapons confiscated following reports some had taken part in inter-communal clashes over cattle and pastureland, which claimed dozens of lives.
“A vetting process to recruit fresh new home guards and police reservists will be conducted by next week; we want a team from both communities who will help the police maintain security rather than cause trouble,” he said.
Thousands of the displaced who fled across the border into Ethiopia have yet to return, local residents said. The fighting has also affected hundreds of Ethiopian pupils who attend schools in Kenya as many remain closed.
Wario Mohamed, a management committee member of Oda Primary School – on the outskirts of Moyale town – said thousands of people, including school-children, teachers and civil servants, were camped in Ethiopia’s Oromia and Region 5 provinces.
“More than 8,000 people from villages, farms and grazing areas have fled to Ethiopia; some are still fleeing, nobody is going back home, apart from a few men who are returning to salvage their belongings which they left as they escaped,” Mohamed said.
Herders walk through a sand storm near the border town of Moyale in northern Kenya He said at least 3,000 Borana are camping at Kabana in Oromia region while an estimated 5,000 members of the Gabra are camped at Arballe in Region 5 province in Ethiopia.
These numbers could not be independently verified. In Addis Ababa, a spokesman for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) told IRIN: “Apart from the rumours that we hear, we don’t have any concrete evidence that suggests a large number of Kenyan refugees are coming to Ethiopia.
“But still we are planning to send a task force soon to see the situation for ourselves,” said Kisut Gebre Egziabher.
Mohamed said most of those in Ethiopia were without food, tents and mosquito nets: “They have not received any assistance.”
On the move
An official at the government’s Arid Lands Resource Management Programme office in Moyale, who requested anonymity, said hundreds of families displaced from the rural areas of Moyale had moved to Moyale town, while more than 100 Gabra families had moved to Wajir North, Marsabit and Isiolo districts.
Mohamed Golicha, a local councillor, said many displaced Moyale residents had ignored a directive by the government to return to their homes, fearing more attacks.
“These [displaced] people have no homes to return to; their house were burnt, all the Borana homeguards were disarmed; our people are likely to be attacked if they go back, it’s better for them to stay in Ethiopia and seek asylum,” Golicha said.
Salat*, a resident of Oda in Moyale, said he had moved his family to Ethiopia and was afraid to get them back, saying they had been threatened with more attacks should they return.
“Our people are suffering, Ethiopia is only offering assistance to people in Kabana, our people [the Gabra], particularly the elderly and the children, are suffering, almost all of them abandoned their livestock after their house were burnt,” he said.
Salat said those who had fled to neighbouring Wajir district were suffering the most as pressure was being put on them to leave the area.
According to the Moyale branch of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT), some 34 public and 14 private primary schools have not opened, with hundreds of pupils and at least 450 teachers still displaced.
Adan Abkul Sabura, KNUT’s Moyale executive secretary, said: “A total of 13,000 and 3,000 learners in both public and private primary schools remain displaced and out of school as a result of this conflict; some have lost their homes, some have lost relatives, belongings and many are traumatized. It is impossible for them to resume learning soon.”
He added that four public and a private secondary school also remained closed, estimating that more than 2,000 students had fled with their families to Ethiopia or to live with relatives in Moyale town.
A civil servant from Moyale, who spoke to IRIN in Isiolo town, said members of his community had been threatened not to return to Moyale.
“I am a nurse and many of us, as well as many teachers, will not go back; it is obvious delivery of government services to the public has been disrupted, I will not go back,” the civil servant said. “We have requested transfers out of Moyale or we shall simply resign.”