Stoking violence

Poisoned belligerence by Rift Valley politicians over Mau evictions is a euphemism for incitement

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By Bernard Boy

The drums of war could, subtly, be nigh in the Rift Valley, well ahead of the 2022 succession polls. This, at least, according to authoritative sentiments of respected political leaders well versed with the region’s ethno-political dynamics and history, in the wake of the fresh intricacies of the Mau Complex evictions that have since, once again, assumed a political dimension.

Sample this. The scene is Sagoo, Narok South, on June 24, 2018, where Deputy President William Ruto orders the eviction of those living beyond the tea buffer zone created in 2015 by the Jubilee administration. This affects some 2,400 families from Kosia, Septonok and Nkoben villages. While warning those who had encroached beyond the cutline to move out on their own volition or face eviction, the DP says only legitimate inhabitants will be issued with title deeds.

Fast forward to July 19, 2018, in Kitoben, Narok County, where Senate Majority Leader, KIpchumba Murkomen, leads 10 Rift Valley lawmakers to demonise former Prime Minister Raila Odinga for ongoing evictions that have seen thousands of illegal settlers flushed out of the water tower.

Denying government involvement in the evictions, Murkomen and crew, while on a tour of a section of the Mau forest, blamed the Opposition Leader’s “belated entry to government through the window (sic)” for the settlers’ predicament at the expense of Ruto’s 2022 succession fortunes.

“There are people who came to the government recently through the window. They have joined hands with other wakoras (cons) from another corner to evict people from Mau and use it against the DP in 2022.”

Tellingly, the Elgeyo Markwet Senator’s language – so are his irate troops – is replete with poisoned belligerence.

Coming barely a day after Ruto’s nemesis, Kanu boss Gideon Moi, through his party secretary-general Nick Salat, criticised the evictions as inhumane and political, the DP’s allies appear to have belatedly realised the political complexity of the Mau issue, potentially opening a new battlefront between their boss and his political adversaries in the former ruling party and beyond.

The Rift Valley leaders went ahead to threaten area County Commissioner George Natembeya and Chief Conservator of Forests Monica Kalenda, along with hundreds of officers drawn from a multi-agency team of Kenya Forest Service (KFS), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), regular and administration police with dire disciplinary consequences.

Speaking during a subsequent breakfast show on national television, former Cherangany MP Kipruto Kirwa was candid that someone was stoking embers in the expansive, politically volatile Rift Valley ahead of the 2022 elections.

“This could be a deliberate attempt at manipulating the trajectory with which 2022 voting in Rift Valley takes…that if you, (the Kikuyu), don’t vote with us, you should be ready to face the consequences.”

And in his trademark cultured, straight shooting demeanour, Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja rubbished Murkomen’s ranting as “disingenuous, underhand, poisonous and disrespectful to the President”. It’s disrespectful, he said.

Leader of Majority in the Senate, Kipchumba Murkomen asked the evictees to move back in.

Days later, Igembe North legislator Maoka Maore took on Murkomen, demanding the removal from office of the beleaguered Majority Leader of the Senate, accusing the latter of getting personal with the President.

Murkomen has since appeared to waver. But in a sign of tough times ahead, the Senator saw his attempt to distribute building material to the evictees repulsed by the Narok County provincial administration, his convoy denied entry into the illegal settlement.

Citing Rift Valley as the epicentre of Kenya’s intercommunal conflicts, the International Crisis Group (ICG), in its report, Old wounds, devolution’s new anxieties, notes that the region is often the site of confrontations among ethnic political groups.

Pointing out that an election alliance (read Jubilee) had brought together the two largest ethnic groups in the region – the Kalenjin and the Kikuyu – prior to the hotly contested 2017 elections, ICG rues the task of reconciliation was far from complete. An independent institution that works to prevent wars and promote peace, ICG identifies what it terms is a cocktail of grievances that explain persistent tensions that typify every election cycle in the Rift Valley.

“Politicians typically trigger fighting by exploiting historical injustices related to land ownership and rejection of the participation of ‘outsiders’ in local politics,” notes ICG, adding “violence often aims to evict members of ethnic communities seen as backing rival parties.”

What’s more, Kalenjin politicians’ repeated demands that Central Kenya should ‘return a hand’ in 2022 does not appear to sit well with the ICG, which fears “failure by the Kikuyu side of the Jubilee coalition to endorse Ruto in 2022 almost inevitably would trigger major instability in the Rift Valley.”

In retrospect, the Rift valley has often formed the basis of reference for conflict, with pundits blaming colonial land policies that restricted natives’ access to land. This, it is argued, created contradictions in the economic, political and social spheres that would in turn bred conflict.

Historical violent hotspots including Burnt Forest, Molo and Enosupukia are long-standing fault-lines where a complex blend of land, anti-Kikuyu sentiment, poverty and perceived government insensitivity has created a veritable flashpoint waiting to explode at the lightest whim of careless politicians.

Suffice it to say that the nature of politics in Rift Valley easily gels with the dynamics of wilful retention of political power at various levels that, unfortunately, can be achievable by instigating and aggravating conflict to control the political process.

Deadly clashes have historically emerged in the Rift Valley whenever the Kalenjin and Kikuyu have voted differently. The issue in focus is the 2013 pre-election MoU that partly defined the 2022 succession path, with Ruto poised to take over upon Uhuru’s completion of his second term. This – the culture of political reciprocity – may no longer be a given. 

Back to the Mau, in a move that runs counter to government effort to reclaim the 46,000-hectare Masai Mau complex, Rift Valley leaders ordered the illegal inhabitants who had been evicted back into the forest, fomenting real fears of a confrontation capable of hurting the DP.

Already facing a backlash from his Rift Valley stronghold, Ruto could be a real casualty of the new evictions. A cross section of Rift Valley politicians are now accusing the DP of reneging on his undertaking to the families to the effect that a caveat on ownership had been lifted, with families evicted from Kuresoi yet to be compensated, more 10 years after being evicted.

Describing the new eviction order as a critical step in reversing the dangerous destruction that has happened over the years, Moitalel ole Kenta, the Narok North MP who has been one of the most vocal leaders in calling for the protection of the Mau complex, now feels the shoe is on the other foot for the DP in the battle to protect the water tower.

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