Ethnic violence ahead of Kenyan elections

The Kenyan government is to conduct a nationwide operation to disarm all communities with illegally-held weapons following the killing of 52 people in the Tana River district in Kenya's southeast, about 300 km from Nairobi.

Increasing violent incidents between the Pokomo and Orma tribes in the Reketa area of Tarassa have led to reprisals involving killings, theft of livestock and destruction of properties, resulting in the widespread displacement of families. There has been a long-running battle between the two tribes over water and pastoral rights to the river Tana, Kenya’s longest river, with the mainly cattle-herding Orma claiming the river's water and the Pokomo – mostly settled farmers – claiming the land along the river.

In a separate development violence has explored in Mombasa in react to the killing on 27 August of Aboud Rogo Mohammed, a Kenyan radical Islamist cleric. His death has led to violent scenes in Mombasa where a number of churches were attacked and one person killed. The controversial cleric was on US and UN terror lists for allegedly providing support to Somalia's al-Shabab insurgents.

Other volatile regions of northeast and southeast Kenya have already experienced clashes this year over new county and constituency boundaries ahead of the general elections scheduled for 4 March next year.

The Kenya Red Cross said that the attacks – which have claimed over 200 lives since January – bear all the hallmarks of the pre-election violence experienced in three of Kenya’s four elections since 1992. It attributes the violence to competition for new legislative and administrative positions as Kenya restructures its parliamentary boundaries according to the terms of the new constitution passed in August 2010.

The worst violence came after the 2007 elections whose result was disputed by supporters of the two main opponents: current president Mwai Kibaki and incumbent prime minister Raila Odinga. At least 1,220 people are believed to have been killed in the ensuing ethnic violence, and between 180,000 and 250,000 are thought to have been internally displaced.

Odinga is currently ahead of the other two main candidates running for president in the coming elelctions: Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya's deputy prime minister; and former higher education minister William Ruto – both of whom face charges at the International Criminal Court for allegedly orchestrating violence in the aftermath of the 2007 election. Kibaki, currently completing the maximum two five-year terms, is not permitted to stand again as president, and is expected to retire from politics next year.