Nomads and Farmers in Kenya War Over Increasingly Scarce Land

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

COMPETITION between tribes of nomadic herdsmen and farmers over increasingly scarce land is fueling a new outbreak of ethnic tensions.

At least 12 persons died in intertribal attacks Jan. 7 and 10.

Intertribal differences and suspicions over land have been - and are being fanned again into violence by politicians seeking advantages for their own group, according to a senior Kenyan official and church leaders in Kenya.

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Nomadic and seminomadic tribes generally support Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, who comes from a cluster of small nomadic tribes known as the Kalenjin.

The main political opposition to President Moi is composed largely of tribes whose members are farmers and business operators.

Over the years, many Kikuyus and other farmers have moved onto grazing lands of the Masai, Kalenjin, and other nomads, driven there by population pressures.

Small farmers moving into Masai lands usually paid the Masai for the land, says Fr. John Kaiser, an American Roman Catholic priest who has lived in Kenya 31 years, including many years in Masai areas.

Some Kalenjin politicians claim, however, that many nomads were hoodwinked into turning over the land for very little.

The larger problem is ``land grabbing'' by senior politicians of Moi's administration, for which the nomads, especially the Masai, were not paid, he says.

He says a current member of Moi's Cabinet, William Ntimama, was one of those behind this alleged ``land grabbing.'' And, he says: ``I think the president owns more than a dozen farms in the Masai area,'' amounting to ``thousands of acres.''

The senior Kenyan official contacted by this newspaper would not comment on the allegations of land grabbing by administration officials.

`IT looks like things are about to return to the level of 1991,'' says Irungu Houghton, a Kenyan working on a private monitoring committee called the ``Ethnic Clashes Network.''

In 1991 and 1992, violence between tribes took 800 lives and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

The killings began in the Rift Valley Province, an area with much fertile farm land. Moi's Kenyan political critics accuse him of trying to drive out opposing tribes so he would win the area in the 1992 elections.

The latest killings, between Masai and Kikuyus, come in the midst of ethnic rhetoric before an election for a parliamentary seat. It's also coming shortly after more than 2,000 displaced Kikuyu farmers, were suddenly forced from their plastic huts in a resettlement camp in central Kenya, in the village of Maela. ``Dispersal is not resettlement,'' says Mr. Houghton.

About 1,200 of them had been given roughly two acres of land per family in exchange for land that was taken, but it was too dry for much farming. Father Kaiser, who was on the scene during the removal, says several thousand other displaced still living in Maela are stranded without food.

Anne McCreath, an official with Doctors Without Borders, says the Kenyan government is preventing relief officials from helping those still in Maela, and blocking efforts to shelter those dispersed elsewhere. ``We are concerned about the displaced ... their welfare, living conditions, and safety,'' she told reporters here Jan. 13.

Both United Nations and US officials have complained to Moi about the method of dispersal.

Eye-witnesses to the latest killings said after two Masai herdsmen were murdered in an area farmed by Kikuyus, a group of Masai burned houses, stole cattle, and beat at least 10 Kikuyus to death with metal-studded clubs and long knives.

``You kill one of us [nomads], and we will dump on you with a vengeance,'' the senior Kenyan official who is a member of a nomadic tribe told the Monitor after the revenge attack. But, he added, the killings stop ``the moment they feel their dead brother is paid back fully'' by the revenge attacks.

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