A month after clashes erupted in Kenya's Rift Valley district of Laikipia West, calm has returned but internally displaced persons (IDPs) are yet to return home, with leaders voicing concern over the acquisition of guns by communities living in the area.
"Let us not confuse calmness for peace while ethnic animosity persists," Frederick Chisia, the new district commissioner for Rumuruti division, told a peace and reconciliation workshop on 26 March in Nyahururu, the district's headquarters.
"The truth be told, and let's be honest with one another: there is no community which is not buying firearms now. Every community must surrender these firearms during an upcoming planned disarmament.”
The clashes in Rumuruti, pitting the mostly pastoralist Turkana and Tugen communities against the dominant Kikuyu ethnic group, began in early March following the killing of a suspected Turkana rustler. Since then, at least 25 people have died and over 8,000 have been displaced in the district.
Homes and granaries were burnt, with 127 households completely losing their livelihoods after three villages were razed to the ground in the Maji Mengi area of Rumuruti.
Calm resumed after the government deployed the administration police's rapid deployment unit to patrol the areas that were most hit by the clashes.
Chisia told the workshop's participants - civic leaders and representatives of all communities in the district - to urge everyone in the district to shun ethnic animosity. "Let us not ethnicise crime. Indiscipline or criminality should not be blamed on a whole community; culprits should be dealt with on an individual basis," he said.
He urged the district's leaders to focus on resolution of contentious issues such as livestock theft, disputes over grazing land and respect for different community lifestyles.
"We are sitting on a time-bomb in parts of this country with regard to land, so you, the leaders of Laikipia West, must seriously contemplate the issues surrounding land in this district," he said. "Let's combine traditional methods and modern methods to resolve these disputes and get all communities living in peace once again."
According to Francis Wambua, the chairman of the Laikipia branch of the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), some of those displaced in the district were camped in five IDP sites while others had sought refuge with relatives and friends.
Wambua said the KRCS was distributing relief aid to the displaced at Rumuruti, Gatundia, Maji Mengi and Maundu II camps.
Peter Kariuki, himself an IDP and KRCS volunteer in charge of Rumuruti, told IRIN the main challenge facing the IDPs’ return to their homes was security.
"They remain unsure about their safety in their farms," he said. "Besides, they lack seed and fertilizer as they lost their property in the clashes; how will they restart their lives?"
The councillor for Rumuruti, Paul Thairu, said displaced farmers who had attempted to return to prepare their farms for planting had been scared off by cattle herders who fired guns to scare them away.
Conflict over grazing land
"Despite all these peace meetings we have been holding, the situation remains tense on the ground; the conflict seems to be more over grazing land than anything," he said. "If you visit Rumuruti, you will find cattle being grazed on farms some of which have crops planted."
He appealed to the government to waive hospital fees for dozens of people injured during the clashes and who remain in local hospitals.
At the Catholic church at Rumuruti town, where hundreds of IDPs have sought refuge, many said they were finding town life difficult and wanted to return home but were uncertain of their safety.
"I come from Aiyam where seven people were killed at the height of the violence; I had ploughed my farm ready for planting but I fled when I realised that I could be killed," Michael Ndegwa, an IDP, said. "Since then, life in town has been very difficult, I have rented a house nearby and I now have to buy food. In my home I never paid rent and I grew most of my family's food."
He said: "Here we get relief food such as maize, but where do I get the money to mill it into flour? If I was assured of my security, I would go back to my home where life was easier compared to this."