Rights group says an arms race is on between two of Kenya’s largest ethnic communities ahead of the 2012 presidential election after the last disputed vote triggered weeks of tribal conflict.

A combination of a desire for revenge and lack of state security has seen Kalenjin and Kikuyu communities in Kenya’s Rift Valley stockpile firearms, said the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

“People are arming themselves with sophisticated firearms because there are certain communities who are saying enough is enough, the state cannot protect us … we lost lives, we lost property, we lost our humanity,” Ken Wafula, head of the group, siad.

The post-election mayhem that engulfed Kenya in the aftermath of the disputed presidential elections in early 2008 killed more than 1,300 people and 300,000 were uprooted, triggering investigations into crimes against humanity. Hatred turned mixed-ethnic towns into killing fields, as neighbors cut each other down with machetes and bows and arrows.

Wafula said politicians were spearheading fundraising campaigns to buy weapons such as AK-47 rifles and pistols.

“State security officials were not only turning a blind eye to the activity but actually assisting the amassing of firearms, state security machinery at the top level are involved. They are right in the middle of the arms race,” Wafula said.

The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo has concluded a visit to Kenya, where he is investigating allegations that some top level government officials were involved in the country’s deadly 2008 post-election ethnic violence.  There are fresh reports of Kenyan ethnic groups arming themselves ahead of the next presidential election in 2012.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has submitted a list of 20 names “who appear to bear the greatest responsibility”. The names have not been published, but the list is believed to include some prominent cabinet ministers.

Some of the worst violence occurred in the Kalejin’s Rift Valley homeland and targeted Kikuyus, triggering fierce reprisal attacks in the towns of Nakuru and Naivasha.

Tribal rivalries have plagued Kenyan politics since east Africa’s largest economy won independence from Britain in 1963, often intensifying around elections.

President Mwai Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe and the Kalenjin of former President Daniel Arap Moi have dominated Kenya’s post-colonial politics and acquired swathes of land across the country and in the fertile Rift Valley in particular.

Tribes, such as the Luo of Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Kibaki’s arch rival in the 2007 poll before he entered a coalition government brokered by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, say they have been politically and economically marginalised.

Last year, Ken Wafula was arrested and charged with inciting violence after reporting that communities in the Rift Valley had begun to re-arm.   He says he is speaking out again because the situation is becoming worse, despite pledges by Kenya’s coalition government of President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga to rid the country of illegal firearms.

Early this year, Kenyan security forces have been dispatched to the Rift Valley and other areas to collect guns from nomadic tribes, who are increasingly using firearms, smuggled in from neighboring Sudan, Somalia, and Uganda, to steal livestock and to settle personal scores.

Wafula says there is growing suspicion that many of those confiscated weapons are being re-distributed among ethnic communities by senior officials.

Politicians in Kenya have long used election periods to entrench tribal loyalties and to whip up ethnic animosity to gain an advantage over their rivals.  Since multi-party elections were introduced in 1992, political violence has marred each election.


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