(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Fears over rising IDP numbers in Mt Elgon

Displaced people from Mt Elgon receive food aid from the Kenya Red Cross Society during a food distribution exercise, Bungoma, 16 April 2007.
Ann Weru/IRIN

The number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the volatile district of Mt Elgon in western Kenya could increase due to the effects of the post-election violence that has hit parts of the country, according to an official of the Kenya Red Cross Society.

The district experienced land-related clashes throughout 2007, resulting in the displacement of at least 45,000 people by the end of the year. Most of the fighting was between two clans of the dominant Sabaot ethnic group over land allocation within the Chebyuk settlement scheme.

“Although the land-related violence seems to have gone down, probably with the election of a new member of parliament, the security situation is still not good, with people moving from the higher regions,” Hezborn Wekola, the area's KRCS assistant relief officer, said on 24 January.

“The fighting is now between the Bukusu and Sabaot communities with the Kimabole area being a no-go zone for the Sabaot while the Cheptais area [one of the administrative divisions in the district] is a no-go zone for the Bukusu.”

He added that at least 11 people were killed recently in Cheptais and four others in the Endebess and Salama areas of the neighbouring district of Trans Nzoia.

About 1,000 IDPs in Endebess, located near Chepkitale in the upper regions of the district, had set up camp at the local district officer’s compound, Wekola said.

He said 195 households, with an average of five members each, were displaced in the Lwahaha area, 313 in Malaba [a town on the border with Uganda], 334 in Mumias and 14 in Webuye, all major towns and centres within the western region. Another 4,000 people were in a camp in Turbo area, also in western Kenya.

Displaced children were attending makeshift schools where available, Wekola said, adding that educational materials were needed, as were food, clothing and health interventions for the IDPs.

Security presence

A local administrator, who requested anonymity, said the government had deployed security personnel to the district.

"There have been no gunshots in the last three weeks and some of the people displaced by the fighting over land last year are returning,” he said. "Our new member of parliament has also asked area leaders to meet to deliberate on the way forward for the district."

However, the security situation in the neighbouring Trans Nzoia district, especially in the upper Kitale area, was bad due to post-election violence, he said.

According to Anthony Mwangi, the KRCS public relations manager, it is difficult to ascertain whether population movement is due to the post-election violence or to the land clashes that ravaged the region for most of 2007.

“There are incidents every now and again, with the affected population figures continually changing because of population movement in and out of the district,” Mwangi said.

A local resident, who also sought anonymity, said he had fled the district due to the insecurity, coupled with the political instability across the country.

“I did not want to risk my life,” he said. "The Sabaot Land Defence Forces [SLDF] militias are very dangerous," he said.

The SDLF has been blamed for most of the killings in the district.


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