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Op/Ed

Tana Delta clashes do not fit the farmer-herder competition for resources narrative

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Police officers are seen in Kau village where manyattas were razed early August. An attack last week left over 50 people dead. Photo/Laban Walloga

Police officers are seen in Kau village where manyattas were razed early August. An attack last week left over 50 people dead. Photo/Laban Walloga  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By Paul Goldsmith

posted  Saturday, September 15  2012 at  22:43

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  • After the shocking incident that has raised an isolated village in the Tana River Delta to international prominence, the BBC interviewed the Coast Province Provincial Commissioner, who summed up the problem by commenting, “unfortunately, our people like to fight.”
  • The Pokomo are the region’s most peaceable people; the raid, ostensibly launched to avenge a clash resulting in the death of three farmers, recast them as baby killers from Hell.
  • Deeper investigation of the Tana Delta crisis, however, shows that the assumption that farmer-herder competition for resources leads to conflict is hardly a given.
  • Rather, symbiotic relations between mobile producers of animal protein and carbohydrate producing agriculturalists was a basic prerequisite for the emergence of the mono-cultural pastoralism practised by the Orma and their Somali counterparts.
  • Recent Orma-Pokomo conflict stems from the expansion of riverine farms that block herders’ access to the river. An individual instigated the current conflict cycle when he demarcated an agricultural plot for registration.
  • The National Cohesion and Integration Commission can help avoid the dark scenario referred to above from emerging by leaving the detective work to others and organising public discussions on how the Tana Delta’s resources can be sustainably utilised for the benefit of both local communities and the larger Kenya public.

The August 22 Riketa massacre claimed over 50 lives, and most of the victims were Orma women and children immolated when the raiders torched their homes.

After the shocking incident that has raised an isolated village in the Tana River Delta to international prominence, the BBC interviewed the Coast Province Provincial Commissioner, who summed up the problem by commenting, “unfortunately, our people like to fight.”

Such nonchalance exemplifies common misperceptions of the antagonisms bedeviling Kenya’s ethnic minorities.

The Pokomo are the region’s most peaceable people; the raid, ostensibly launched to avenge a clash resulting in the death of three farmers, recast them as baby killers from Hell.

The continuing conflict is fuelling a mounting death toll on both sides, and spawning all kinds of unanswered questions in its wake.

For analysts who discount the PC’s primordial ethnic loyalties thesis, these statistics support the view that dependence on traditional livelihoods will intensify local resource-based and farmer-herder conflicts over the coming years.

Deeper investigation of the Tana Delta crisis, however, shows that the assumption that farmer-herder competition for resources leads to conflict is hardly a given.

Rather, symbiotic relations between mobile producers of animal protein and carbohydrate producing agriculturalists was a basic prerequisite for the emergence of the mono-cultural pastoralism practised by the Orma and their Somali counterparts.

Such inter-dependencies explain why the Orma have for generations lived in a state of symbiosis with their Lamu County and Tana River neighbours.

Naturally, occasional frictions arise, especially when cattle wander on to farms, and no doubt individual Orma and Pokomo may respond aggressively in such circumstances. But nothing in the literature alludes to a long-standing state of conflict between herders and farmers in this area.

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