Kenya: A No-Go Zone for Campaigners
The Nation (Nairobi)
9 December 2007
Posted to the web 9 December 2007
Bernard Kwalia And Luke Kapchanga
Three people, including an expectant woman, were shot dead in the troubled Mt Elgon District on Friday by people believed to be members of the newly formed Moorland Forces (MF). The three were killed at the controversial Chebyuk Settlement Scheme in Cheptoror village of Kopsiro Division.
More that 10 people armed with guns invaded the village at 1 p.m. and killed Masai Simotwo, 33, her mother Trophinah Simotwo, 61, and Judith Naliaka, 32, who were harvesting maize in their farm.The incident heightened tension between two clans fighting over the scheme. The area police boss Mr Clement Gatogo confirmed the deaths.
Whereas other candidates criss-cross their constituencies in search of votes ahead of the December 27 polling day, those of Mt Elgon enjoy no such thing. Clashes have raged over the past one year, killing over 200 people and prompting the State to restrict movements in the area to between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. The government has also banned political rallies in the constituency, slowing down campaigns. The curfew was imposed in August to curb night killings. The clashes have displaced more than 60,000 residents who have sought refuge in neighbouring districts while others have crossed to Uganda.
Many primary and secondary schools were closed for the whole year. There are fears that almost half of the 57,578 registered voters have moved out of the constituency, which means voter turnout will be very low. Recently, eight parliamentary candidates held a meeting with the District Commissioner, Mr Muhamed Biriki, and asked to be accorded security. Currently, only outgoing MP Mr John Serut appears to be campaigning freely since, as an assistant minister, he is accorded security by the government. The Planning assistant minister, who is seeking re-election through PNU, is usually heavily guarded.
Mr Harry Kimutai of ODM Kenya says the curfew should be lifted to enable the candidates campaign freely. At one time he expressed fear for his life after receiving threatening text messages.
Kanu candidate Mr Henry Ndiema says the curfew has not served any purpose as it has not curbed violence. Mr Ndiema said the security operation conducted by more than 600 police officers, which began almost a year ago, has been targeted at innocent people.
A Kaddu candidate, Mr Sammy Chemwey, early last month had his house burnt down by arsonists. Mr Chemwey accused some of his opponents of being behind the arson attack to intimidate him.
“What legacy are we going to leave for our children and the community?” he asked. Campaign meetings for the constituency are now held in hotels in Kitale, Kimilili, Bungoma and Webuye towns.
Mr Fred Kapondi, the ODM candidate who is in remand and is billed as a favourite, is said to be pulling strings from behind bars. His campaign team is intact and many youths in the area are behind him. Mr Peter Mudoko, a resident of Kopsiro, expressed concern that lack of transport would keep away potential voters. People who fled the area, he noted, feared going back — even on polling day — due to insecurity. Mr Mudoko also said some people had lost both the identity and voter’s cards as they fled the area. Others were destroyed when houses were set on fire. He proposed that mobile polling centres be set up to give a chance to those displaced to take part in the elections.
Political leaders accuse the security personnel of fanning the violence. Most of the aspirants accuse the government of lack of seriousness in seeking a solution to the insecurity. On the other hand, some of those seeking to unseat Mr Serut accuse police of harassing and intimidating people from areas where opponents enjoy support.
The harassment is allegedly a scheme to force supporters of the opponents to flee and fail to vote. But Mr Serut dismissed the claims. He recently told his opponents that armed criminals in the area would be flushed out of their hideouts. It is believed the militiamen behind killings in the area disappear into forests during the day and return at night. The cat-and-mouse games between police and the militiamen have raised fear that has driven the residents into hiding.