Kenya: Refugees Clash in Uganda
The Monitor (Kampala)
14 January 2008
Posted to the web 14 January 2008
Frank Nyakairu, Rodney Muhumza and Agencies
UGANDAN authorities said on Sunday they were forced to separate Kenyan refugees according to tribe as a result of growing ethnic tensions and two failed poisoning attempts in Ugandan camps.
More than 6,000 Kenyans fled to Uganda to escape two weeks of riots and ethnic clashes that have killed 500 people in their homeland since President Mwai Kibaki’s disputed re-election last month.
Rivalries between some of the refugees have simmered since their arrival, and the arrest of two men caught trying to poison food for other displaced Kenyans pushed hostilities higher.
“We arrested two men thought to be Kalenjin militiamen mixing poison in refugees’ food at St Jude Primary school, which is acting as the refugees’ reception centre,” Tororo Resident District Commissioner Mpimbaza Hashaka told Daily Monitor yesterday.
Kalenjin tribesmen in Kenya have been responsible for many recent attacks on members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group back in Kenya. Mr Hashaka said Friday’s incident in the border town of Malaba followed a similar one earlier last week when another man was found mixing poison in beans being prepared for Kikuyu refugees sheltering at a nearby church.
The man was also arrested, but later escaped from jail.
Separately, Mr Hashaka said two wounded Kenyan refugees had been admitted to hospital after they fought over the election result, only to resume their battle in front of doctors.
“They came from warring tribes,” he said.
At least 10 cases of tribal attacks among refugees had been reported, he said, revealing that such attacks were fuelled by drug abuse among the refugees. “So we have decided also to ban alcohol and opium,” Mr Hashaka said.
He said the Kikuyus, who are the majority, have been housed in primary schools while the rest are being housed in churches. The U.N. World Food Programme is due to begin food distribution to displaced Kenyans in the area on Monday. But due to the rising tensions, Mr Hashaka said, the Ugandan authorities had been forced to segregate the refugees into three ethnic groups of Kikuyus, Luos and Kalenjins.
“We have been forced to separate three major tribes – the Kalenjin, Kikuyu and the Luo- and we are counselling them to remind [them] that the law will catch up with anyone who attacks another,” Mr Hashaka told Daily Monitor.
Meanwhile, the population of Kenyan refugees in Uganda now exceeds 6,000, up from 2,900 six days ago, the government said in a statement yesterday. “Currently, the population that has been registered is 6,130 as per 9/01/08. While receiving these refugees, the government of Uganda…has given a three weeks emergency period (ending January) to manage the protection issues of these refugees,” the statement, signed by Disaster Preparedness Minister Tarsis Kabwegyere, said.
“At the lapse of this period and the situation warranting, these refugees will be settled in designated refugee settlement areas.”Kenyan refugees are being registered in the districts of Bukwo, Nakapiripirit, Bududa, Kapchorwa, Tororo, Busia and Manafwa.
The statement did not say whether the influx of refugees was causing a crisis of management, but there were reports that Ugandan authorities have had to separate them according to tribe following the poison scare.
Following the disputed December 27 presidential elections, Kenya descended into a political crisis as riots and tribal clashes killed at least some 500 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.
The clashes seemed to pit opposition leader Raila Odinga’s Luo community against President Mwai Kibaki’s Kikuyu people, who are perceived to hold a grip on Kenya’s economy and politics. Mr Odinga, who claims he was denied victory through a fraudulent tallying process, has now called for mass protest rallies this week after talks mediated by Ghanaian President John Kufour failed.
Mr Odinga’s announcement may have spread new fear among Kenyans, especially since the Kenya government looks set to forcibly block the planned rallies. But it remains to be seen if Uganda would be prepared to accommodate large influxes of refugees should the situation there deteriorate. There are indications that Uganda’s capacity to accommodate refugees has already been stretched.
“The government of Uganda, together with UNHCR, plans to relocate the refugees from the various reception centres to a transit centre to be located at former Mulanda Technical Institute in Tororo,” Prof. Kabwegyere’s statement said. “The district leadership has been engaged to avail this land for temporary accommodation of the refugees.”
The first refugees to enter Uganda were registered at Integrated Primary School in Malaba and at St. Jude Primary School in Busia-reception centres that are managed by the Uganda Red Cross Society.