Kenya : Violence breaks out in the Rift Valley after by-elections

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Fighting broke out in the volatile Rift Valley region on Thursday after results of by-elections for vacant seats in parliament were released, leaving dozens of people homeless and several others injured.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s party, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), swept most of the five seats up for grabs in the by-elections held on Wednesday to fill the five vacancies in parliament left by the killing of two Members of Parliament.

President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) grabbed two of the five seats with ODM clinching three others, including one vacant seat left behind after its MP, Kenneth Marende, was elected Speaker.

According to the Peace and Development Network Trust, tension is rising in the Rift Valley, the epicentre of last January’s post-election chaos.

In Kilgoris, where elections to fill the vacant parliamentary seat was held, 11 people were reportedly attacked and seriously injured early on Thursday on suspicion that they voted for a candidate from another ethnic group during the by-elections.

Nine houses and a vehicle belonging to non-Maasai ethnic groups and those suspected to have voted for the ODM candidate, Johanna Ngeno, who lost to PNU’s Gideon Konchella, were also reported to have been burnt during the fracas, the aid group said.

Tension is reported in the area as non-Maasai ethnic groups, mainly the members of the Kipsigis community living in the area, have been warned to leave the area.

Leaflets were reported circulating in the area from late last week warning members of the Kipsigis community, part of the larger Kalenjin tribe, to vacate Transmara district by 11 June. The tension heightened following hate text messages reportedly circulated ridiculing members of the Maasai community.

However, it is believed that calm may return to the area following the Konchella victory. He is a former Immigration Minister and a prominent Maasai.

Kenyan politics is deeply embedded in tribalism with most members of parliament elected on the basis of tribal and community votes.

Tension between the Maasai and Kipsigis communities in Transmara district began building up late last year when an aspiring Kipsigis politician challenged former Member of Parliament, Konchella during the last general elections.

The tension during the December general elections led to disruption of the vote tallying and later the burning of ballot boxes, leading to Wednesday’s by-elections.

Reports indicate that thousands of people, mainly from the Kipsigis community are displaced from their homes by the attacks.

In Ainamoi constituency also in the Rift Valley, tension was high when the election results were announced.

ODM won the seat in Wajir North, where a tied vote in December forced the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) to call for a re-run. Panapress .

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