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Seven dead in ethnic clashes in Kenya

The Nation, Kenya

October 4, 2023

By Elizabeth Ojina & Dominic Ombok Nation Media Group

Police put out a fire at a shop in Sondu market in Kisumu on October 4, 2023. credit: Nation Media Group

On Wednesday night, gangs armed with bows and arrows crossed the border from Kericho and attacked residents in and around Sondu market in Kisumu County, stealing cattle and killing three people on the spot. The pain on their faces was palpable.

Women and young men gathered by the roadside after fleeing their homes, pleading for help from security officers who had arrived in the war-torn area.

At least seven people have now been killed in a span of 24 hours by attackers from neighboring Kericho County, barely two weeks after another succumbed to arrow wounds in Sondu town on the Kisumu-Kericho border.

Wednesday's pre-dawn attack left several other locals with injuries at various hospitals, including St Joseph Nyabondo Mission Hospital, while three were referred to Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital.

But the attackers were so brazen that even after the arrival of security chiefs from the two counties, they continued their raid, with arrows flying through the hilly Sondu fields, killing four more people.

Upper Nyakach Assistant County Commissioner Darwin Orina told the Nation that the death toll from the clashes had now risen to seven.

"We are appealing to residents to remain calm as security officers are on the ground to deal with the situation," Mr Orina told the Nation on Wednesday night.

At St Joseph Nyabondo Mission Hospital, Robert Obat, a Form Three pupil at Sondu Secondary School, lay on a hospital bed. He has wounds on his back after being hit by an arrow when he went to Sondu market to buy breakfast.

The 18-year-old student didn't reach his destination before an arrow hit his back. The last thing he remembers is falling unconscious.

"I didn't manage to see who threw the arrows. I was rushed to hospitals by locals who were nearby," he said.

Mr Obat is one of the victims of the ongoing clashes at Sondu along Kisumu-Kericho.

On Wednesday night, gangs armed with bows and arrows crossed the border from Kericho and attacked residents in and around Sondu market in Kisumu County, stealing cattle and killing three people on the spot.

Across from Obat's bed, another patient has similar wounds. "These people are merciless. If they can harm a mentally ill person, what about me as a student?" he wondered.

Kisumu County Commissioner Hussein Alassow said the escalating tensions over the past three days were mainly due to incidents of cattle rustling. "We are actively formulating strategies to restore normalcy in the area, with a dedicated team of police officers on the ground to ensure that peace is restored," said Mr Hussein.

According to Kisumu CEC for Health and Medical Services Dr Gregory Ganda, three people had died as a result of the border clashes on Wednesday, before authorities later announced four more deaths.

Dr Ganda told the Nation that eight people have been hospitalized so far. Some are being treated at St Joseph Mission Hospital in Nyabondo, while three were referred to the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital this morning.

"One of the patients was taken to Aga Khan Hospital at the request of family members," said Dr Ganda.

He added: "The deceased include an elderly man and two middle-aged men. One had a deep cut on his throat, one had an eye injury and the other had his arm cut off".

Teachers have already expressed fears of possible attacks on local schools after one of their own faced the wrath in Wednesday's attack.

Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) Kisumu County executive secretary Zablon Awange accused the police of negligence.

"The assailants brutally attacked an unarmed teacher Kevin Bondo of Agai Secondary with machetes, pangas and crude weapons and left him for dead. He is currently in critical condition at JOOTRH. We are demanding security and peace in Sondu," said Mr Awange.

He said that just last month, a former deputy at the school, Joseph Omonge, was attacked with arrows and seriously injured.

"We want justice for Kevin Bondo. We demand security from the Ministry of Home Affairs and our position is that some police officers are partisan and if the ministry does not act, we will have no option but to form our militia and defend ourselves," Mr Awange added.

One of the deceased was said to be a Form Four leaver who was only waiting to be admitted to university.

By last night, tensions were still high at Sondu market, the Centre of the clashes. There was a heavy police presence at the market for most of the day. Along the Kisumu-Kisii highway, men armed with panga, bows and arrows lined the road.

But locals lamented the silence of local leaders over the constant clashes along the border. Most of them gathered along the road to complain about the alarming insecurity in Nyakach sub-county along the border.

Lucas Ogutu, a resident of Nyabondo, complained that the tension has made residents insecure. "Because of the clashes, we have been forced to remain vigilant and protect our families and property. We are unable to carry out our normal errands with the ongoing tension," said Mr Ogutu.

Larry Otieno, a resident of Sondu, has called on the national government to intervene in the incessant border clashes that have led to loss of lives and injuries.

"The last time the National Administration and Internal Security CS Kithure Kindiki was in Sondu, he held a meeting with local authorities, but we didn't get any solution," said Mr Otieno.

He added: "Now we are being attacked at night by our neighbours who are after our cattle and killing people.

The clashes come as President William Ruto begins a visit to the region on Friday.

Kisumu Governor Anyang Nyong'o, who condemned the clashes, called on the national government to swiftly apprehend the perpetrators and ensure justice for the affected families.

"It is very unfortunate that on the eve of the President's visit to our region, some upstarts last night instigated ethnic clashes in Sondu along the Kisumu-Kericho border," said Governor Nyong'o.

But Mr Alassow, the Kisumu County Commissioner, insists that police officers will pursue the perpetrators to bring those responsible to justice and restore calm.

"The situation is relatively calm at the moment and we urge the public not to take matters into their own hands. If there are any disturbing circumstances, we urge citizens to report to the nearest police station," he said.

Luo Council of Elders chairman Odungi Randa urged President William Ruto to intervene and find a lasting solution to the perennial ethnic clashes along Kisumu, Kericho and Nandi counties.

Mr Randa lamented that the latest attacks come at a time when the President is planning a four-day tour of Luo Nyanza region from Friday to Monday.

Mr Randa said the clashes had claimed many lives and maimed dozens of others in recent years.

"We are not happy with what is happening at the border, especially at a time when the head of state is about to tour the region. The President should stand firm and take measures that will resolve these perennial clashes once and for all," said Mr Randa.

Copyright 2023 The Nation


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