Putting the Kilelengwani ghost to rest: Tana River leaders agree to peace treaty

People converge at a mosque amid the smouldering houses at Kilelengwani village, Tana Delta District, after clashes in 2012. PHOTO / JOAN PERERUAN

What you need to know:

More than 100 people were killed that day, including nine officers.

The Kilelengwani massacre remains among the hardly spoken about but most atrocious attacks to have been witnessed in the country during the Tana River ethnic clashes of 2012. 

A camp of General Service Unit police was attacked by a militia believed to have come from Ozi village and nine officers were killed. 

To witnesses at the time, it was one of the most vicious attacks, mercilessly executed by young militiamen. It brought to a close the camp with a platoon of 50 paramilitary officers. 

"It was a revenge attack. The story goes in the village is that police were fighting on the side of a particular ethnic group and they killed so many people. A few days later, a messenger was sent to the camp asking them to leave in 24 hours, but they ignored it," recounted Hassan Dhawa, a peace ambassador.

Then the militia members came running as victims to the camp, claiming they were being attacked, the officers allowed them into the camp to protect them, only for them to unleash violence on the officers as another group of the attackers advanced to the neighbouring Handaraku village.

More than 100 people were killed that day, including nine officers. 

Thousands were displaced as the village was filled with the smoke of burning homes and the wailing of mourning women.

"It was a very sad day. The officers who survived that attack fled and none has ever wanted to be here. The families left here have lived in bitterness," said Mr Dhawa.

For years, suspicion and fear pervaded among members of the Pokomo and Orma communities, which are each 300 metres from Kilelengwani Primary School where the nine officers were killed.

Mr Abdi Guyo, an elder, notes that it has been difficult for the two communities to share things for a while, and the animosity has further been fuelled by politics.

"It's not like we hate each other that much, but there has been that fear for a while. But I must say it's slowly fading away, our children are attending Kilelengwani Primary School, it never used to be like this," he says.

According to Mr Guyo, the two communities have learned to resolve their differences amicably.

He notes that unlike in the past when they would fight for pasture and generalise conflicts, today, they treat each conflict as a single case.

"A few months ago, a young man from this side killed a Pokomo boy while they were fishing. We arrested him and handed him over to the police, he's in jail. We were not going to tolerate that character among us," he said. 

Mr Hassan Morowa, another elder, notes that the conflicts between communities have been caused by discrimination in political representation.

According to Mr Morowa, past leaders only rendered services to their ethnic group and sidelined the other community on both service delivery and representation.

Elders at an event where okomos and Ormas declared to maintain peace in honour of the Kilelengwani massacre. The event took place at Kilelengwani Primary School in Tana River County.

Photo credit: Stephen Odour I Nation Media Group

"Politicians back then are to blame for that incident, they fuelled it. Had they come as a voice of reason without speaking for any side, that would not have happened, but they didn't, instead, they organized how they could reinforce their people," he said.

This, among many other reasons, has given the ghost of Kilelengwani a chance to reign in the once-productive village.

Residents note that since the massacre, the land has become unproductive, and rains scarce. They called for a truce.

A decade later, leaders and elders finally decided to call the community to bury the ghost, the hatchet, and lead them to an oath of peace.

Led by MPs Said Hiribae (Galole), Ali Wario (Garsen), and the chief administrative secretary in the office of the Chief Prime Minister, Ms Rehema Hassan, the leaders on Sunday led the two communities in a peace treaty.

The ceremony, presided over by elders from both communities, involved confession, reconciliation, and a declaration of everlasting peace, with intermarriage as one of the binding factors between the communities.

Members of the two communities washed their hands in a traditional jar and pot as a symbol of washing the past away.

According to Mr Hiribae, peace is necessary for the two communities to thrive.

"These are one people from a common origin. If you go back to history, you realize we have come from one father, but different mothers and that is why we share names, they need to be a family," he said.

Mr Hiribae appealed to the residents to resume trading together and build their economy, as the leaders help them to overcome other barriers.

According to the Galole MP, the solidarity of the two communities supersedes all other ambitions.

Mr Wario reiterated the need for a united community, urging the elders to identify brides and grooms for a mass wedding in Kilelengwani to foster peace.

"We can be one big family, if you have nothing to refer to, then take our example. I am Orma, your member of Parliament, my brother here is Pokomo, and our sister is Ilwana but we walk as a family and support each other," he said.

Ms Hassan called on counties across the Rift Valley to embrace the example of the Kilelengwani Treaty, and end their differences.

"If these people can sit and agree that indeed darkness in this place has cost them a lot and they decided to bury the 10-year-old ghost, then all the others in war-torn areas in the country can do it," she said.

With that, the ghost of Kilelengwani rests, a peace treaty nailing its last nail to the coffin, and a new dawn starts for residents in that area.