Ruto in Raila’s turf, talks tough on violence
Kenya’s President William Ruto on Friday started a tour of his rival Raila Odinga’s backyard in western Kenya and broke his silence over the ethnic violence that has left at least seven people dead, others nursing arrow wounds and several houses burnt, warning that the perpetrators would be arrested and prosecuted.
President Ruto, speaking during the start of his latest tour of the region, said he had directed the Interior minister to ensure firm action against the persons inciting the violence between neighbouring ethnic communities around Sondu on the border of Kericho and Kisumu counties.
It was the first time the President was speaking publicly about the Sondu violence, which broke out on Wednesday evening, disturbing the calm that had returned to the area after similar violent confrontations in July claimed three lives and wounded 18.
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On the eve of the president’s tour of Kisumu and three other counties in the region, Cabinet Secretary for Interior, Kithure Kindiki, deployed more police officers to the area and transferred security bosses accused of partisanship by residents.
Kericho and Kisumu are predominantly inhabited by the Kalenjin and the Luo, the two ethnic communities to which President Ruto and opposition leader Mr Odinga belong respectively.
Sondu, which straddles both counties, has long been a flashpoint, with past outbreaks of violence attributed to cattle rustling and land disputes.
But in the past three decades the tensions have increasingly become political.
The July violence, for instance, coincided with the opposition-led anti-government protests, which were embraced by those on the Kisumu side and resisted by those on the Kericho side.
In the run-up to the multi-party elections of 1992, Sondu was one of the areas affected by the politically instigated violence targeting communities perceived to be opposed to the dictatorial rule of former president Daniel arap Moi.
The latest flare-ups are being linked to a dispute over where the boundary between Kericho and Kisumu counties lies, with each claiming the right to collect revenues from traders at the Sondu market.
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The opposition Azimio One Kenya Alliance coalition on Thursday claimed the violence was part of a scheme to influence the outcome of a review of electoral boundaries set to be conducted next year, echoing an earlier joint statement by four county governors that blamed the clashes on a quest for territorial expansion.
Boundary conflicts are among the few dark spots of Kenya’s transition to the devolved system of government, which has otherwise been credited with spurring development in the rural and remote parts of the country in the past 10 years.
Under the devolution created by the 2010 Constitution and rolled out in 2013, at least 15 percent of the last audited national revenues are allocated to the 47 counties while the traditionally marginalised counties receive an additional affirmative action financing from an Equalisation Fund.
But pressure to also generate their own-source revenues to fund development projects and pay a bloated workforce has seen a number of counties lay claim to townships and trading centres along disputed borders.
Kenya also faces a challenge addressing the grievances of ethnic minorities that are aggressively pushing for the own counties in the forthcoming boundary delimitation.
The ethnic minorities complain of being discriminated against in resource distribution and public service jobs by the county governments, which have members of the dominant communities in key decision-making positions.