Violence Escalates over Water Troubles in Kenya

Conflict over water resources erupted for a second time in the Narok, Kajiado, and Nakuru districts of Kenya on February 23.

Two Maasai men were killed at Mai Mahiu by police in a helicopter who were searching and flushing out Maasai they believed were armed. Many other people were arrested for their alleged involvement in the recent outbreak of violence between Maasai and Kikuyu.

Maasai leaders have said that the police used excessive force to quell the violence. In a press statement released February 25, the Maasai Civil Society, and religious, civic and political leaders from Kajiado, Narok, Nakuru, Laikipia, Samburu, Isiolo, Transmara, Marsabit, and Baringo districts called for the release of the Maasai who were arrested and urged that the policemen responsible for the two deaths be arrested and charged with murder. "We shall not tolerate state sponsored terror, murder, maiming and harassment of innocent women and children in their homes," the statement said.

The root of the violence has been a lack of access to water, said Ledama Olekina, founder and president of the Kenya- and U.S.-based organization Maasai Education Discovery. Kikuyu neighbors upstream use water from the Ewaso Kedong River for irrigation, leaving the Maasai with less for themselves and their cattle. But Olekina said that the Kenyan government has exacerbated the problem, making it a battleground issue for rival politicians rather than dealing with the underlying water problems.

"Why is the Minister of Water Martha Wangari Karua not involved?" Olekina asked.

The first round of violence began in the Mai Mahiu region in late January when several Maasai, frustrated with the water problems, destroyed water pipes that led to the home of former Limuru Councillor Ndung'u Njenga. In response, several Kikuyu attacked a local Maasai chief.

Retaliation attacks continued and the violence escalated, resulting in the deaths of at least 14 people and the displacement of hundreds of Maasai and Kikuyu. Some of those displaced by the conflict have camped at the Mai Mahiu trading center, Longonot Satellite Station, and Karima Primary School.

The most recent violence calls into question the effectiveness of peace talks that took place in early February. In a meeting chaired by KenyaÂ’s Internal Security Minister Chris Murungaru, government officials mediated an agreement between the Kikuyu and Maasai communities that called for committees to be created to discuss water sharing and land issues.

"The Kikuyu and Maasai have lived side by side peacefully for years," Olekina said. "The government needs to be neutral, go there, and provide a workable solution."