Kenya government celebrates death of rebel commander

There was jubilation within Kenya’s security circles last Friday after the army killed the commander of a militia outfit after a three month campaign.

Killed SLDF leader, Wycliffe Kirui Matakwei. Picture by Nation Media Group.

Killed SLDF leader, Wycliffe Kirui Matakwei. Picture by Nation Media Group.

Wycliffe Kirui Matakwei, commander of the Sabaot Land Defense Force (SLDF), was ambushed and killed in the Mt Elgon forest on Friday morning. The killing of Matakwei was a major morale boost for the army just a day after the Kenya National Human Rights Commission (KNHCR) condemned the army’s counter insurgency tactics in Mt Elgon.

According to KNHCR, an estimated 600 people have died in Operation Okoa Maisha (Operation Save Lives) since it was launched in February. The army denies the claims, blaming the killings on the SLDF. Hundreds of men in Mt Elgon within the 13 – 50 age bracket say they have been tortured by Kenya Army officers trying to gain intelligence about the SLDF. A number of women have accused the army of sexual violence.

Mr Matakwei is a high school dropout who became the face of the SLDF. The militia outfit was founded in 2006 by a sub-clan of the Sabaot ethnic group. The Sabaot are in the same ethnic family as the Kalenjin. According to media interviews, Matakwei wanted to restore his clan to their former ancestral lands which, today, are occupied by other clans of the Sabaot community. Mr Matakwei claimed that his clan had been pushed to the higher reaches of Mt Elgon where it is too cold for agricultural activities.

The current problem in Mt Elgon was sparked off by allocation of land in the Chebyuk settlement scheme between 2004 and 2006. The land allocation was bungled by former Mt Elgon Member of Parliament, Mr John Serut. The various clans within the Sabaot community felt they cheated, sparking off tension that led to the formation of the SLDF.

Since then, other clans have formed their own militia outfits such as the Progressive Defense Forces, Moorland Defense Force, the Political Revenge Movement, among others. In its report on Thursday, the KNHRC accused the Kenya Army of fomenting conflict in Mt Elgon by arming militias to fight the SLDF.

The history of Mt Elgon land politics reveals that each time the Sabaot were allocated a chunk from the Mt Elgon forest, they would sell the land and request for more. By the turn of the millennium, the Sabaot found themselves so high on the mountain slopes that agriculture was impossible due to low temperatures. However, they could not return to the lowlands because they had already sold it, thus, the burning desire to regain “ancestral land.”

Meanwhile, as the Kenya Army celebrates its latest victory, disturbing accounts of torture continue to emerge from the Mt Elgon area. The KNCHR has written to the United Nations in New York advising the expulsion of Kenya’s military from international peace keeping operations.

The request is not likely to be granted but the Kenya Army will suffer major embarrassment in coming months as more evidence of excessive force comes into the limelight.

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