A report by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has blamed Kenyan security forces for escalating the violence in Mt Elgon, resulting in hundreds of deaths.
The MSF accuses Kenya’s military and police of “meeting violence with more violence.” The international organization fears that unless the root causes of the Mt Elgon conflict are addressed, “the situation is unlikely to improve substantially and the suffering will continue.”
On its part, the Kenyan government has denied using excessive force in its Operation Okoa Maisha (Operation Save Lives). Top Army commanders and police chiefs say local residents are happy with the security operation against the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF). The operation has succeeded in disabling the SLDF especially after the killing of its commander in a forest ambush.
In a Kenya Police video, released to counter the accusations of brutality, local residents in Mt Elgon can be seen narrating horrific experiences perpetrated by the SLDF. Women talk of rape, while men describe forceful conscription under the threat of death.
The video shows Kenya Army interrogators treating prisoners humanely contrary to allegations by relief agencies and local politicians. The Army colonel in charge of the operation explains in great length that his forces are operating within international humanitarian law. The video ends with shots of a return to normalcy in Mt Elgon, with schools and shops re-opening.
The conflict in Mt Elgon began in 2006, when a local clan protested over discrimination in the allocation of farm land. The SLDF was formed in reaction to these grievances, some of which date to the 1960s. At the time, government reaction was slow. During the worst of the ethnic and political clashes that erupted in Kenya after disputed elections, the SLDF expanded its recruitment and took over more territory
With the signing of a peace deal between Kenya’s government and the opposition in March, the Kenya Army was dispatched to Mt Elgon to resolve a problem that was out of control.