In an ironical tragedy, residents of the Kenyan border town of Mandera are seeking safety in war-ravaged Somalia as a military operation by Kenya’s government is marred by rape, torture and looting.
An army officer told the Mandera chief, “Your authority is now under my feet.”
Discontent is brewing in Mandera as hospitals over-flow with victims of torture. Matters became worse last week when the government arrested former Mandera Central Member of Parliament, Billow Kerrow, for criticizing the security operation. Mr Kerrow was released today as protests grew.
Government civil servants have not been spared in the operation, which the Army says is meant to mop up illegal firearms. Citizen Television reports that five chiefs are in hospital with severe injuries inflicted during interrogation.
One of the chiefs on television says that he was stripped of his uniform by a military officer who then stomped on it on the sand. According to the middle-aged chief, his tormentor laughed at him and said, “Sasa mamlaka ya chief iko chini ya miguu yangu,” which means, “Now, the authority of the chief is under my feet.” As a result, the Kenyan government risks weakening its own structures in a region notorious for lawlessness.
The latest conflict in Mandera began a few weeks ago when rival Somali clans began fighting over land and politics. The area is inhabited by the Somali ethnic group, most of whom have relatives in the Republic of Somalia just across the border.
As fighting worsened, militias from Somalia intervened on behalf of their kinsfolk. Concerns arose within Kenya’s security forces that some of those Somali militias have links to Islamist insurgents in Somalia, currently doing battle with Ethiopian troops. These worries pushed the military to launch an operation in Mandera but its highly possible that the Somali militias had long left the area, leaving civilians to bear the brunt of the operation.
The Mandera operation is the second time this year Kenya’s Army is facing claims of brutality. At the opposite side of the country, in Mount Elgon, the Army has been implicated in the disappearances of hundreds and the torture of thousands in a campaign against the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF). Some people were brutalized so badly that they will be maimed for life.
However, unlike Mandera, the residents of Mount Elgon have defended the military’s actions. For two years, the SLDF had inflicted terrible torture on its victims.
Because of the Mount Elgon operation, international and local human rights organizations asked the United Nations to bar Kenya’s military from peace keeping operations. At the time, the United Nations did not make a statement regarding the Kenya Army.
If the Mandera operation continues for much longer and with clear evidence of human rights violations, the United Nations may no longer continue turning a blind eye.