by Christine Mutisya and John Green
Between August 2012 and January 2013, the Tana Delta area of eastern Kenya experienced a series of massacres between the Orma and Pokomo ethnic groups, which are mutually distrustful. These killings took the lives of an estimated 166 people, displaced tens of thousands from their homes, and have impacted both the local economy and other ethnic communities living in the area. The situation has been relatively stable since January 2013 due to a strong presence by Kenyan security forces and the conclusion of the March 4 general election, which had exacerbated tensions. However, these factors do not lend themselves to a lasting peace in the Tana Delta since many of the underlying causes of tension in the area continue to pose a risk of future violence and escalation.
Through a field visit in early 2013, the Sentinel Project team found that misinformation has played a major role as a driver of the Tana Delta violence. Both the Orma and Pokomo communities showed evidence of holding inaccurate perceptions of each other and the overall situation. In some cases, such perceptions have led members of both communities to view each other as untrustworthy and threatening, which has led directly to violence. Understanding how such misinformation forms and spreads is essential to the success of violence prevention and peacebuilding efforts.
iHub is the local research partner organization for The Sentinel Project who, through support from Canada’s International Development and Research Centre, will study the origins and flow of misinformation within the Tana Delta while also testing the effectiveness of counter-messaging in order to reduce the risk of violence.
Our local research team, Christine Mutisya and John Green, have accompanied the Canadian research team to spend the next month in Tana Delta to run an initial survey looking at how local residents currently communicate and spread information.
Here they share some of their experiences in the field:
After a long, eventful journey, we finally reached the Tana Delta – Garsen town to be specific. As we are both from Nairobi, we experienced a drastic change in the climate, Garsen being very hot and dusty. The level of development, great mobile phone network coverage and diversity of people from different tribes and cultures, given that the town is predominantly Orma, all amazed us.
We hit the ground running with the monthly Peace Conference at Maridhiano, a meeting with various NGOs who are directly involved in peace building in the Tana Delta, local government authority and other stakeholders interested in peace building. During this meeting, we were welcomed and the peace building stakeholders and local authorities appreciated the relevance of our “Una Hakika” project after Chris, Executive Director of The Sentinel Project gave a brief introduction. The Deputy County Commissioner (DCC) said “rumours are bread and butter in Tana River County,” which was an affirmation to the importance of the “Una Hakika” project. We also learned about factors other than ethnicity – floods, drought and allocation of land -- that contribute towards volatility in the area and the best strategies on working effectively in the area. During the forum, we had the privilege of meeting other members from Tegla Leroupe Peace Foundation, Team and Team International, UNDP, Nature Kenya, the Maryknoll Sisters, as well as government officials from NIS. We shall continue attending the monthly forums.
The DCC provided us with a list of the chiefs in the area from whom to request permission to conduct a survey in their communities. All chiefs were welcoming and helpful and have assisted us in congregating their communities. Thus far, we have visited 6 villages – Kipao, Ngao, Semikaro, Nduru, Golbanti and Tarassa to conduct our initial research survey. The survey process has been running smoothly, thanks largely to the many chiefs, elders of the villages and leaders of the respective groups of the society who have assisted us.
Most people in the community have welcomed the idea of “Una Hakika,” and strongly believe that rumours have in fact contributed to violence in the area. Although there currently is peace in the area, tension and worry among the people is notable with high mistrust between the different communities. We have encountered some language barriers and also some feedback that our questions are “too technical”. We have therefore adapted the questions and are framing them in a way they can be best understood in Kiswahili.
It’s inevitable that some level of resistance will be encountered, especially from individuals who feel that so many surveys have been carried out in the region and no permanent solution seems to be coming any time soon. Others still feel like we can’t do much by only countering rumours and failing to address the structural causes of the conflict, specifically land issues.
Despite different challenges faced so far, we have been successful in meeting our objectives of this trip due to great teamwork and assistance from the Tana Delta community.
For more information on the project, check out: