A Kenyan court acquitted a former junior minister of inciting violence for lack of evidence following the killing of over 100 people in politically-instigated fighting in the Tana River coastal region, his lawyer said Wednesday.
The two tribes involved in the fighting — in which villagers have been shot, hacked and burned to death — have fought for years over access to grazing land and water.
However, the recent violence is blamed on politicians seeking to drive away parts of the population who they believe will vote for their rivals in a general election on March 4.
Former assistant livestock minister Dhadho Godana was cleared of the charges by Chief Magistrate Kiarie wa Kiarie, who said the prosecution had failed to prove its case.
Godana, whose constituency is located in the Tana Delta, scene of five months of unrest, was sacked from the cabinet in September after being arrested and charged.
"The prosecution has failed to prove the words alleged to had been uttered by a former government minister were capable of showing or could cause any sign of violence or death," said Patrick Lutta, a lawyer for Godana.
The charge sheet had said that Godana, "without lawful excuse, uttered words to the effect that ‘I am sure… that you are yet to see more if Yusuf Haji, Kenya’s defence minister, is not sacked from that docket,’" words that prosecutors said were meant to incite violence.
Haji represents another constituency flanking the Tana River. Godana had accused Haji of being behind a move to settle members of Haji’s constituency in Godana’s, which he viewed as encroachment.
Settled Pokomo farmers and semi-nomadic Orma pastoralists have clashed intermittently for years over access to grazing, farmland and water in the coastal region. An influx of weapons in past years has upped the stakes.
Raiders armed with guns, machetes and arrows have made several tit-for-tat attacks. At least 18 people were killed last week in two raids in the Tana River region.
Haji is a Kenyan of Somali origin, while Godana is a Pokomo.
Critics say the police are too poorly paid, corrupt, demoralised and ill-equipped to bring an end to the clashes.
– Reporting for Reuters by Humphrey Malalo, writing by James Macharia.
Kenya livestock official sacked over deadly land clashes, Sept. 12, 2012
Kenya minister charged in rustling-related deaths, Nov. 20, 2012