Recent events in Isiolo town following last Thursday’s lynching of a boda boda rider for allegedly stealing motor cycle spare parts show how fast conflicts can escalate into war.
Officials say the rider, who hailed from Burat ward, was accosted by a group of men in Isiolo town, taken to an area near the Isiolo-Meru border, roughed up and then set on fire.
Those who witnessed the incident say the young man screamed while being forced into a tuk-tuk by his abductors.
After the killing, a group of boda boda operators from the man’s community unleashed terror on another, accusing its members of being behind the murder.
The same evening, a crowd broke into shops in the town that is usually full of activity and stole looted as businesspeople fled for their lives.
Several taxi operators incurred losses as the attackers also rained stones on their vehicles.
Dozens of workers remained trapped in their offices and waited until late in the night when the rowdy youths left after engaging police officers sent to calm the situation in running battles.
A motorcycle belonging to a chief was set ablaze by a group of young men at Kiwanjani the same night, spreading fear and panic in the area and the neighbouring Kulamawe in Bulapesa ward.
There are more than 1,000 boda bodas in Isiolo town, spread across the 97 registered stages, while at least 50 buses access the town on a daily basis.
While many residents thought the situation would calm down after some time, the confrontations extended to the following day.
Parents withdrew their children from schools within Isiolo township, as many businesses remained closed and the streets deserted.
Mr Jack Githaiga is among the business people who suffered following the chaos and has recorded a dip in sales.
“It is unfortunate that innocent people continue to suffer for a crime committed by a few individuals. We all should be considerate and live in peace,” he said.
The security team would, later in the day, arrest three main suspects in the killing, including the owner and rider of the tuk-tuk and the owner of the garage where the stolen spare parts were found.
And while those who visited the cosmopolitan town during the day thought all was well, those who passed by in the evening had stones hurled at them.
Requested police escort
Workers at a local conservancy requested police escort to move through the town, where authorities continued to use teargas to disperse the youth.
In an ugly turn of events, a boy related to the deceased was, on the third day of the violence, hit by a lorry ferrying sand, after the driver lost control of it on being pelted with stones at Kambi Garba.
The boy had just been picked by his father from the madrassa when the accident happened. He is being treated in a local hospital.
Less than an hour after the accident, a motorcycle was torched in the town, provoking the wrath of youth from the community.
Police say sharing of false information that the lorry had been torched contributed to the attack on a bus headed to Isiolo from Nairobi near the Isiolo International Airport. Several people were injured in the attack.
Workers at an Isiolo slaughterhouse were also forced to scamper for safety on Saturday after a man armed with a knife deflated tyres on some vehicles that had been parked outside the building.
Several travellers had to turn around and travel for more than 50 kilometres back to Nanyuki town, where they spent the night.
The violence affected transport on the Meru-Isiolo road and spilled over to neighbouring counties, with the majority of matatu operators in Meru town refusing to carry passengers from one of the warring communities.
Since Thursday, close to 10 people have been injured and several business people, among them hawkers, continue to struggle to provide for their families due to disruption of trade.
Fresh details have emerged that some of the people who saw the man being put in the tuk-tuk alerted a senior police officer, but no action was taken.
The family of the deceased want action taken against the Isiolo police boss for failure to respond to their distress call, saying they could have prevented the crime from happening.
Travelling in a government vehicle
The family also wants police from Meru, who were travelling in a government vehicle and failed to stop at the crime scene despite being flagged down, to be arrested for failure to prevent the crime.
“We want action taken against the OCS for laxity and appeal that cases for those who have been arrested be done in Isiolo to rid us of the struggle of having to travel to Maua,” Mr Omar Godana told the Nation.
Isiolo County Police Commander Joseph Kigen said 16 people have been arrested in connection with the killing and more were being pursued.
County Commissioner Herman Shambi said the government might introduce a curfew if the situation does not improve.
Local leaders blame the incident on business rivalry between operators in Isiolo and those from the neighbouring Meru County.
Political incitements, especially with the town’s set up, where traders from various communities operate from specific known areas, can also not be overlooked.
Religious leaders have called for calm and appealed to residents to avoid linking the incident to any tribe or religion, saying it was likely to worsen the situation.
The National Council of Elders chairman Phares Rutere and treasurer Ahmed Sett said they would mobilise elders from both communities to take the lead role in championing peace.
“If any individuals or leaders are financing the chaos, they should be arrested. Leaders must remain united and speak in one voice to ensure peace in the county,” said Mr Rutere.
Nominated MCA Sumeya Bishar has in the last two days been visiting the boda boda operators at their respective stages, educating them on the need to work together.
“Many innocent people are suffering and revenge will only bring more pain,” said the MCA.
Streamline the boda boda industry
Several leaders want measures put in place to streamline the boda boda industry and specifically deal with the theft of motorbikes.
Isiolo Municipality Manager Osman Halake said the county was in the process of coming up with a Transportation Bill that will address congestion in the town.
“There is a need to come up with a clear identification method to prevent confusion and losses,” said Isiolo County Assembly Speaker Hussein Roba.
Speaking at a leaders’ and elders’ meeting at the Isiolo town police mess, Governor Mohamed Kuti and Woman Rep Rehema Jaldesa demanded thorough investigations into the incident and arrest of whoever shared a video clip of the young man being tortured before his death.
Dr Kuti said there was a need for serious enforcement to wipe out “the few criminals who are disrupting peace and ensure sobriety in the industry.”
“Incitements and propaganda should not be allowed. We want the one who shared the video arrested,” added Ms Jaldesa.
Senator Fatuma Dullo and Isiolo North MP Hassan Odha called for registration of the boda boda operators and proper structures and laws to govern the sector.
“A criminal has no tribe or religion and no community should suffer because of a crime committed by a specific individual,” said Ms Dullo.
Dr Kuti asked the operators to join saccos so that if a crime happens, it is easier to know the culprits.
“Our people should shun leaders propagating tribalism and preach peace, which is a key ingredient to development,” said Dr Kuti.
Mr Shambi said chiefs will go around schools to ensure all the children who had been withdrawn are back learning.
Leaders, elders and the security team will on Monday meet boda bodas to find a lasting solution to the challenge.
Peace is slowly returning in the town following the Sunday meeting and residents are hopeful the situation will go back to normal.