Mount Elgon, Kenya: Terrorised population in desperate need of assistance

Mount Elgon is a volcano in the western part of Kenya, on the border with Uganda. This area has been the scene of violent clashes since mid-2006. Tens of thousands have been displaced, and people remain in great need and in suffering.

Intw. Jérôme Oberreit: The population of Mount Elgon has been stuck in a conflict for close to two years, mainly between armed groups such as the Sabaot Land Defense Force and the Kenyan government over issues of land reallocation. Now, the result has been a extremely traumatized population, multiple displacement in areas which are in extremely severe cold weather, difficult to reach, due to the lack of infrastructures and so on. And now this population really is in need of a global assistance which is more than just medical aid and basic relief.

Jane is a mother of 7. She was forced to flee high up the mountain after being attacked by the SLDF, the Sabaot Land Defense Force militia.

Intw. Jane: The Land Sabaot came at night as thieves, and they killed people and disappeared. When killing people, they stole their properties, like maize, clothes, and so on.

Families have been separated by the clashes. Many have been subjected to atrocities, mutilation and loss, and live with fear and harsh conditions.

Intw. Jane: The major points you're having here, one major point is starvation of food, school, too cold, children need warm clothes. There is no land here. There is no activity here like digging, weeding, there is no work here. There is nothing.

MSF launched medical and humanitarian relief activities in Mount Elgon in April 2007. Together with Kenyan Ministry of Health staff, MSF teams provide free medical care in a health centre but also through mobile clinics reaching out to more isolated people who fled both up and down the mountain.

Beyond the daily cases of respiratory infections, diarrhoea or even malaria linked to the poor living conditions, MSF teams also treat many victims of violent trauma. Over the past year, there has been little respite from violence for civilians in Mount Elgon. Trapped between the violence from both sides, patients have sought care from MSF for injuries from beating, whipping, and torture inflicted by both the militia and the Kenyan forces.

Intw. of a victim of SLDF: They (the militia men) took me away and left my wife and children. They told my wife that I was a dead man. They took me to a kind of house which they told me was where they slaughtered people. Inside that house there were bodies of people who had been dead for sometime. Their heads had been chopped off and placed on the side. Before they took me there, I had been blindfolded and I did not know where I was. So when I saw the two bodies I knew I would be the next one to die.

In March of this year, the Kenyan army and police launched a major operation in Mount Elgon to crack down on the militia. The number of people who suffered violent trauma peaked. Of the 365 victims treated by MSF in the first 5 months of 2008, some 90% were injured since the launching of the military operation.

Intw. of a victim of police/military torture: In Kapkota (military base), we were stripped naked and beaten. We were then tortured in a way I cannot explain now. From there we were released and went home. There were many of us and all of us had been beaten until our clothes were all torn.

Since mid-May, the situation has returned to relative calm. Some displaced people have gone back to their homes and farms, yet often find themselves living with next to nothing. While MSF provides free health care, displaced people continue to struggle to cope and urgently need increased assistance, beyond medical aid alone.

More relief organisations need to step in, and indiscriminate violence towards civilians has to end, so that they can live in a safe environment and eventually rebuild their lives. As long as violence is met with more violence, without addressing the root causes of the conflict, the suffering of the people of Mount Elgon will continue.