Corruption protest in Kenya's Maasai Mara region turns violent

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 26, 2015 10:05 AM

By Njuwa Maina

NAROK, Kenya (Reuters) - At least seven people were injured on Monday in clashes between Kenyan police and protesters from the Maasai ethnic group who accuse a local governor of corrupt handling of tourism funds from the Maasai Mara game reserve, the Kenya Red Cross said.

Kenya television said at least one person was killed during the violence, in which witnesses said police used teargas and fired shots as thousands of Maasais clad in traditional red cloaks marched to the governor's office.

Police had no immediate comment on the report and the Red Cross did not report any deaths.

At the gates of Governor Samuel Tunai's office in Narok town, the administrative center of the sprawling Maasai Mara game park, demonstrators chanted: "Tunai must go." Some hurled rocks.

Visitors to the Maasai Mara, one of Africa's biggest tourist draws, pay $80 per day to roam an area full of wildlife such as lions, rhinos and giraffes.

Upmarket lodges and luxury tented camps can charge hundreds of dollars per person per day for the experience, although a spate of militant attacks in Kenya as well as the Ebola epidemic on the other side of Africa have scared off many tourists.

The dispute began when Tunai's administration contracted a company to collect Maasai Mara park entry fees, a deal the locals say was suspect.

"(Tunai) cannot account for billions of shillings from all financial sources including the Mara. He should be held to account,” said Senator Stephen ole Ntutu, who was among the protesters.

Kenya's Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery on Sunday banned all rallies and demonstrations amid fears of violence in Narok, where residents often complain about high unemployment and the poor state of roads and schools.

Nkaissery said the office of the Auditor-General and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) have been sent to Narok to investigate graft claims which Tunai has denied.

Local government finance has come under increased scrutiny from Kenyans since a newly devolved system was introduced in 2013 under which local governments receive about 43 percent of the national budget directly and are responsible for raising their own additional revenues.

Devolution was designed to spread wealth and help local communities benefit from revenue earned in their areas but analysts say corruption and other issues that have blighted national politics have now also spread to local bodies.

(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)