The National, Wednesday 22nd May 2013
THE endless conflict and violence among several tribes in Kandep, Enga, gives the impression that there has been little or no change among the people since the days of their ancestors.
Since last year’s general election when Don Polye retained his Kandep seat by beating his closest rival Alfred Manase, their tribesmen have gone on a destructive warpath with no ceasefire, truce or signs of peace in sight.
Many innocent lives were lost while village homes, food gardens, livestock and thousands of kina worth of government property have been destroyed.
And yet local and government authorities, including the police in Enga, have refrained from intervening in this prolonged dispute.
Recent television footage of the destruction in Kandep, especially the government station, is alarming and portrays an image of a violent and vengeful people, whose leaders are hell-bent on causing much pain and misery to their enemies.
Many Engans and others believe the conflict will only end when Polye and Manase decide to put aside their political differences and make peace between themselves and their warring tribes.
Victims of the conflict have called on the local leaders to restore peace in the district. Government workers, church groups, villagers and students told a visiting provincial government team last weekend that they did not want any more loss of lives and destruction of properties.
Catholic priest Fr Aaron Saka, who was at Mariant parish, one of the worst affected areas in Kandep, described the tribal conflict as one of the worst he had seen in terms of human rights violation and destruction to property.
“During the height of the crisis when people were shot dead by the warring tribes and their allies, no one was around. The entire Kandep population fled elsewhere in fear of being attacked. I also wanted to leave but did not do so because I was called to face the challenge as a church worker,” Saka said.
Judy Komen, a nursing sister at the Kandep health centre, gave her account of the terrible conflict: “The warriors with guns were the only people moving around. It was a disaster with women, children and old people dying from curable diseases.”
She said the people of Kandep would be happy to see Polye and Manase, who have been conspicuous by their absence since the conflict began, take part in the peace process.
The political rivals are members of the two main tribes of Akuklya and Kambirip that started the conflict in 2009 when Polye retained his seat in a by-election.
The shame of it all is that Polye, an engineer-cum-politician, and Manase, a prominent private lawyer, are members of Enga’s elite.
They are highly educated and intelligent men who are greatly respected and revered by their tribesmen and women.
While these simple villagers fought and sacrificed their lives and properties for the two leaders, the least that Polye and Manase can do is call a truce and negotiate a permanent peace agreement between their rival tribes.
Their continued silence and non-intervention in this conflict seem to suggest that their high profile lifestyle and work are more important than the simple lives of their people. In other words, Polye and Manase couldn’t be bothered with the mayhem they have caused that has left the Kandep district in almost total ruin.
If neither of them is willing to fix the mess they created, then relevant government authorities, including the police, should intervene and investigate their involvement in the conflict.
Better still, the Kandep district should be declared a tribal war zone and for state of emergency provisions to be enacted while authorities proceed to restore peace and normalcy.
What is most baffling about the current situation in Kandep is that the local MP and his political rival have virtually washed their hands off this conflict.
Polye, as treasury minister and leader of T.H.E. (Transparent Heritage Empowerment) Party, is a very senior partner in Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s coalition government. While he may be bogged down with his official duties, he should not shun his responsibilities as MP and tribal leader.
By the same token, Manase should also accept responsibility for the prolonged conflict and use his legal skills and experience to negotiate a lasting peace pact with his rival.
For both of them to ignore the plight of their tribesmen and women is doing grave injustice to their people.