At least four dozen people have been killed in ethnic clashes in southeastern Kenya, harkening back to the widespread violence witnessed in the East African nation in the wake of the disputed 2007 presidential election.

The latest disturbance – in the Tana River district of the Coast Province -- was reportedly sparked by a conflict over cattle grazing rights and pitted the Orma people against their rivals, the Pokomo.

The majority of victims – 42 in total -- were women and children, many of whom had been attacked with machetes or burned alive when their homes were set on fire.

Regional deputy police chief Joseph Kitur told Agence France Presse that the Pokomo were the instigator of the violence.

Pokomo and Orma have long clashed over not only cattle grazing but also water rights in this poor, semi-arid region of Kenya.
The Pokomo are farmers who plant crops along the Tana River, while the Orma are cattle-herding pastoralists.

Eleven years ago, at least 130 people died in similar clashes between the two groups – but the ferocity of the latest round shocked police.

Local politician Danson Mungatana told AFP: “There have been problems simmering for a while.... About 10 days ago three Pokomo were killed by the Orma community. In revenge, the Orma raided villages occupied by the Pokomo and burnt down more than 100 houses. Now the Pokomo have once again revenged by killing about 50 people. These are purely revenge attacks."

Such clashes serve as a warning for potentially larger acts of violence ahead of next year’s presidential polls. In the wake of the 2007 election, at least 1,200 people died and hundreds of thousands were displaced by the violence.

Kenya is a polyglot nation with dozens of ethnic groups, with Kikuyu (22 percent), Luhya (14 percent), Luo (13 percent) the three dominant tribes.