Marsabit County, the largest County in Kenya – inhabited by fourteen ethnic groups – has for long been bedeviled by inter-ethnic clashes, fuelled by competition for political, natural rangeland resources control and economic opportunities.

The month of June 2020 is worst this year, with many incidences and signs of the conflict growing beyond the Marsabit County borders.

The conflict is manifested and reported as inter-ethnic fighting over water and pasture resources, community land disputes, a battle over cultural identity and territorial control. A deeper analysis however indicates that the real motive and purpose for the vicious cycle of violence in the recent past is the politics of clan (ethnic) supremacy.

Responses

The political leadership, including the county government and the members of parliament, have come out to condemn the new eruption of inter-ethnic conflicts in Marsabit and with its neighboring county of Wajir. Governor Mohamud Ali and his counterpart Amb. Mohamed Abdi has called for an immediate cessation of hostilities as it is a hindrance to the development of both counties.

“It is worrying that instead of focusing on developing our county, our communities have resolved to fight amongst each other despite the efforts we have put in fostering peace. We are aware of those fuelling these conflicts and we are determined to finding them,”. – Governor Mohamud Ali

This is not the first time the region is experiencing inter-clan clashes, which is usually fuelled by fights over pasture for their animals among other resources.

“We will no longer condone further merciless killings of innocent citizens and banditry in the area, terming the clashes as lawless and interference to peace and development,”  Hon. Adan Keynan 

The two leaders called for a reconciliation meeting immediately to discuss issues behind the conflict in finding possible solutions to them. They said the meeting will also open up avenues for follow-up discussions between the two fighting communities.

On 13th June 2020, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission facilitated a joint Boran and Degodia community peace dialogue meeting at Badharerro. The meeting was aimed at addressing a recent violent ethnic conflict between the Borana and the Degodia communities.

The Commission held a second meeting with the County Security Intelligence Committee (CSIC) chaired by the County Commissioner. This meeting enabled the Commission to get a comprehensive briefing on the conflicts in Marsabit County and the various interventions that the National Government Administration Officers (NGAO) and other stakeholders had undertaken to address the conflicts.

Eight-point resolutions adopted: 

  1. Immediate cessation of all hostilities and a return to normalcy
  2. All livestock stolen shall be returned to their rightful owners. As of 26th June 2020, the members of Borana community have managed to recover and returned 382 camels to members of the Degodia community.
  3. Police to ensure that the perpetrators of insecurity are arrested and charged according to the law
  4. Formation of an inter-ethnic (Borana and Degodia) Peace and Social Cohesion Committee to spearhead a durable peace process in Wajir and Marsabit.
  5. Installation of Safaricom network to enhance communication and security information sharing along the common border of Wajir and Marsabit.
  6. The national and county governments to identify and construct security roads along the common border of Wajir and Marsabit Counties to help with a rapid and effective response to distress calls to ensure that matters security are attended to immediately.
  7. Political leaders to join with the national government to cement the relationship between the two brotherly communities.
  8. It was agreed that the next peacebuilding meeting will be held in Basir in Wajir County on a date that will be agreed upon by leaders and all the stakeholders.

At the regional level, twelve (12) counties under the auspices of the Frontier Counties Development Council (FCDC) and Pastoralist Parliamentary Group (PPG) urgently also convened extra ordinary forum meeting on 10th June 2020 that was hosted by Drylands Learning and Capacity Building Initiative (DLCI).

This meeting resolved to stand in solidarity with the people of Marsabit and Wajir counties and help them reconcile their disputes. The Sector Forum for Peace and Cohesion (SFPC) under the leadership of Mr. Ahmed Sheikh, CEC for Mandera County discussed the latest situation.

Recommendations by the Sector Forum for Peace and Cohesion

  • Involvement of the county and national leadership to ensure the de-escalation of the conflicts and the commencement of peace negotiations.
  • The Police to be deployed to track down and apprehend the criminals causing mayhem in the county
  • Marsabit County government to call on its citizens to maintain calm and to prevail upon the Kenya Police not to use disproportionate force as people express their anger through demonstrations.
  • The formation of a joint Ceasefire Implementation Committee consisting of Rendille, Borana, and Gabra ethnic groups so that all the communities are working together towards a common goal.
  • Deployment of enough security officers in the conflict hotspots to arrest runaway insecurity.
  • Provision of humanitarian assistance in the form of water bowsers and fuel to assist the movement of people and livestock back to Wajir County
  • Wajir and Marsabit county teams to submit to FCDC/DLCI credible and correct information concerning the exact loss of lives and livelihoods.
  • Reaching out to development partners to support the humanitarian response as well as building long-term foundations for peace, security, and resilience in the two counties.
  • Incorporation of youth into the peace process as one of the key peace actors- they should be urged to preach peace, especially via social media and at the community level.
  • Bringing together professionals from all communities to build relationships and trust.

A consultative meeting was called on 11th June 2020 in Nairobi that resulted in a high-level joint press conference that was attended by both Governors and PPG members from two counties.

Beyond Intractability

Priority interventions should be on cessation of hostilities and de-escalation of tensions between the warring communities. The ongoing conflict has the inherent danger of escalation and expansion beyond Marsabit, part of the strategy should include avoiding it to spill over to the neighboring counties such as Isiolo and Wajir.

Immediate response intervention should include the promotion and facilitation of peacebuilding initiatives that build inter-community cohesion, unity, and reconciliation mainly between the two active fighting groups (Borana in Saku constituency and Gabra in North Horr Constituency of the Marsabit County.

In the long-term, multi-institutional and multi-sectoral interventions are needed to strengthen the implementation of peace work in Marsabit county. The following recommendations should be implemented to the letter.

  1. Strengthening inter-communal peacebuilding and resource sharing structures to build trust and enable political leaders, community elders, interfaith leaders, peace committees, youth, and women leaders to dialogue and resolve issues without resorting to ethnic mobilization and violence. Inter-generational dialogues need to be promoted between youth and elders to enable young people to understand their common history and shared heritage.
  2. Capacity building through a collaborative process, of political leaders to deal with structural aspects of conflicts and understand their roles in either inflaming or reducing conflicts.  They need to be trained and sensitized on the negative effects of hate speech on the social cohesion of communities, understanding of the Community land Act of 2016, the role of political parties in promoting social cohesion, and political inclusivity.
  3. Rigorous assessment of context, conflict, key actors, key conflict drivers, and cultural context through the ground networks and knowledgeable members of the community, including professionals. All activities should be rooted in awareness and incorporation of cultural sensitivities and common wisdom.
  4. Development of a participatory framework for holding political leaders in Marsabit to be accountable for their peacebuilding public statements. Development partners and civil society organizations should support any new initiatives by political and community leaders to enable them to face the challenge and walk the journey of delivering peace in Marsabit.
  5. Support and strengthen confidence and trust-building between the communities’ structures (elders council, women, and youth institutions) and security agencies to cooperate with each other in preventing and managing any future lawless and insecure situation.
  6. Careful and strategic use of messages delivered by both professionals, elders, women, and youth community leaders is critical for building the confidence and cohesion amongst the communities.
  7. Professionals should be personally connected to conflict areas. Professionals need sufficient time to work through personal issues related to the conflicts on the ground.