Hunt for pasture and water driving conflict in Marsabit

A security officer patrols Jaldesa in Marsabit after an attack by armed men on October 17. [Ali Abdi, Standard]

When will the clashes end?

This has been the question on the lips of Marsabit residents who have grown weary of a vicious cycle of violence.

Attempts to find a lasting solution always seem to come up short or are subverted. At the height of a conflict in 2006, 14 members of a peace delegation died in a plane crash.

Twelve years later, residents are still grappling with inter-ethnic conflicts that have continued to claim lives.

In the past two weeks, 14 people been killed in the latest flare-up that has seen two Marsabit MPs arrested (see separate story).

A fact finding mission by The Standard has established that the latest hostilities were fuelled by competition for resources among local communities.

Arable land

According to intelligence sources, the scramble for land in the mountainous Saku constituency has resulted in violence in Kenya’s biggest devolved region.

Saku, which is the county headquarters, has both desert and tropical climate conditions.

“The Borana, Gabra, Rendille and Burji all want to occupy Saku because the place is arable,” said our sources.

Families spoke of the friction caused by migrating herders in search of pasture and water, saying they were unable to co-exist with their hosts, thus causing conflict.

Jadesa Dida from Jaldesa location in Saku, where three people were last killed, claimed the rival Borana and Gabra communities were fighting to displace each other from the arable land.

At Shuur, Guyo Tadicha, a Gabra elder, alleged that the Borana were fighting to take over their rich pasture land. At Kubi Qalo, the Borana said the same thing about their adversaries.

Pastor Francisco Jillo said the Borana, Rendille, Gabra, Burji and Somali communities were equally represented in the county government, therefore those saying the conflict was caused by biased resource distribution were not being honest.

Jarso Waqo, an elder from Saku, called on leaders to learn from history and stop inciting residents against each other.

“All our leaders died on Mount Marsabit in 2006. Let us have peace. We should exist as brothers and sisters and realise that resources are for all of us,” said Mr Jarso.

Wako Khalib, a resident, said leaders from the majority ethnic groups should come together and unite their people for the conflict to end.

“If we are honest with ourselves, these leaders should come together as a team and talk to the people and this conflict will be a thing of the past. We should know that this county is for all of us,” said Mr Wako.

Security agents

Governor Mohamud Ali and Senator Abubakar Harugura urged security agents to get to the root of the violence instead of arresting North Horr MP Chachu Ganya and his Saku counterpart, Ali Rasso.

“We need everyone on board so that peace can be realised. All leaders must be involved to bring lasting peace and ensure that our people are safe,” said Mr Mohamud.

The leaders also asked why Kenya Police Reservists in Saku were ordered to surrender their weapons.

County Commissioner Gilbert Kitiyo and County Police Commander Wachira Mathenge had said the reservists’ rifles and ammunition were taken for ‘normal inspection’.

“We did not disarm them. This is a routine procedure to inspect their weapons,” said Mr Kitiyo when asked why only some reservists were called to his office.

In 2014, the Government initiated the Boma Peace Agreement in an attempt to find a lasting solution to the conflict.

The deal committed leaders and politicians to keep the peace and recommended punitive legal action against perpetrators of violence.