A unique peace marathon for warring communities

Participants take part in the 3rd edition of the 2024 Isiolo Peace Ultra-Marathon (PUMA). [Jayne Rose Gacheri, Standard]

In search of elusive peace that has brought untold suffering and loss of thousands of lives sporadic destruction of the environment, due to conflict, banditry, and other plundering mayhem among the communities of eastern Kenya and beyond, major initiatives and huge resources have been spent on peacebuilding initiatives.

One such initiative is the peace Ultra Marathon, championed by the Regional Pastoralist Peace Link, (RPPL) Isiolo, alongside other partners.

The sporting initiative brings together the warring communities of Pokot, Turkana, Samburu, Njemps, Somali, and Meru, who interact through cultural performances, community dialogues, and tree planting. The highlight of the two-day event is the peace ultra-marathon.

“For the last three years, the combatant communities of eastern Kenya have participated in this unique initiative through a series of activities whose highlight is a peace ultra-marathon that brings them together to interact, discuss through community dialogues, a cultural extravaganza with the highlight of the two-day event being the peace ultra-marathon,” says Halima Ali, Programme Officer, RPPL, Isiolo.

She explained that the activities of the initiative, carefully planned in consultation and support of other stakeholders, are geared towards achieving lasting solutions to the never-ending conflicts and differences of the warring communities.

Accordingly, with the government’s security measures having failed to bring a lasting solution to the status quo, it is necessary to seek alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, such as the peace run initiative that aims to promote peaceful coexistence by providing safe space for youth from different communities to interact and build peace.

While flagging off the 3rd edition of more than100 participants drawn from six communities from eastern and north-eastern regions at the Buuri, Timau, Kipkoech Labatt, DCC, and Meru, noted that for the longest time in history, the eastern and northeastern communities have witnessed rampant insecurity fuelled by conflicts over resources, land disputes, illegal firearms, and banditry that has caused loss of lives, displacement of households, and destruction of properties.

The DCC accompanied by Angel Khasiala (ACC), Winnie Macharia (ACC) Chief Martin Kainga and Chief Margaret Nkatha noted that when running together in the non-competitive ultra-marathon, the runners have time to interact.

“Having this unique kind of non-competitive annual sports event that promotes peace and unity, as well as addressing climate change and environmental degradation, is an easy way of making people interact without forcing them to,” said the DCC.

Labatt said he has witnessed an impactful change in the conflicts before the peace ultra-marathon and harmony between the warring communities.

“This is an old practice that has run past its time and hence should be shunned, and we shall overcome just like the Americans overcame the Wild West, which had similar issues like the ones we have,” said the DCC.

According to Halima, the Peace Ultra Marathon Isiolo (PUMI), an annual event in its third edition, brings together warring morans, and youth to promote peace and unity in the eastern and northern regions of the country.

“The initiative championed by the Regional Pastoralist Peace Link, Isiolo, and supported by various like-minded partners utilises traditional community mechanisms and collaboration with state agencies to promote peace and development in the eastern and northeastern (12 counties) region,” said Halima.

Earlier, on the eve of the peace ultra-marathon, the participants had interacted in a cultural extravaganza that displayed the colorful culture of the communities through art, music, and dance, despite the chilling weather of Timau, under bonfire, they endured the cold under bonfire to discuss their issues – their differences, their strengths through community dialogues, and based on these dialogues, they made decisions that shaped the road towards building lasting peace.

First-time marathoner, Kokot Okon, a Njemps said it was his first time to attend the marathon, and also the first time he is interacting with other morans from other communities to promote peace.

“In other instances, I have looked at the Samburu, Somalis, Turkana, and other communities as my enemies who steal our livestock, and in cases like this, we (Pokot morans) have been taught to retaliate to recover stolen livestock for we believe all livestock belong to us,” said Okon.

On the other hand, Selina Naishuru from Samburu, who is participating in the marathon for the second time, said she is “happy to participate in the marathon with a difference, a peace marathon, considering that the running is through a landscape that is prone to conflict, and fighting, a derogatory happening, which the warring participants have learnt through interacting in the activities of the event.”

The marathon provides a platform for mentorship opportunities for young morans in celebration of cultural diversity through indigenous music and dance.

According to Tingoi, of IMPACT Kenya, for many years the Borana, Somalis, Turkana, Pokots, Samburu, and Meru communities have been warring, through banditry and fighting over grazing and water for their livestock.

“When you look and see someone running alongside you who is not from your community, naturally you will interact, something that establishes a bond, kicking out the stereotyping narratives,” he said.

He said the conflicts spread fear and intense hatred, which has deterred development for many years, as the government cannot implement scheduled development projects such as education, health, and infrastructure.

Expounding this further, Patrick Musango, DCC Isiolo, while addressing the participants at the finishing line, decried the differences and fights that have affected every sector of development, like education, health, infrastructure, and aid projects by NGOs.

“I urge the warring communities to embrace peace and love for each other to allow this region to grow in development so that the resources that are spent organising programme such as the peace ultra-marathon can be spent on development projects,” said Musango.

The region, he said, has many investment opportunities among them trade, tourism, energy, mining, art, leather, livestock, and agriculture. However, sadly there has been minimal growth in these industries due to conflict and insecurity,” said Labatt.

According to Labatt, the peace marathon that has since gained popularity is a tool that is slowly, but impactful by creating peace and harmony among the conflicting communities.

“There is no place for this outdated practice of livestock rustling and banditry in the modern society, and just like the American wild-west cowboy wars were overtaken by time, so will be the conflicts in this region,” said Labatt.

Apart from the ultra-marathon, participants engaged in environmental protection initiatives such as tree planting, and constructive community dialogues. The activities have been major contributors to breaking down stereotypes and rebuilding trust among the warring communities.

The marathon too, provides mentorship opportunities for young morans and celebrates cultural diversity through indigenous music and dance.

Started in 2022, the Peace Ultra Marathon aims to bring reconciliation and peace to the region. The event incorporates environmental protection initiatives, including a tree planting exercise, and engages diverse communities in constructive dialogues to break down stereotypes and rebuild trust.

Other event partners include Children Peace Initiative – Kenya, IMPACT Trust – Kenya, Northern Rangelands Trust, Caritas Isiolo, Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, Lewa Dawn Conservancy, Ewaso Ng’iro North Development Authority, and Rise Network.