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The root causes of insecurity in Marsabit and their solution

By Mohamed Wato | June 15th 2020

The security situation in Marsabit County continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate.  The county recorded security incidents with varying degrees of severity in the past two years in Forole, along the Moyale-Ethiopia border, and more recently in Moyale and Marsabit where some people were killed in Songa and Badan Rero respectively.

Marsabit is home to some 14 indigenous groups, with Rendille, Gabra and Boran communities dominating in population and settlement areas inhabited. These three communities together influence and drive social, political and economic agenda.

The county is the second-largest expansive real estate after Turkana County. It covers an area of 70, 691.2 Km2 making it an extremely difficult to govern. It shares a vast porous border with Ethiopia, and Somalia lying within proximity. This profile makes Marsabit a suitable corridor for the unimpeded flow of illegal immigrants, illicit arms and drugs, originating from neighbouring conflict zones.

This county is listed among conflict hotspots in Kenya. It has made headlines, stealing breaking news for reasons of ethnic clashes and pervasive insecurity. On April 10, 2006, a plane carrying four area representatives and security officials on peace and security mission crashed on its way from Nairobi to Marsabit, and killed all but one on board. And for a short period, the tragic death of peace agents provided relief, as warring communities retreated into retrospection.

Historically, conflict drivers in Marsabit were confined to contest on grazing lands and watering points. But not anymore, today’s conflict is a deliberate scheme by factional interest groups, those who exploit ethnic vulnerabilities and fears to achieve political and economic end state.  

Devolved politics is one of the factors exacerbating the conflict as it defines the economic and social realities of communities in unforeseen ways.

The question of who takes executive decisions for identifying development programs and resources allocation for changing the livelihood of a previously marginalized people is the elephant in the room.

Devolution is the contextual background behind a ruthless power competition, prime factor deemed as a prerequisite for political and economic dominance. This is how a new “tenderpreneur” class was established and is now causing untold havoc.

An effective solution to Marsabit conflict like any other is a matter of finding the neutralising strategies needed to eliminate the tinder fueling divisive politics among resident communities. Long term solution for sustainable peace in Marsabit, means a strategy of reconstitution and a process of empowerment, of an inclusive and equitable political system.

Implementing traditional security measures - disarmament and emergency deployments of security forces only serve as a temporary arrangement. Communities in such remote areas have suffered worst consequences of insecurity because of inhibiting context - permissive environment and ungovernable spaces where these vulnerable communities live.

Bringing this conflict to an end requires a complete understanding of insecurity drivers - Identifying the actors, factors, ways and means.

To start with, authorities must reign in, all avenues used for propagating divisions among residents of Marsabit. These avenues are not limited to the main streets but include airwaves, cyberspace, and government offices where individuals from any one of the communities might engage in corruption or misuse of authority, which directly or indirectly contribute to deepening of the conflict. We must address the root causes.  

Mohamed Wato, Major (Rtd) - Kenya Defence Forces, analyst expert in peace, security and governance working with an international organization.

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