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Insecurity: Who will hear the cry from Marsabit?

By Mohamed Guleid | July 9th 2020

In Borana folklore, a man was hunting for an elephant. After searching for a long time, he saw the elephant from a distance. Pointing at the massive game, villagers shouted at him; “there it is.”

But the poor fellow had developed cold feet.

“I cannot find the footprints,” he said as he ran off.

Many in Marsabit feel the government is not really keen on finding a solution to the long-running problem of insecurity in spite of what it has done to hold back development and progress in this far-flung region. Insecurity sucks in everyone around the area from Samburu, Turkana and Wajir.

Most inhabitants of Marsabit town speak the same language. They are Cushitic; a proud, generous and hospitable community. Superficially, the town portrays calm serenity that is enviable to people cramped in other towns.

The peaceful looks of the high streets of the administrative capital of the county can be deceiving. In the morning, the town is swathed in snow and a cool breeze sweeps through the town making Marsabit one of the best places to live.

As the town bursts into life, you could be mistaken to think that the dreaded coronavirus has not found its way there.

People don’t discuss the disease that seems to worry people elsewhere. They have bigger problems or so it seems.

But the thorn in the flesh is the security situation that gets out of hand often. In the last four weeks, scores of people have been killed and one can feel the apprehension and anxiety among residents.

To understand these horrific incidences of insecurity one needs to understand the ethnic configuration of the county.

The four main ethnic groups of Marsabit are the Borana, Gabra, Rendille and Burji. However, Marsabit is also home to more than a dozen other ethnic groups. In the recent past, the Gabra and the Boran have fought over resources and political power.

On the invitation of the Marsabit County leadership, I visited the county to discuss ways of ending these senseless killings.

These clashes have occurred before in Marsabit mainly due to a fight for resources such as grazing areas and water. A former colonial administrator Sir Charles Chevenix Trench wrote in his memoir ‘The Men Who Ruled Kenya: The Kenya Administration 1892-1963, that the violence over resources by the local inhabitants were regular features in most parts of the former Northern Frontier Districts for centuries.

His book also suggests that the people who inhabit Marsabit lived side by side for centuries meaning there were no invasions from outsiders.

What worries me – and perhaps everybody who cares about the region - is that most victims in the recent spate of killings are school children.

Killing school-age children is abhorrent in that it targets the most defenceless and aims at decimating communities. The advent of devolution might have exacerbated the conflict.

In the aftermath of the 2013 election, violence erupted in what was suspected to be connected with the sharing of county resources. As the country heads into the next electoral cycle, a peaceful settlement has never been urgent.

The build-up to the next election will lead to more not less tension and perhaps more massacre. Elections in the county call for a tough balancing act.

During the campaigns in the run-up to the 2017 elections, President Uhuru Kenyatta while in Marsabit promised to appoint the loser of the gubernatorial election to his government. And true to his word, Ukur Yattani got appointed and currently serves as the Cabinet Secretary at the Treasury.

It was expected that the adoption of the loser into government will automatically lead to peace and tranquillity.

The reverse is true. The good gesture of the president did not really bring peace but instead increased mistrust among the main the protagonists.

To the locals, there is a deep conspiracy at play; the politicians don’t care about their plight; government is unresponsive and other actors like media and peace crusaders are looking the other way as the atrocities continue unabated.

To them, their elected leaders are playing them against each other for political ends. To a large extent, security officers in the county seem either unable or unwilling to stop the killings.

The loss of even one life should be of great concern to everyone. And yet despite the horrendous nature of killings in the last few weeks, media has not accorded it headline status. Who will hear the cry from Marsabit? 

- Mr Guleid, former deputy governor of Isiolo County, is CEO of FCDC Secretariat. [email protected]

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