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Politicians to blame for Kapedo violence

By Tony Nasia | February 11th 2021

The conflict in Kapedo is a case study of politicisation of territorial conflicts in Kenya.

It is generally agreed that traditional conflicts, aided by the backward culture of cattle-rustling has been the trigger for the violence witnessed in pastoralist areas such as Kapedo, but the capacity of politicians to add fuel to such conflicts is often underestimated.

For decades, the Kapedo peace process has been patiently negotiated with various senior county and central government actors, including the Head of State. But the conflict becomes complex every day.

Notably, President Uhuru Kenyatta visited the area in 2014 following the killing of 21 police officers.

It is during the visit that communities living near the border of Turkana and Baringo counties were given an ultimatum to surrender guns that were stolen from the officers.

However, those well versed with the affairs of the region, know that the demobilisation and disarmament exercise spearheaded by the administration largely a failed owing to reluctance by locals to surrender their arms.

The killing of security personnel witnessed in the last few weeks in Kapedo is unfortunate. It adds to the suffering the local population goes through on a daily basis.

The persistent violence has led to detrimental social and economic effects in the region. Education in Kapedo, for instance, is among sectors that have been badly affected by the insecurity.

Indeed, large-scale displacements arising from torching of homes frustrates not only the families affected but also teachers.

Misleading locals

But how exactly did we reach this point? Politicians and commentators mostly identify traditional and cultural factors as the key triggers of conflict in areas occupied by pastoralist communities in Kenya and focus less attention on the role of politicians.

For political leaders, it is very convenient to hide “behind the veil of traditional conflicts” and many are actively working hard to preserve this perception. But this not be the case.

It was not a coincidence that since Geothermal Development Company announced plans to generate electricity at Nakengere waterfalls in Kapedo, boundary disputes and issues of entitlement to resources started cropping up.

In the ensuing contests, the dispute over ownership of Kapedo became a legal battle in which elders from the Turkana community asked the court to determine whether the town was in Turkana County or not.

But while the court in 2016 directed parties to seek the help of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, area politicians have been publicly misleading locals that the courts had in fact ruled that Kapedo is geographically in Baringo County

Where inter-clan tensions and warfare provide a window of opportunity for cattle-raiding, much of the current violence in pastoralist areas in Kenya is indeed primarily fueled by politicised dynamics, whereby the motives of the raiders and those of local politicians are increasingly forming an unholy alliance

In the meantime, while the driving force behind the clamour for the ownership of Kapedo hot waterfalls on Suguta River may be shortsighted greed, its legacy could be long-term social, educational and economic catastrophe, particularly to the Turkana community.

While other students are in schools, four schools in Kapedo along the border of Baringo and Turkana counties are closed.

This means that on top of a pandemic disruption and subsequent backlog, teachers and students from Kapedo Primary, Kapedo Girls Primary, Lomelo Primary and Kapedo Secondary schools will have to play catch up once again. This is extremely unfortunate.

It is therefore, time for the political actors to be called to account and for the conflict to be addressed for what it is rather than portraying it as traditional cattle raids.

Only when this is done will the communities residing in Kapedo begin the long journey towards peaceful co-existence.

Mr Nasia, an executive officer at Kenya National Union of Teachers headquarters, is a former principal Kapedo Secondary School.
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