Contain the Meru-Isiolo border conflict without delay

NAIROBI: The Meru-Isiolo border clashes should serve as a stark warning that we are living in uncertain times — and that the increasing cases of violence over resources may no longer be an episodic coincidence. With more than 10 deaths over a brief period, and with 2,000 families rendered homeless, it is inconceivable that the fighting in Isiolo Town is over a disputed border. Reports from the ground suggest the fighting that began as a conflict between members of the Meru and Borana communities after an attack on a boda boda rider metamorphosed into something more dangerous.

Following an attack on a mosque in Isiolo Town, worshipers were thankfully successfully restrained from retaliating and by the time peace was restored, members of the Meru community had retreated to their side of the border in Meru Town while the Borana fled their homes to seek sanctuary in Isiolo Town.

This latest episode of fighting did not just disrupt transport after several roads were blocked, it also took a heavy toll on businesses as shops and banks were closed and others looted. Some schools shut their gates to pupils, even as tourists accessing the Meru National Park found themselves cut off.

It is easy to link the rising episodes of internecine feuds to the despair from corruption and hopelessness from the high cost of living that Kenyans have had to bear with. The usually moderate Chief Justice, Dr Willy Mutunga, was uncharacteristically blunt in his warning about this state of affairs. He cautioned that the high level corruption, ethnic animosity, political tensions and the poor state of the economy could thrust the country into civil conflict.

He and other luminaries in civil society forewarned that all the ingredients that sparked violence eight years ago were evident today and if they are not resolved soon, Kenya could flip over. They were of course referring to the post-election chaos of 2007 and 2008 that left more than 1,100 people dead and 600,000 others displaced.

It would seem that authorities have not learnt anything from the post-election chaos from the shoddy manner investigations have been handled in Isiolo. Incidences of incitement by political leaders have resulted in no arrests, and cattle rustling has continued to pose a menace to the affable residents of Isiolo Town and its neighbours. To defuse the tensions and resolve the crisis along Meru-Isiolo border, let’s start by identifying the catalysts to the fighting and deal with them. Whether it is the continuous dispute triggered by long standing cattle rustling activities or the incendiary remarks by politicians from both sides of the divide initiating their people to violence.
One commonly held view on the ground is that the construction of the Lamu Port Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor is raising the stakes in the battle for resources. If this is the case, let there be more stakeholder involvement in the project that will drive the development of new transport corridor from the port of Lamu through Garissa, Isiolo, Maralal (Samburu), Lodwar and Lokichogio (both in Turkana) to branch at Isiolo to Ethiopia and Isiolo to South Sudan. Local communities will stand to benefit from the construction of a new road network, railway lines, oil pipelines and airport in Isiolo.

And if it is the scramble for land that is contributing to the feuds, the Ministry of Lands must work in concert with the National Lands Commission to adjudicate on relevant parcels. We should not allow this conflict to get out of hand. The consequences of a spill-over effect are too dire to contemplate.