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Conflict in the north is not just about resources, there’s more

By Mohamed Guleid | September 29th 2021
Scenes in Rumuruti town, Laikipia County on September 14 after groups of pastoralists and farmers clashed following invasion of illegal herders into private homes and ranches in the area. [James Munyeki, Standard].

The dire security situation in Laikipia County is not only about resources.

Laikipia’s problems are symptomatic of the situation in many of the arid and semi-arid counties. The pastoralist communities have not only become victim of their environment, but also other issues that have cropped up in recent times. Drought, even though more frequent nowadays, has been a common occurrence for centuries. 

The coping mechanisms during a drought include moving the livestock in search of pasture. During drier months, even cities such as Nairobi are not spared. It is common to see a large number of cattle and goats patrolling the highways of Nairobi escorted by men clad in Maasai shukas. Once upon a time Nairobi belonged to the Maasai and their ancestral grazing lands were forcefully confiscated by the colonial settlers. The situation in Laikipia is not any different. Most of the lands occupied by the large ranches and conservancies belonged to the Maasai and Samburu communities. 

The conflicts in northern Kenya are now beyond pasture and water. In an attempt to understand the drivers of these conflicts, I spent some time talking to the people who live along the borders of Isiolo and Garissa counties. The pastoralists on these borders have lived side by side for centuries and have always coexisted peacefully save for sporadic skirmishes. But in the last few years, the conflict has been intensified and close to 200 people have lost their lives. The young people who fight in these rangelands use automatic weapons, a departure from the traditional spears that were the weapons of choice for pastoralists in the past. 

The expansion of urban centres is taking away land that is valuable to pastoralist communities. The saddest part though is that the proliferation of drugs in the ASAL region has increased the vulnerability of the youth. An increasing number of young people trade in hard drugs that are smuggled through Ethiopia and Somalia. Most of the arid lands of northern Kenya are not manned by the police. The region that has a severe deficit in critical infrastructure is also poorly accessible. Like the classical wild wild west, the drug traffickers have a free hand and the absence of security agents has also increased the level of lawlessness. The youth involved in trading in drugs equally perpetuate the violence so that a large section of the region will remain inaccessible. Sections of the border between Garissa and Isiolo County are considered dangerous and travelers are informed to avoid moving in these areas. Therefore, the traditional causes of conflict such as cattle rustling are the least of problems. The proliferation of small arms has made it easy for criminals to operate under the guise of searching for grazing.

The government needs to enhance security in pastoralists areas. Most of the acts of violence are criminal. Perpetrators need to be prosecuted. In the past, it was expected that elders shall use traditional conflict resolution mechanisms. But the sophistication of the weaponry being used the sheer numbers of people who are dying makes it necessary for the government to start finding the perpetrators of the acts of violence so that they can be prosecuted and consider the violence within the pastoralists as an act of crime.

Mr Guleid is CEO, Frontier Counties Development Council. [email protected]

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