By Umuro Sora Adano
Over the years, the pastoralist dry lands of Northern Kenya have been associated with marginalization, inter-communal conflicts and adverse human development indicators. Some of the historical stress factors have long been studied and documented, and these include: climate change and environmental degradation; drought, famine and other natural catastrophes; land related conflicts (some relating to administrative and electoral boundaries); the proliferation of small arms and light weapons; and human-wildlife conflicts aggravated by competing uses of land for private conservancies and wildlife conservation.
More recently, the conflicts have become increasingly insidious as a result of weakened traditional governance systems; unresolved land tenure rights; breakdown of inter-communal social contracts; elders’ loss of control over the youths; politization of peacemaking processes; failures of policing and justice; and inability of the state security apparatus to protect citizens in these areas.
However, the lingering bloody conflict in Marsabit County, and particularly involving the three major ethnic groups, has steadily moved away from traditional resource-based incidents to more sinister criminal acts fueled by efforts to sustain long-term economic and political gain. Sadly, the onset of devolution has also been accompanied by erosion of trust, higher levels of suspicion, intolerance and inter-communal violence, and the attacks and counter attacks have been both vicious and wanton. Armed, ragtag militias maim and kill indiscriminately and disappear as evidenced by the recent killings of the young students who were sharing a boda boda ride to their homes in Songa.
Every human life is sacred and special, but losing such young, educated youth with tremendous potential to this kind of evil, mindless violence is particularly heart-wrenching. They reminded me of my own two sons – and I am sure any parent, with any form of moral compunction, felt the same way when they heard the news. In our county, such devastatingly heart-breaking incidents are becoming way too frequent and almost normal. The injured are hospitalized, the dead are buried, politicians issue the same hollow, platitudinous statements and the police promise investigations, and that is where it all ends. No arrests, and if any, no successful prosecutions. Too many grieving families are left permanently scarred and traumatized, and with no real closure. And the cycle continues.
This graveyard of inaction must stop. This is not normal. We can no longer blame historical marginalization and exclusion as the sole causes of our plight. We all know what is going on and the new sources of our pain points. I am appealing to all the leaders, elders, youth and professionals from Marsabit to face this issue with a renewed sense of urgency and seriousness. If your moral compass is pointing in the right direction, you must speak up. You cannot and should no longer remain silent.
First, we need to frame the challenge and articulate it clearly, fervently and truthfully. Politicized ethnicity, partisan politics and the politics around land and development projects, coupled with weak land tenure rights and the inability or unwillingness of local security and intelligence services to monitor and maintain peace have generated a perfect storm of militia activities under the guise of inter-communal violence. Politicians and conflict financiers have used ethnicity and identity to mobilize and engage jobless, young people in violence to achieve economic and political goals. This is an indisputable fact that is hiding in plain sight, but when peace meetings are called, all speakers dance around it and instead use code words or phrases to describe what they perceive is going on.
Man Made Conflict
Second, we have no choice but to discuss peace. Genuine peace. The kind of peace that makes life in that county worth living, the kind that enables parents, families and communities to hope and build a better life for their children. At the same time, I am not naïve. I know that the pursuit of genuine peace is not as sexy or emotionally dramatic as the pursuit of hate, division and animosity – and more often than not, the efforts of peace makers or peace mongers fall on deaf ears. But given where we have reached, my brothers and sisters, we have no more urgent task. Each of us should begin by looking inward and engaging in some self-evaluation, by examining our own attitude, thoughts and actions. Ask yourself: is this where I want to raise a family; what role am I playing; am I part of the problem or the solution? Also, don’t shrug your shoulders or throw your hands up in despair and say it is impossible. That is a defeatist mindset because it leads to the conclusion that conflict is inevitable, or that we are doomed, or that we are at the mercy of forces we cannot control, etc. We should not accept that dangerous and narrow mindset.
The fact of the matter is that conflict in Marsabit is local and manmade. Therefore, the solution can only come from us and it is not beyond us. Accepting death, suffering and pain is not an option anymore. Read this paragraph again – let it sink in!
Third, let us talk about peace not just as a way out of conflict but as a way of solving problems. Mobilize all genuine and trained peace champions (they have been sidelined) and kick start a process with a series of concrete actions and negotiated agreements which serve the interest of all concerned. And genuine and lasting peace can only emerge if all the aggrieved parties are involved, including the parents and communities that have been impacted by the violence. We may not erase all the bitterness or fill the void in the heart of each parent or family members who have lost loved ones, but we can begin the healing process and at least make the County a safe space for diversity, love and understanding to thrive. For, at the end of the day, our most basic and irrefutable common link is that we shall continue to share the burdens and bounties of our only ancestral home – Marsabit County. None of the communities that live in that county will move away and settle elsewhere. They will continue to breathe the same air, drink the same dirty water and work hard to raise families, and hopefully live and die in peace – since we are all mortal, including the killers and their funders and supporters!
Fourth, peace and security are two sides of the same coin – they always walk together. It is the responsibility of the national government to guarantee the safety and security of all citizens, as enshrined in the Constitution. However, all the available anecdotal evidence points to some serious gaps in the capacity and willingness of the various security and administrative branches of the government to play this role fairly and effectively. The bottom line is this: any government that consistently fails to safeguard the security of its own citizens and their property has no legitimacy to govern. But it is also the responsibility of all Marsabit County citizens, in all the constituencies and wards, to respect the rights of others and respect the law of the land.
Finally, politicians, business and religious leaders, and educated elite should give peace a chance. Do your part to build a County of peace where the weak and vulnerable are safe, jobless youth are not exploited or manipulated, and all development resources are channeled to make a difference in the lives of the people. That is what conscious leaders do – they don’t go below the line and become defensive or seek to distribute blame or pass judgment. Instead they stay above the line, remain curious and open minded, accept responsibility, align and mobilize people and resources to achieve results – not for themselves and their cronies, but for the people. In other words, do your job – serve the poor majority because serving the poor is a kin to serving the Almighty God! And the teachings from the scriptures of all faith traditions caution us that we cannot serve God in pretense, as He sees our heart, day and night. And those who live by the sword will eventually die by the sword.
Make this heartfelt commitment today and say: “I will not remain silent”. Reach out and create a moral majority. That is the only path to lasting peace, love and understanding.
By Umuro Sora Adano is based in United States and Marsabit Gubernatorial candidate on KANU ticket in 2017 polls