Road that holds key to peace on Kakamega-Nandi border

Kakamega/Nandi counties cross boarder community committee peace chairman Richard Shiyonga (rt) and vice secretary Joseph Muyisi pointing at Nandi escarpment on 1st March 2023  where they are appealing to the government to erect physical boundaries to avoid conflict.

Photo credit: Isaac Wale | Nation Media Group.

The tarmacking of the Malava-Ikoli-Tabolwa road and the launch of the Amani Kamungei market are two key projects at the heart of efforts to end inter-ethnic clashes along the volatile Kakamega-Nandi border.

Since 1982, communities living along the border on the expansive Nandi escarpment have been caught up in a vicious cycle of inter-ethnic conflict, triggered by land boundary disputes and livestock theft.

Similar clashes recurred in 1992 and 2014, making the region a hot-spot for violence.

In the latest incidents, unknown people have been setting fire to farms and vegetation along the escarpment, triggering tensions at the border as farmers prepare their land in preparations for the planting season.

No ugly incidents have been reported yet and members of the Kakamega-Nandi Counties Cross Border Community Peace Committee are on the alert to intervene should any disputes erupt.

From Katanin, Kamung’ei and Tabolwa in Nandi to Ikoli and Kuvasali in Kakamega County, the situation is usually tense and unpredictable when hostilities erupt, leading to confrontations and destruction of property.

However, campaigns by members of the peace committee, supported by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) have started having a positive impact on peace initiatives.

Officials of the peace committee, led by their chairman, Mr Richard Shiyonga and Secretary Paul Koech have written to Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa and his Nandi counterpart Stephen Sang to push for the tarmacking of the Ikoli-Tabolwa road so that residents can exploit the untapped economic potential along the border.

Traders from Nandi County deliver milk to Kimangeti, Kambi ya Mwanza, Butali, Lukume and Lubao.  

The five markets are usually bustling with activity as livestock traders and buyers converge from different parts of the two counties to buy and sell animals.

The tarmacking of the Ikoli- Tabolwa road started from Malava town last year, but the project has stalled due to lack of funds.
In Nandi County, the construction of Kamung’ei Amani market was completed a year ago but it is yet to be opened.

In a letter dated February 18, the Peace committee team says: “Following the meeting, which was conducted by NCIC at Tabolwa on 22-07-2022 with other stake holders, there has been a cohesive ongoing peace among the communities up to date, this is as a result of empowering cross border peace committees and security enhancement. However, the committee has observed challenges that need both Kakamega and Nandi counties to address.”

The officials are calling on the county and national government to facilitate surveying land and issuing title deeds to the owners to minimise conflicts.

“At the moment, the conflicts are triggered by disagreements on the boundaries. Nobody is sure about where the boundary of his land is and this is triggering disagreements and fights with their neighbours,” said Mr Shiyonga.

Last year, as the August 9 elections approached, residents of Nandi North and their neighbours in Kakamega North sub counties were gripped with anxiety, hoping the peace they had enjoyed in the last two years would prevail.

The Kakamega-Nandi border is usually a boiling point of tension and violence during elections and politicians have been accused of fanning the conflict between the neighbouring communities.

Business hub

During peaceful times, the border serves as hub for business activities between residents of Nandi and Kakamega.

Traders from the two counties sell their livestock and milk in markets in Kakamega in addition to vegetables and cereals.

The nightmare of violent confrontations erupted between the neighbouring communities in May 2020 after a man from Kakamega County drove away a cow belonging to his neighbour across the border, complaining the animal had strayed into his maize farm and destroyed his crops.

As the acrimony and suspicions deepened, a man was shot dead after police officers called in to restore calm were confronted by a group of youths who were reported to have been planning to raid their neighbours’ homes.

Cases that have fuelled the conflicts in the past include boundary disputes and theft of cattle across the border.

Whenever outbreak of violence was reported, normal business activities were usually disrupted, as youths armed with arrows, machetes and other crude weapons were mobilised on both sides of border to attack their neighbours in revenge missions.

Provincial administration officials, including chiefs, their assistants and leaders from Kakamega and Nandi, have in the past convened meetings to try and reconcile the warring communities and restore peace along the border.

But in the last two-and-a-half years, there has been a glimmer of hope for the communities as efforts by the NCIC and other partners began to bear fruit.

The communities have enjoyed a semblance of peace after officials from the NCIC and other partners visited the regions to promote dialogue and end the cycle of conflicts that haunts the communities.

The meetings focused on cementing peace efforts that have helped end the conflicts that in past could be triggered by just a scream from a homestead.

For the past two years and a half, the story has been different, after the joint peace committees met frequently to address insecurity and promote peace initiatives at the border.  

NCIC Commissioner Sam Kona was at Ikoli Friend’s Church last year to meet members of the peace joint communities from both Nandi and Kakamega to chart the way forward.

“In 2020, we were here for nearly three months trying to address the disputes that had contributed to the conflicts and acrimony that had fuelled the violence. We are happy that, two and a half years later, there has been peace. This is what we here to celebrate and promote.

“We have no choice when it comes to peace since there is only one option and that is keep the peace. We lost our loved ones during past conflicts and the blood we spilled during the fighting is not worth the conflicts that have turned our communities against each other,” said Mr Kona during a visit to the border in July 2022.

The NCIC and its partners have recruited peace ambassadors from the community who have signed charters and are involved in campaigns to promote peace and resolve conflicts that emerge.

Mr Shiyonga said: “We have now learnt our lessons. We now know fighting is not the best way to resolve our differences when conflict erupts. When we talk and explore ways of resolving the conflicts and that has made all the difference.”