Marsabit Governor Mohamud Ali

Marsabit Governor Mohamud Ali visits families who lost their loved ones during a banditry attack in Qubi Qallo and Laaqi villages in the Saku on December 18, 2021.

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The unending war, killings in Marsabit County

The killing of 12 people by bandits in Marsabit County on Saturday has escalated tensions between the Gabbra and Borana communities.

The attacks took place in Qubi Qallo and Dogogich on the outskirts of Marsabit town in Saku Constituency which has become the latest staging grounds for ethnic animosity.

For close to two decades, the two communities have been at war with each other with thousands killed in sporadic attacks.

The Gabbra and Borana are sub-tribes of the Oromo who are found in Southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya.

Nobody can point to a specific cause of the fighting. It was initially said to be as a result of cattle rustling, but the cause of the animosity has also been linked to other reasons including politics. Retaliatory attacks have often been triggered by an urge to avenge the killing of a tribesman.

Many mediation attempts have been made using methods like joint sessions in which the conflicting parties or their representatives are brought together by elders.

Deep mistrust

These attempts have not borne any fruits due to lack of commitment, deep mistrust between the antagonists, inadequate training on conflict resolution and political interference.

Agencies such as the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (Igad), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) alongside Ethiopia and other international and local bodies have spent billions of shillings to build peace in the county.

President Uhuru Kenyatta met with local politicians and religious leaders in July in a bid to end the fighting.

In 2019, the national government disarmed all police reservists on claims that their weapons were often used to stage attacks.

Plunging into anarchy

Governor Ali said the county was slowly plunging into anarchy with brutal killings reported in Marsabit town nearly every day.

He pointed an accusing finger at the national government, saying, it had completely failed to end the killings. He urged locals to embrace peace and end the bloodshed.

According to a study commissioned by USAid in 2015 and which sought to outline triggers for the violence, ethnic triggers led at 26 per cent, resource-related causes 25 per cent, land and boundary disputes 19 per cent, politics 17 per cent and cattle rustling 13 per cent.

Politically instigated

However, it is widely thought that recent conflicts are largely politically instigated. The region has borne the brunt of negative ethnicity.

According to the Conflict Damage Assessment study by the government and other agencies in July, more than 200 people have died, over 4,000 livestock stolen, 300 houses torched and 2,000 families displaced over the past three years in Saku Sub-County alone.

Between November 4 and December 1, at least 25 people were killed, 18 of them in Saku Sub-county. The conflict between the Borana and Gabbra peaked in July.

According to a local human rights activist, Mr Mohammed Hassan, the killings should be considered a gross violation of human rights.

He said murder, maiming, burning of property, rape, and displacement have been common occurrences.

The fighting was previously attributed to the scramble for natural resources such as water and pasture and were confined to the rangeland. However, since July, the dynamics have drastically changed with people being killed in Marsabit town and its environs in broad daylight.

The ethnic conflicts in the county have also morphed into deep seated ethnic bigotry that runs deep in the blood of both the young and old, rich and poor or the elites and illiterate lots.

The Boranas and Gabbra who in the 1980s intermarried, now no longer see eye to eye. Even in conversations, they never refer to each other in kind words but instead use derogatory terms such as “nyap” (enemy) and “ilme ekhera” (devil’s offspring).

Rival community

Children are often hushed up when crying or misbehaving by threatening them that a Borana or Gabbra would be called to deal with them if they continued to cause trouble.

In one scenario, a local narrated to National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) how a young child nearly broke his leg when his mother scared him that a man from the rival community was approaching.

Apart from the physical battlefields, social media forums have also become combat zones where even the most-educated people spew ethnic diatribe.

Mr Ali Guyo from the Borana community (not his real name) told the Nation during an interview that the level of ethnic bigotry between the two communities had worsened to an extent that even any person who tried to argue rationally by condemning killings or enmity was seen as a traitor and risked being killed by members of his own community.

Ms Madina Mamo from the Gabbra community (not her real name) also told the Nation that, being an open-minded person, she never saw it a big deal being married to a Borana man until the ethnic killings started in July.

“One thing we know for sure is that our future is doomed if the current trend of bigotry between the Borana and Gabbra witnessed in Marsabit continues. Sadly, it’s like our hands are tied and we can’t do anything about it,” Ms Mamo said.

They both admitted that they were well aware that the decision taken by their elders and community leaders spelt doom to future generations to come but they could not dare challenge them.

The fighting today involves the use of sophisticated weapons such as sub-machine guns, improvised explosives, hand grenades and even rocket propelled grenades.

Marsabit town has been segregated into tribal enclaves as there are parts of it that are identified with the Gabbras and others with the Boranas.

Tight security

When traveling across Marsabit County, there are regions where Boranas will never set foot and same to Gabbras unless under tight security.

As the 2022 General Elections approach, there is an ominous feeling hanging over Marsabit County over an impending genocide should nothing be done by the government.

The members of these two communities are all seething with revenge to an extent that, when a person is killed in one community, a person from the rival is also attacked and killed before the first victim is buried.

Women and children bear the brunt of the violence as do members of other communities who are either attacked or killed by stray bullets.