How killing of Gabra man led to massacre in Turbi

A Man walks past abandoned homes at Qubi-Qallo village in Marsabit on May 31, 2019. In what came to be known as the Turbi Massacre, the world came face-to-face with the shocking violence that has often marked interactions between the Gabra and Borana communities. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • The Gabra and Borana, who are the majority in the county, had lived in harmony for centuries to a level that they spoke the same language.

  • This changed when the Gabra man was found dead one morning in Turbi. The Gabra suspected the Borana of having carried out the killing.

  • In retaliation, they raided the Borana and stole at least 700 goats from them.

  • The ethnic animosity between the Gabra and the Borana morphed from sporadic incidences to a full-blown war.

In the unforgiving heat of the Chalbi desert near the Kenya-Ethiopia border lies Turbi, a shopping centre 130Km north-east of Marsabit town that, in July 2005, made global headlines after 95 people including 12 schoolchildren were slaughtered in a morning of terror.

MASSACRE

In what came to be known as the Turbi Massacre, the world came face-to-face with the shocking violence that has often marked interactions between the Gabra and Borana communities. Before then, the conflicts were assumed to be sporadic incidents over pasture typical of nomadic communities.

The Truth Justice and Reconciliation Committee (TJRC) would later say that the raid was a culmination of several resource-based conflicts that had reached a tipping point due to ethnic and political motivations. To date, no single person has ever been convicted for organising or taking part in the massacre.

“While there were early warnings of looming violence in Marsabit, the security apparatus failed to respond in good time,” said TJRC in its report.

What is now known is that, sometime in 2002, the unsolved murder of a man in Turbi sparked a series of events that eventually exploded into the massacre that deepened existing animosity between the Gabra and Borana creating a conflict that has refused to go away.

The Gabra and Borana, who are the majority in the county, had lived in harmony for centuries to a level that they spoke the same language. This changed when the Gabra man was found dead one morning in Turbi. The Gabra suspected the Borana of having carried out the killing. In retaliation, they raided the Borana and stole at least 700 goats from them. A meeting was hurriedly convened on September 6, 2002 in Turbi and another one in Sololo two days later between the elders of the two communities. The meeting, which was attended by government officials, resolved that the Borana should pay the Gabra 100 goats to compensate for the man who was killed. The Gabra, on the other hand, were asked to pay 2,100 goats, three times the number stolen, as compensation.

AGREEMENT

The resolutions were based on the Modogashe Declaration, which had been signed two years earlier, that gave punitive measures to anyone who engaged in violence. Both parties were opposed to the recommendations of the peace meeting and tensions continued.

A month later, on October 17, another attempt was made to bring the two communities together at Funnunqumbi, a village near Turbi, but the sides yet again failed to agree. In order to break the deadlock, the peace committee decided that the Borana should not access Turbi while the Gabra would not access Wold and Rawan water points.

Tensions remained high over the next two years but there were no killings. The peace committee decided to make another attempt. A meeting was set up in February 2004 at Turbi but it did not take place as the Gabra living there claimed they had not been informed.

A year later, on May 23, 2005, a peace agreement was reached and both communities agreed to adhere to the punishments given to them. The peace lasted only a week as five Ethiopian Boranas were killed near the Kenyan border.

In retaliation, Ethiopian Boranas attacked Gabra villages in Kenya and stole animals. Then a herd of cattle belonging to members of the Borana community was stolen in Saku Constituency.

The police and Borana reservists were tasked with following the animals whose tracks indicated that they were being driven towards North Horr. During the effort to recover the animals, chief Benjamin Boru Wario and police reservist Nyencho Shedo were killed.

TIT FOR TAT

The killing happened at night and, by morning, the sad news had reached Saku. The tension that followed saw the Gabra flee to Marsabit town for safety. In retaliation to the killing of the chief, Gabra houses in Marsabit town were razed. Then six Boranas were killed in Forolle near the Ethiopian border.

It is this tit-for-tat that triggered the Turbi Massacre. Then a week later, Bubisa, a Borana town, was attacked and 10 people lost their lives. From this point, the Borana and Gabra were officially at war with each other and, despite the signing of endless peace deals over the last 15 years, Marsabit has known no peace.

It is this elusive search for peace that wiped out all the MPs from the area on April 10, 2006 after a military plane they were flying in to a peace meeting in Marsabit town crashed a few metres to the venue.

The leaders included deputy leader of opposition and North Horr MP Bonaya Godana, Saku MP Abdi Sasura, Moyale MP Guracha Galgallo and Laisamis MP Titus Ngoyoni, and then Nakuru town MP Mirugi Kariuki. In total, 14 passengers perished.

To date, at least 14 treaties have been signed in the last decade but each one has failed to deliver long-lasting peace. The treaties, signed by elders in the presence of government officials, outline how the communities share resources and punishment meted out to rule-breakers.

The Maikona Peace Treaty signed in 2009 for instance says, “Anyone who is found guilty of stealing animals will pay five cows for each animal stolen. The culprit will also pay the expenses incurred in tracking that animal and will be handed over to the government to face the law.” Additionally, it says: “The penalty for deliberate killing is 25 cows and 25 bulls while the penalty for anyone who attempts to kill or injure another is 15 cows. The culprits will also be handed over to the police.”

CONVICTIONS

Why there is still violence despite all these treaties is the million dollar question. On Sunday, we exposed how a fight over who deserves the rights to control the affairs of Marsabit between the Gabra and Borana continues to feed the conflict with its fuel. Marsabit receives Sh8 billion a year from Treasury.

The latest attempt to bring peace took place in Nanyuki where Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i brokered a peace agreement. The CS urged the residents of the two counties to set aside their differences, maintain the peace, embrace dialogue and exploit the ample economic opportunities in the regions.

“By maintaining peace and security, the government reduces its workload and focuses on development issues with less time spent on conflict resolution,” said CS Fred Matiang'i.

Those who have participated in previous peace-building attempts say it is unlikely the two communities will ever live in harmony until they see those who incite, sponsor or carry out the violence caught and punished in accordance with the law. The Nation has been unable to get a single conviction in court of anyone in relation to the violence that is now approaching its 15th year.

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