By Bosire Boniface in Garissa
A relative calm has returned between the Gabra and Borana communities on the Kenyan-Ethiopian border after simmering political tension boiled over last week, leaving at least 12 people dead and more than 60,000 displaced.
The recent escalation of violence started August 22nd when three people were killed in Marsabit, and a lorry driver was attacked on the Nairobi-Moyale highway. Two days later, three more people were killed in skirmishes between the Borana and Gabra communities in Moyale.
Between August 29th and 30th, six more people were killed and more than 20,000 people fled over the border to Ethiopia, which is less than a kilometre from Moyale town, Kenya Red Cross Society co-ordinator Stephen Bunaya told Sabahi.
“About 40,000 others are camping inside Kenya in schools,” he said. “The schools have been on holiday and when they resume the families will have to vacate.”
During the violence, Bunaya said, more than 50 houses including business premises were set on fire.
Conflicts between the two communities are common and often triggered by politics and revenge, said Ali Abdi, a journalist based in Isiolo who is familiar with the clashes.
The Borana are the majority in Moyale district, while the Gabra are the majority in neighbouring Marsabit district. In the March 4th general elections, the Gabra swept virtually all the top county seats creating an undercurrent of discontent among the Borana, Abdi explained.
“There has been a feeling among the Boranas in Marsabit County that they should have had at least two leaders in the top county seats to ensure they are adequately represented,” he told Sabahi.
The move by the national and county governments to settle Gabra families around Sololo in July sparked the violence that broke out mid-August, Abdi said.
“The Borana protested the move claiming the area is their ancestral land and the Gabra families had been brought in from Ethiopia,” he said. “There was an attack on the resettled families and what followed was retaliation.”
The situation escalated when the two communities’ clansmen who live in Ethiopia got involved. “There has been political discontent, but the settling of the Gabra families ignited the violence,” Abdi said.
Residents call for peace
Residents who spoke to Sabahi said the situation was calm now, but remained tense below the surface.
“It is calm at the moment because the security officers are on patrol but no one is willing to return to their homes for fear of a possible attack,” said Huka Hassan Ali, a 34-year-old Gabra resident of Funyatta neighbourhood.
“The attackers came to us and told us to vacate the land because it belongs to the Borana,” he said. “I believe Borana politicians are behind these attacks because there was talk that the Gabra should not expect to live on Borana land if they cannot support their leaders.”
He said the fighting has been affecting all businesses. “We just want normalcy to return so that we can [provide] for our families,” he said. “I have had enough of the fight sparked by our political differences.”
Abdi Golicha, 37, of Odda neighbourhood, said the violence claimed the life of his cousin.
“I am a Borana but the violence has left me mourning,” he said. “The violence teaches us that no one has the monopoly on violence. We should live together in harmony and bury our differences. I am hurt by the loss, but I am not planning any revenge for the sake of peace.”
County government pledges to be inclusive
In a bid to tame the violence from spreading to other towns, the government on Thursday (August 29th) deployed more security forces to the region, including the military, Marsabit County Commissioner Isaiah Nakoru told Sabahi.
“We are preventing a pattern from previous lessons where an attack between the two communities spread to other towns like Marsabit,” he said. “We are also providing security escort to motorists.”
Nakoru said they are also working with Ethiopian authorities to control the feuding tribes on both sides of the border. So far, local Kenyan authorities have arrested at least 40 people and are questioning some community leaders to establish their roles in the latest violence, he said.
Marsabit County Governor Ukur Yatani said that leaders from the two communities have called for a ceasefire as they a seek solution to the violence.
“Violence was the last thing we expected as we prepare to implement development projects,” he told Sabahi. “We just received our share of money from the national government and we will not entertain trouble makers to derail progress.”
Besides the Borana and Gabra tribes, there are Burji, Somalis, Gare and smaller tribes who will all have a slice of the development pie, he said.
“In the previous systems there was unfairness in the distribution of resources and jobs, but under my watch no one will feel left out,” he said.