June will be remembered as a dark month by a number of people in Marsabit and Kenyans by extension. Close to 100 innocent children and women in majority alongside their male counterparts were brutally murdered. The massacre puts in question the government’s ability to protect the lives and property of its people. Hardly a day goes without an ugly incident of rape, murder, robbery, name them; yet the fundamental reason as to why this government is in power is to protect its people, their property and ensure peace and security.
Once again, we are pointing our accusing fingers at the government for failing to offer protection. The government on its part is blaming the local leaders for fueling the animosity between their people. As it has always been, nobody is willing to take responsibility. Some schools of thought blame the killings on resource disputes such as water points and grazing grounds. However, there is more to it than meets the eye.
Oral history alleges that the Gabra were enslaved by the Borana and upon attempting freedom were dispersed from the horn of Africa. Due to this, they have always fought to reclaim their status and self esteem. The battle between these tribes has been going on and it seems that victory is still elusive. Even police officers are never safe in this region. A posting to this region is the worst nightmare prompting most of them to pray like Jesus in agony that the cup should pass by.
Yes! It is true that the communities here have in the past been involved in sporadic fighting. These conflicts have always been managed by elders from the tribes who were members of the peace committee. This committee had come up with their Modogache Declaration in which they agreed that once livestock from one community is stolen by members of another community, it is upon the elders from the community that commits the crime to mobilize their people and see to it that they pay twice what had been stolen from the other community. If a man is killed in the course of the raid, 100 camels are given as compensation according to the pact. To some extent, this had helped for it enabled these people resolve their problems through their own mechanisms.
When President Kibaki visited Mandera in January this year, he rendered trash all that was contained in Modogache Declaration. He watered down the communal responsibility or the role played by alternative dispute resolutions by declaring that there was no point in the whole community coming to discuss anything if one committed a crime. He declared that each individual must be held accountable for his deeds. With this statement, the former Marsabit District Commissioner Mr. Muthui Katee dissolved the District Peace committee and shelved the Modogache Declaration claiming that it had no legal basis.
In the absence of the local conflict resolution strategies and almost a non-existent government in the region, the sour relation between these communities came in the fore and boiled giving rise to the massacre. It is on record that some of the area leaders and the disbanded committee members took their time and voiced their fear of an impending attack in the area to the law enforcers but no action was taken to avert it. What is the reason of keeping such persons on the pay roll when they can’t perform their duties even when they are given information? Where is the president as this is going on? The provincial administration members are his appointees. If they can’t perform their duties and he can’t discipline them, then they are not valid in office. The government is always quick to act against other civil servants but when it comes to political appointees who fail to live to the expectations, no action is taken and if any, they are only transferred to other offices to continue drawing their salaries.
It is high time the Kenyan government woke up to the realities of life. Some issues in the society can best be managed through cultural avenues. There is need for strengthening cultural mechanisms of conflict resolution and especially in this region where disputes between communities are frequent. Marsabit peace committee should be reconstituted immediately to get these people talking to each other and not at each other.
More so, the locals who are best informed of their culture/traditions, problems and justice system should be used to solve the problem. It is illogical for government officials to imagine that the Gabra and Borana will look at the issues at hand the way they expect them to do. The warring factions still have very strong family and community ties unlike some of us who don’t care when a misfortune befalls our neighbors and even our immediate family members. Allowing them to go back to their roots reaching out to each other in the way that is best known to them might help solve this problem. No amount of security officers in the area will bring a permanent solution to this if the elders are not involved. They own part of this problem. Let us give them a chance to address it in their own ways. We can only facilitate their coming together and let them talk to each other in their own way.
The government on its part has been very reactive in most cases. It is not in touch with what is going own on the ground. It is immersed in planning political wars and outdoing one another. When a tragedy strikes, it reacts to it and even promises to come up with permanent solutions but as soon as the dust settles, it forgets everything and goes back to its political wars as they wait for another tragedy. Recently we had a tragedy befell Machakos where more than 50 people lost their lives, as others lost their sight. Many of them were hospitalized after drinking illicit brew. The government as usual reacted to this by promising to look into the legislation that governs the production and consumption of brew so that people could access affordable and healthy drinks. After the victims were buried, everything went back to normal. The same applies to the Marsabit tragedy that everyone is talking about. It is a high time Kenyan tribal communities learnt to invest in new types of wealth.