Helping Kenyan communities find lasting solutions to inter-clan clashes

It is a sunny morning in Shobtoy village, Doomal, a small village in Banisa constituency in the Mandera county of north-eastern Kenya. A cool breeze softens the heat of the rising sun and people move around with smiles on their faces. This was not the atmosphere few weeks back when people struggled to suppress stubborn tears, spoke with quavering lips and hands trembling.

Shobtoy Village was raided at the time by armed militia, in a retaliatory attack that killed at least 15 people. But there are no noticeable signs of distress here now, until you start talking to people.

In an arid region where water is scarce and many people rely on pastoral farming as a source of livelihood, competition for meagre resources means disputes over land and other resources.

An unnamed elder in Banisa quoted by a local news source said “the Degodia clan does not want this Garre community back in Malka-ruka area and we believe this is the cause of this raid to send that message.”

Early September’s attacks were not the first. Mandera County has suffered several deadly clashes over the years linked to inter-clan conflicts on resource sharing, mainly among the Degodia and Garre clans.

The intercommunal clashes resurfaced in this area near the Kenya-Ethiopian border with revenge attacks fueling violence across borders. The latest attacks are linked to a local militia believed to be from the Degodia clan which attacked Shobtoy village in Doomal, inhabited by the Garre.

Until recently, the surge in violent attacks over the years between the Garre and Degodia clans has given little hope that violence is close to being contained, despite a ceasefire agreed by both clans in July 2014.

But the fears for more violence are fading away. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) of Kenya and Interpeace are working to stem the violence and bring lasting peace between the warring communities, by reconciling them and building trust.

“Our peacebuilding programme with the NCIC has established dialogue spaces in communities, where people are encouraged to identify and report persons carrying out violent activities and fueling clan feud. Now the communities trust the security forces. People in Malka Mari division of Banisa arrested five perpetrators of the latest violence in September and handed them to security forces with an AK47 rifle. The Gare Clan of Banisa also did the same in 2018 when they handed in similar criminals. They no longer hide culprits,” said Hassan Ismail, Kenya Country Representative at Interpeace.

Following the deadly retaliatory clashes in September 2019, the NCIC with support from Interpeace, spearheaded a dialogue meeting in the town of Banisa in Mandera county. The three-day meeting held from 17 to 19 October. Community elders, religious leaders, elected leaders, representatives of parties to the conflict and various peace actors all met and agreed to end the violence between Garre and Degodia clans, and to work together for lasting peace after years of conflict.

“This is the first time, after the July 2014 ceasefire brokered by NCIC, that we are having all stakeholders sit together, dialogue and resolve in writing to end violence and live in harmony,” explained Mr Ismail.

The reconciliation meeting defused the rising tension and saw, for the first time, a written commitment to peaceful coexistence by participants – a hopeful sign for sustainable peace in the troubled Mandera triangle in the Horn of Africa where Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia meet.

“Many lives were lost. But the speed at which the conflict was contained shows increased resilience of the community and a great shift from the culture of retaliation and revenge. We thank the people of Banisa for taking lead in building their own peace. As NCIC, our main role is to provide facilitation support,” said Dr. Sellah King’oro, Assistant Director of Research, Policy and Planning at NCIC.

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) of Kenya and Interpeace remain committed to providing the most suitable support possible to sustain the peace agreement.

“The NCIC-Interpeace programme funded by the Germany Foreign federal office is a 3-year programme that ends in 2021. We shall continue to support and build capacity of local peace infrastructures so that peace is maintained. The programme will continue to offer more facilitation support to the people of Mandera,” Dr. Sellah added.

Since 2015, the NCIC and Interpeace have carried out research in consultation with communities in Mandera county, identified several impediments to peaceful coexistence and are now helping them to address violent conflict.

Increased tensions between communities have sometimes undermined trust between security forces and the population in conflict-hit regions across Africa. Interpeace is working closely with partners to foster trust and collaboration between the security sector and populations in Kenya and Mali for lasting peace.

Watch Kenya NTV’s news report on the reconciliation meeting in Banisa here.

Kenya’s Elgeyo Marakwet County government has recognized our peacebuilding work and included our intervention on their county profile. You can read more about it on their website here