From Ethnic Violence to Seeds of Peace: Pastoralists, Youth, and Intercommunity Peacebuilding in Northwestern Kenya

From Ethnic Violence to Seeds of Peace: Pastoralists, Youth, and Intercommunity Peacebuilding in Northwestern Kenya

Introduction

Northwestern Kenya has been a theatre of violent conflict pitting the Pokot, Samburu, and Turkana communities against one another in a fierce and deadly competition. This has been catalyzed by diminishing pasture and water resources, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, political incitement, disputes over land and ethnic boundaries, the absence of adequate state security, and the commercialization of cattle raiding. The result has been a state of helplessness among many pastoralist households, which have been violently deprived of their source of livelihood (cattle) and have lost many lives, while many more are living in destitution in trading centers such as Baragoi in Samburu, Chemolingot in Pokot, and Kapedo in Turkana. The participation of thousands of youths from these communities in violent frontline conflict has been attributed to lack of education, unemployment, and the cultural requirement for young men to take part in cattle raids against neighboring communities. Acquiring cattle during such raids is a sure way of enhancing the young men’s status in society: the raided cattle can be used to pay bride wealth during marriage and thus move the donor up the social ladder.

Recent History of Violent Conflict

Since 1990, the severity of violent conflict in terms of loss of lives has been immense. The violence has clearly taken on a pattern of retaliatory attacks accompanied by massive loss of livestock. According to Umar, in December 1996 suspected Pokot raiders attacked a Samburu village killing 50 Samburu and stealing over 600 cattle.1 Umar further reports that on November 12, 1996, armed bandits attacked Doldol town, terrifying residents and looting shops. Nene Mburu also records the violent conflict pitting the Turkana against the Kenyan Pokot and the Tepe from Uganda.2 Fifty Turkana were killed by a combined force of about a thousand Pokot and Tepe raiders armed with AK47 assault rifles, and seven thousand head of cattle were stolen. It is notable that these attacks were highly organized with a working chain of command. Mburu also reports that another violent attack occurred in “March 1999, where a thousand Pokot gunmen from Kenya attacked a Turkana village killed 30 people and made away with 2,000 head of cattle.”3 The sheer numbers of raiders involved and cattle stolen point to the commercialized form of cattle raiding. The fact that 1,000 young men could be recruited also denotes lack of economic opportunities for young people, the availability of illicit small arms and light weapons, the collapse of traditional authority, and the weakness of the state security apparatus in the face of well-organized and well-armed cattle raiders.

Peace Caravans

Peacebuilding initiatives have emerged involving young and educated members of the Pokot, Samburu, and Turkana communities. These have taken the form of “peace caravans” in Turkwel, Laikipia, Suguta, Samburu North, and Baragoi. Such initiatives can be seen in light of the rise of a “mediated state” as espoused by Ken Menkhaus.4 He has argued that citizens in neglected rangelands like northwestern Kenya, who have long not benefited from state services such as security, health, and education, may with time seek to obtain them through intercommunity dialogue within the neighborhood. The “peace caravans” are locally initiated and supported by groups of young men and women from pastoralist communities who see themselves as change agents, mentors, and leaders. They seek a new paradigm in governance, development, and peacebuilding among their communities. The evident acceptance of and support given to these youth-led peace caravans by the Kenyan state also marks a realization by government of the need to involve young people in peacebuilding and conflict resolution among pastoralists in peripheral borderlands previously neglected by colonial and successive postindependence governments. This article therefore argues that governance, development, and peacebuilding must be approached through youth-led local peacebuilding initiatives as demonstrated by the “peace caravans” among the Pokot, Turkana, and Samburu.

Peace caravans involve the youth travelling as a single group to areas of high tension within the three communities. The aim is to present a united front to their warring kinsmen and women and to create a platform for intercommunity dialogue on issues that promote conflict with a view to finding amicable solutions. In an interview with IRIN News, James Teko Lopoyetum, a Pokot member of the Laikipia Peace Caravan, described the broad-based approach of the caravan toward attitude change and peacebuilding among these communities: "Several attempts have been made in the past to end rivalry between us but failed ... they all involved the use of force. Our approach is different, our people listen to us and I am confident they will accept our messages. Northern Kenya has always been like a war zone. The situation has worsened in recent years. It is shameful that we always meet to plan funerals and raise money for the injured while professionals from other parts of Kenya meet to discuss development issues."5

The approach of the youth-led caravans has been to facilitate dialogue between the Turkana, Pokot, and Samburu communities. In interviews and focus group discussions with community members and peace caravan members, a recurring sentiment was that these caravans allow community members to ventilate issues openly and seek amicable solutions.6 To this end, several meetings involving warriors were organized, particularly in common grazing areas such as Kanampiu in Laikipia North, Ntipakun and Lomirok in Samburu North, and Amaya in East Pokot. The role of the Laikipia Peace Caravan in facilitating the formation of grazing and peace committees in areas where communities share pastures is also evident in its tour of the Samburu North district (August 14-20, 2011).7 For its part, the Samburu North Peace Caravan helped with the formation of peace and grazing committees in Suyan, Kawap, Nachola, and Marti.

Peace Agreements

The partnership between the caravaners, local elders, community-based organizations, youth and women’s groups, and the provincial administration in Kenya has led to the formulation of other measures aimed at peacebuilding in the region. The Damu Nyekundu Peace Agreement signed between the Pokot and Samburu communities living in Lorora and Ol Moran in June 2010 in Laikipia North district came against the backdrop of the Kanampiu massacre.8 This peace pact was spearheaded by Laikipia Peace Caravan members, with a Turkana member of the caravan helping draft the “13 Commandments” to combat cattle rustling.9 These were incorporated into the Kainuk-Sarmach-Turkwel-Masol Corridor Peace Agreement in December 2010.10 The treaty enables Pokot and Turkana communities to share water and pasture resources, thus reducing the chances of conflict. Sarah Lochodo, an assistant chief in Kainuk and renowned peace worker among the Pokot and Turkana, captured the number of stakeholders involved with the signing of the peace agreement: “The peace agreement was reached following a meeting between elders from both the Pokot and Turkana communities. Police officers, professionals, and chiefs were also present.”

The peace agreement puts in place punitive measures such as fines and penalties against perpetrators from both communities. The offences listed in the agreement range from murder and livestock theft, to interference with beehives. The “13 Commandments” have enabled the recovery of stolen livestock, thereby reducing cases of revenge attack that often spiral into massacres. For every animal stolen, the thief is fined four livestock (cows, goats, sheep, and camels). If murder is committed against a member of a different community (in this case, a Pokot killing a Turkana or vice versa) during a raid, the culprit and his family are obliged to pay the family of the deceased forty head of livestock, while in cases of bodily injury, the perpetrator is fined twenty head of cattle. The peace agreement led to the recovery of fourteen goats and six cows by the Pokot from the Turkana, while the Turkana have had to pay twelve goats as a fine for one cow. On the Pokot side, eight sheep stolen from Kainuk have been returned and a fine of four goats paid to the Turkana for one goat slaughtered by Pokot warriors.

Conclusion

Pastoralist youths from Pokot, Samburu, and Turkana have taken it upon themselves to act as a bridge to intercommunity peacebuilding and healing, an objective that has for decades eluded the government of Kenya and non-state actors. Through their peace caravans, these youths have effectively built dialogue channels within and between communities in a manner that does not threaten the authority of the state and is also relevant to the pastoralist communities of Kenya’s northwest.

  1. Umar, Abdi (1997). Resource Utilisation, Conflict, and Insecurity in Pastoral Areas of Kenya. Paper for USAID Seminar on Conflict Resolution in the Horn of Africa, Methodist Guest House, Nairobi, March 27-29, 1997, Kenya Pastoral Forum.
  2. Mburu, Nene (n.d.). The Proliferation of Guns and Rustling in Karamoja and Turkana Districts: the Case of Appropriate Disarmament Strategies. Retrieved from http://www.peacestudiesjournal.org.uk/dl/Guns.pdf on May 19, 2012.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Menkhaus, Ken (2008). The Rise of a Mediated State in Northern Kenya: The Wajir Story and its Implications for State Building. Africa Focus, 21(2), 23‐38. Retrieved from http://www.voiceofnomads.com/downloads/TheRiseofMediatedStateinNEP.pdf on June 21, 2012.
  5. The Interview with James Teko Lopoyetum was conducted by IRIN News on September 24, 2010 at a Laikipia Peace Caravan meeting at Naisunyai in Wamba, Samburu district. Retrieved from http://www.irinnews.org/Report/90568/KENYA-Voices-of-peace-in-a-land-of-conflict on May 19, 2012.
  6. Focus group discussions by author with Samburu women in Amaya on August 9, 2011 attributed their access to markets to the Laikipia Peace Caravan and Samburu North Peace Caravan.
  7. Details of these committees are contained in Laikipia Peace Caravan Report on the Samburu North district meetings held from August 10-14, 2011.
  8. The Kanampiu massacre occurred in September 2009 when warriors from a Pokot community attacked Samburu herders in Kanampiu in Laikipia. As a result, 41 people lost their lives, including 10 Pokot raiders and 31 members of Samburu households, among them women and children.
  9. Lucheli, Isaiah (2011, March 23). 13 Commandments to Fight Cattle Rustling Set Up. The Standard. Retrieved from http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/business/article/2000031930/13-commandments-to-fight-cattle-rustling-set-up on June 11, 2012.
  10. The Peace Monument shown in the photo symbolizes the Peace Pact between the Pokot and Samburu that was initially agreed upon in 1913 and renewed in 2001. The celebration of peace on the first anniversary of the Laikipia Peace Caravan is therefore a renewal of the intercommunity peace that existed pre-2005.
About the Author

Willis Okumu is currently a Junior Researcher at the Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, Germany. He is also a Fellow of the Africa Good Governance Network (AGGN) of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and an Associate Fellow of the Africa Research and Resource Forum (ARRF), a think-tank based in Nairobi, Kenya. He holds a Master of Arts in Social Anthropology from the University of Cologne, Germany, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Sociology from the University of Nairobi, Kenya.

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