On August 12, elders, political and religious leaders from the Garre and Murule clans, in a rare move met at Granada hotel in Mandera town under the theme – no to hostilities and violence in the county. The stakeholder’s peace meeting aimed at providing long-term solution to inter-clan animosity that has last over two decades.
The high level meeting comprised of county and national officials, security, and national cohesion and integration commission members among others.
It was a matter of firing the last bullet to get peace. The national government’s message to the local leaders was very clear: Anyone found sponsoring clashes or spreading hatred will face the law. Leaders across the board, from county to national security team, focused on how the two communities can live harmoniously.
The inter-clan peace meeting followed conflict between the two communities over Yatho village located at Lafey and Elwak South Constituency border line. Both Garre and Murule community members claimed ownership of the land where the village stands. The government warned it would declare the area dangerous and uninhabitable if security breaches continue.
Mandera County Governor Ali Roba implored on the different cadres of leaders to find a long-lasting peaceful solution to the conflict.
“For the eight years that I have been in office, I have witnessed a lot. All I want to see now is people getting along on common ground for getting peace in Mandera County”.
The need to ensure stable security in Mandera County that borders Somalia and Ethiopia pushed the governor to always work closely with the national security teams for the two communities to agree amicably.
Having witnessed previous clan clashes among communities in his early years in office, the governor said his administration is prepared and enthusiastic in supporting peace initiatives to end the clan conflicts. Despite heated argument among the stakeholders on the resolutions, the county boss was clear – he will put all available resources for everlasting communal peace.
“I am ready to support any peace initiative because we have enough resources to do that,” said Mr Roba while advising the two clans to employ forgiveness and honesty in the peace making process. He urged the leaders to come up with resolutions that will ease tension and form basis for reconciliation. The two communities agreed to bury the hatchet as the government worked to find lasting solution to the border dispute.
The Murule community majorly reside in Lafey and have been agitating for the abolishment of Yatho village where several houses and classrooms were set ablaze by unknown arsonists. The Garre community, on the other hand, claim the village lies in Elwak South, where they are the dominant community. Uniting the two clans on a common ground has been Governor Roba’s main peace plan. Through pledging more resources to the area, advising leaders and encouraging locals, the county boss managed to persuade parties to agree on certain key issues. Fortunately, the four-day peace consultation resulted in partnership agreement on cessation of violence and hostilities, arresting and prosecution of criminals, honoring previous agreements and resolving past grievances.
Since independence, the northern Kenya has had its fair share of conflicts leaving many people dead, others maimed or uprooted from their homes and property destroyed. The colonial ruler set aside two major strategies in the northern frontier district – movement restriction and rangeland demarcation – as part of controlling communal conflict over grazing lands.
When devolution started in 2013, Kenyans particularly northern Kenya residents were excited about benefitting from fair share of national resources. To the northern counties, devolution meant an end to marginalization. But as the country ushered devolution, Mandera County remained the target of Al-shabab which carried numerous terror-related attacks across the border.
On October 16, 2011, Kenyan troops crossed into Somalia in a move aimed at strengthening security and eradicating the terror group operating in Somalia.
Increased inter-clan rivalry and conflicts in Mandera emanating from clan political alliances exposed the county to external terror bouts. On several occasions non-locals have been targeted – among them quarry workers and teachers. Tackling the thorn in the flesh has not been a walk in the park. In the crisis period, Governor Roba won the Mandera County gubernatorial race.
When he took over leadership, Garre and Degodia communities were in conflict across the county. Furthermore, the four years that followed were characterized by lethal terror attacks such as Nairobi’s Westgate, Garissa University and Mpeketoni in Lamu County.
“Mandera was literally disconnected from the rest of Kenya for close to 50 years and its economy was largely dependent on Somalia. The socio-economic ties of the population was that for close to 23 years after the fall of Siad Barre, whatever was happening inside Somalia was also finding sympathy in Mandera and the greater former North Eastern Province.
“On March 7, 2013, soon after the general election, I was confronted by the harsh reality of insecurity of a town ran by terrorists. There had been no public baraza or celebration of national days for a record of three years. People lived in fear,” says Governor Roba.
With the dire security state, the county boss focused on improving the situation by consulting with national security team headed by the county commissioner and exploring best possible alternatives to promote peace.
“We embarked on a series of security meetings with the security management team discussing how we got into this desperate state of insecurity in Mandera town,” Mr Roba said adding that through consensus, they agreed to use home guards to unlock the fear of the security personnel. The county, in a bid to invest heavily in security, facilitated hiring of more than 330 National Police Reservists and leased vehicles for timely response to attacks.
In 2018, Mandera county government in collaboration with the national government organized regional conference on countering violent extremist that saw coming together of counties in the larger north-eastern and eastern Kenya. Participants pledged to unite and fight terrorism. It was about countering extremists via community-driven approach.
The two level of governments in partnership managed to put 757 low-cost housing units for persons displaced by internal clan conflicts in Rhamu, Mandera North Constituency. To improve access to basic services, the county leader launched several water kiosks.
Since then security has improved in the county. “We started engagements with the national security team and soon we had GSU base set up and officers deployed in big numbers. The counter terrorism unit was revamped and a military camp set up strategically at points commonly used as access points by the militia. More vehicles were assigned to Mandera and within a short time, the frequency of terror attacks was drastically reduced”, added the governor.
Eight years since inception of devolution, there has been considerable progress in security with lessening of clan fights and militia attacks. Mr. Roba notes that consistency in security patrols, improving day-to-day vigilance, strengthening alertness and winning public trust is crucial in ensuring security.
By Omar Noor, Senior Communication Officer, Mandera County