KENYA: A boomtown powder keg
NAIROBI, 26 November 2011 (IRIN) - Pre-election politics and planned
development schemes have fuelled an
> upsurge in
inter-communal killings and forced displacement in Kenya's northern Isiolo
area, which if left unaddressed, is likely to escalate, say analysts and
civil society workers.
Several communities have been caught up in the unrest but the main
protagonists are the Borana and Turkana ethnic groups. Recent events
indicate the standard interpretation of the conflict being limited to
tit-for-tat cattle rustling and drought-related resource conflict is
superficial and outdated.
Isiolo features prominently in a major national development plan known as
> Vision 2030, whereby the town is set to be
elevated to a "resort city", complete with up-market hotels and a new
airport to boost its tourism potential, rooted in nearby game-parks.
A road linking Isiolo to Moyale, which lies on the Ethiopian border, is
being built while oil and gas exploration is under way in the wider Isiolo
Since mid-October, seemingly organized attacks have claimed about 20 lives,
including those of seven children, and led to the displacement of some 2,900
households, according to humanitarian sources and local officials.
Livestock was not stolen in most of these incidents but dozens of dwellings
were set ablaze. Most of the targeted settlements are inhabited by Turkana
people. Continuing insecurity has greatly hampered humanitarian response to
the displaced, who in many cases fled so quickly they had no time to take
any possessions, and whose plight is worsened by the onset of heavy rains.
There is also a "desperate need" for shelter and non-food items such as
mosquito nets, kitchen kits, jerry cans, soap, blankets and sleeping mats,
according to the findings of a mission to Isiolo conducted by UNICEF, adding
that the lack of latrines in displacement sites had resulted in sickness and
worries about more cases.
"The Isiolo conflict is political: this is driven by the 2012 election,"
said a researcher, who asked not to be named because of the tension.
"Certain communities are being incited by sitting politicians who are eyeing
the new county positions like governorship, senatorship and parliamentary
Kenya's new constitution created 47 new counties to help devolve political
and economic power.
"These conflicts are to inflict fear and displace the so-called minority
communities in Isiolo," he said.
"In the absence of appropriate security measures and law-enforcement
interventions aimed at preventing future clashes and inter-ethnic violence,
there is a real risk that the situation could deteriorate significantly in
the lead-up to the 2012 elections," UNICEF said in its mission report.
Leaders of various communities - Somali, Samburu, Gabra and Rendille as well
as Turkana and Borana - told IRIN they blamed the escalation of violence on
the failure of local authorities to address the root causes of the unrest.
"The police and army have not and will never resolve disputes among the
locals," said Joseph Kalapata of the Forum for the Protection of Pastoralist
"Our people should be informed that they all lose conflicts. They also need
to understand that he current constitution guarantees equal sharing of
resources," he added.
Some leaders also pointed to the failure of a disarmament operation in 2010
to rid some pastoralist communities of all of their weapons. There are plans
to renew the exercise in December.
The Borana are the largest and politically dominant ethnic group in Isiolo.
Drought in 2011 led to an influx of large numbers of pastoralists from
various groups. Isiolo's economic growth has also served as a magnet.
In the 2007 general election, the local parliamentary seat was won by a
Borana, with a Turkana coming a close second.
"These conflicts are being used by the Borana to suppress their future
political and economic competitors like the Turkana and Somalis," said the
The conflict is about "political numbers, not resources, because civilians,
including women and children are being killed and nothing stolen", he said.
"How do you kill a small child and shoot a pregnant woman? Why should you
kill people at two in the morning, shoot people while they are still
sleeping? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves," said an
Isiolo-based civil society worker.
"As we are talking, many Turkana have run away from their homes, it is
really a pity," said the civil society worker. "The Turkana also happen to
be in quite a number of places where these developments will be."
"Let the truth be told, the Turkana are holding large swathes of land to the
detriment of other communities," a senior member of Isiolo county council
was reported as telling a recent meeting convened to discuss deteriorating
The Turkana are mainly located in the outskirts of Isiolo town.
"There are five major communities in Isiolo which are all fighting for
recognition. All of them think that they have a stake, leading to
misunderstandings and the formation of alliances that have led to the loss
of lives," the civil society worker said.
"We want people to go back to normality with no more deaths. This kind of
organized intimidation has to stop," he said.
According to local sources who spoke to IRIN, a lack of clear land tenure
policy has helped fuel conflict in the area as tracts earmarked for
development are taken over, or "grabbed", by people keen to cash in on
Another source of tension is private game parks, known as "conservancies",
tourist destinations also designed to reduce poaching and promote community
development. The Borana and Somali communities feel excluded from the
economic benefits they deliver as well as their rich pastureland.
According to a priest in Isiolo, Jeremia Ndungu: "The great concern is how
to broker peace among the communities who are unequal in matters of
Mama Kapua, a Turkana mother-of-12, fled her home in the Isiolo suburb of
Kambi Garba after it was attacked on 22 October. Her husband, who stayed
behind with one of their sons, died when the house was set on fire. The son
escaped with burns.
"They [the attackers] are bringing in people from outside Isiolo who cannot
speak Kiswahili. They are here to fight," she told IRIN.
"My husband had nothing valuable worth being killed for. My son was
preparing for exams," she said, explaining that she managed to escape with
the help of an ethnic Somali neighbour who lent her a niqab as a disguise.
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Received on Sat Nov 26 2011 - 16:08:19 EST