A cow appears not to be of much importance to the society until you meet the pastoralists’ communities. In such a community, cattle are a source of food, pride, prestige, wealth, and status. The men who have accumulated huge herds of cattle are the only ones permitted to marry and can hold leadership positions. For me, this was a myth until I took a trip to the Northwestern part of Kenya which housed groups of pastoralists from the Samburu, Pokot and Turkana Tribes. As you navigate the inhospitable and harsh terrain of Northwestern Kenya, it becomes obvious that pastoralism is the backbone of the communities inhabiting these areas. However, this has become a major issue of conflict between these communities and they have been warring for a long time.

The conflict between these communities has made major headlines in Kenya due to the damages to properties and loss of lives among the warring parties. Issues like cultural believes, climate change and scarcity of essential resources like water, have caused these communities to pick up arms and raid each other’s lands for the purpose of grazing, cattle rustling or even finding water for their cattle.

The way of life of indigenous pastoralists has and is still being threatened by the effects of climate change bringing about aggravated poverty which exposed them to trade in weapons and ammunition as a survival strategy. Because these communities take pride in accumulating and protecting their generational inheritance of cattle, losing the cattle due to climate change the pride, dignity and prestige goes with it and they opt to raid other communities to acquire more cattle.

The conflicts and livestock raiding (lead to loss of lives, damage to properties and injuries to people) affect their peaceful co-existence directly and indirectly. The deaths and injuries indirectly affect the protection of the community, labour for herding of livestock, and the future prosperity of the communities since the raiders, the injured and those killed are mostly young men. These young men were survived by wives and children who continue to suffer in poverty.

The conflict between these communities has a great support from the elders who exert authority in the community. They make the major decisions of when, where and how the raiding should take place and even give out their blessings to the young men raiding. The authority of the elders is vital in these raids and thus they become major actors in the conflict. Other members of the community that play a huge role are women, who though unwillingly, encourage their husbands to go raiding; out of regard for tradition as collective responsibility in the community. They also cook and celebrate with them after a successful raid.

It is against this backdrop that there is the need for effective conflict resolution which will shutter the sequence of violence, retaliation and pauperisation. The potential of the actors should first be addressed in order to find a collective solution. First, there is need of inclusion of all stakeholders, especially all community members led by the elders, young men and women, in decision making process. This would make the elders feel more engaged and relevant. Similarly, mothers and wives will be able to discourage their sons and husbands.

Secondly, there is need to have a rigorous disarmament program. The disarmament program conducted by the government of Kenya failed due to lack of involvement of crucial stakeholders. For a successful disarmament, all the communities must disarm equally and at the same time; the elders should be used as agents of the disarmament program because of their authority in the communities. Their word, in the community, has more value than any other person or entity, even the government; there is the need to invest in the education of the young people in these communities. This would create more opportunities for the young men and even the communities in general; which will evade relying on raids as a means of fighting starvation and poverty. With conflicts arising due to climate change; the government needs to play a key role by utilizing the water catchment methods which will increase availability of water. Similarly, the elders can work out a formula of utilisation of the water catchment areas to douse tension and potential conflict.

Whereas, the government has over the years struggled to put an end to this lifelong conflict, no serious headway has been made because the government is using foreign solutions to address a unique Africa challenge. To solve this problem using Africa solution, there should be promotion of inter marriage among warring parties. This is a secured way of eliminating the conflict as the waring parties will eventually become families and in laws, which will make it close to impossible to wage war against and among themselves.

Swaleh Hemed Wengo
FIS Director of Operations & Logistics

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