The Star (Nairobi)

21 November 2012

Kenya: Change Security Tactic for Lasting Peace in Northern Kenya

In Northern Kenya, peace and security are not only a priority need that is basic to every individual but elusive too! The frequent reports on massacres, livestock thefts in their high numbers and of late arson on property have gained roots in the region.

Among the entire pastoralist communities, PEACE is the first word of not only greetings, but also central in their prayers to God. However, this term peace is seemingly positively applied mostly to internal situations.

Conflicts and livestock raids in Northern Kenya have been blamed on competition for scarce natural resources such as pasture and water, cultural practices and territorial control.

Although these are among the root causes, they are no longer the main reasons for the more deadly and sustained conflicts currently being experienced. The reasons for the conflicts include politics and poor leadership, emergence of new identities and commercialization of livestock raids. Inadequate presence of government in this remote region has also contributed to chronic insecurity too.

The Borana-Gabra, Gabra-Rendille conflicts in Marsabit county, the Samburu-Turkana conflicts in Samburu county, the Pokot-Turkana conflicts along the West Pokot-Turkana counties' border and even the Orma-Wardei-Pokomo conflicts in Tana River county as well as the Garreh-Degodia problems in Mandera county just to mention some, all exhibit this new phenomenon as major causes than the traditional reasons.

It is true that natural resources and development infrastructure are still scarce in the region. But, the land space has not shrunken in size compared to the shrinking livestock numbers decimated by droughts and diminishing mobility in most areas.

Apart from the large-scale massacres that are publicized by the media, there are other small scale deaths and daily raids which go unnoticed. In fact, this is somewhat a daily feature of the North.

Our politicial leadership are quick to take positions defending their communities even when they commit grevious crimes, raids, massacres and launch malicious aggressions. They shed crocodile tears, subvert the law, divert attention from the core problem and even violence or cover up the same.

The recent massacres of security officers in Baragoi area of Samburu County as well as massacres of innocent children, women and men in Tana Delta and some other areas are clear reflections of inadequate security and the collapse of order in these regions.

The proximity of these counties to highly unstable governments in the regionmeans there is any easy inflow of illicit firearms especially small arms and light weapons. The government's response to this state of affairs--especially when it comes to disarmament--has been reactive instead of preventative and achieves few positive results.

The people of these counties have come to depend on themselves--with little or no assistance from the government or other development agencies-- to repulse the cross-border invasions, internal conflicts and natural calamities such as drought. They have become hardy, resilient and resistant to many natural and man-made catastrophes. Mobility and familiarity of their terrain is a major strength for them. They are actually unique people living in unique environment.

Solutions to the problem of insecurity should therefore not be conventional and generic in approach. As the region, its peoples and situations portray unique characteristics, there is need to craft a different approach to managing security in Northern Kenya. The fruits of that tailor-made approach in Northern Eastern province under the leadership of former PC Salleh are still abundant in Northern Kenya.

It is therefore useful to take the following approach to managing security:

Distinguish between peacebuilding activities and security management - deal with both separately.

Radical change to security management; develop a-Northern-Kenya-security programme and run as a unique project tailor-made to suit the needs of the people and environment in which they live,

Involve the local people in security management --from intelligence, planning to response activities,

Recruit most of the youth if not all, into a "special Northern Kenya Services" force. This has the advantage of tying them up from banditry. They also have knowledge of geographical terrain, peoples' ways of living, attitudes and behaviours,

Mop-up illegal guns from the communities at a go. It might be difficult but this must be done with commitment at an unparalleled level. As this happens, security and protection of their lives and means of livelihood (livestock) must be guaranteed.

Deal "decisively" with the leaders who incite violence and organize conflicts.

Northern Kenya is Kenya and for it to change from the current state of abyss there is need for these bold steps to bring about change. This change needs brave decisions that cannot waver in the face of any intimidation and coercion by anyone.

HALAKHE WAQO is a commissioner, National Commission on the Implementation of the Constitution. The views expressed here are personal and do not reflect those of the NCIC>

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