Search for Baragoi on the World Wide Web and all that pops up are stories and images of devastation brought about by the incessant violent conflicts between the Turkana and Samburu communities. As you drive North of Maralal town, a thicket of tall trees forming canopies on top sway from side to side as if they are welcoming you to Samburu County. A further drive leads you to a vast parcel of land which in spite of its dryness, the undulating plains, herds of cattle grazing and wild animals such as gazelles finding refuge in the shrubs affirm that in deed you are in a beautiful place. Interesting to note, however, is that in the midst of all the serenity, there are civilians walking around with Avtomat Kalashnikov (AK-47s) assault rifles. This is an oxymoron, right?
Conflict between the Samburu and Turkana communities dates back to the early 1990s. It is believed that resources such as land, water, and pasture, contributes to pastoralist conflict in Baragoi, this is largely a truism. The strife is often manifested through cattle raiding and indiscriminate killing. It is however paradoxical that inter-communal violence hits the peak during rainy seasons and when there is plenty of such resources. As narrated by Rev. Elijah Lesiangole, violence escalates especially during the rainy season. During such times, the division between the two communities is so evident that Baragoi town in divided into two: one side being claimed by the Turkana and the other by the Samburu. There is less fighting during dry seasons. It is therefore easy to conclude that the switch from coexistence to violence is not just an environmental issue, but rather political.
Prior to November 2012 when approximately 42 police officers were slain in Suguta Valley while in pursuit of stolen livestock, cycles of attacks and retaliatory attacks were reported. The government had to make its presence visible by deploying more security. The situation calmed down until last year, 2015 when cases of cattle raiding re-emerged. The ripple effects of these communal violence spread to institutions of learning. At one point students of Baragoi Secondary School fought along ethnic lines. The inter-faith group comprising of both Christian and Muslim leaders had to intervene in this situation, otherwise this would spread to other schools in the region. The religious leaders went on to organize an inter-religious prayer meeting at the Baragoi Stadium. This was meant to address this menace that was slowly getting into schools. The government also responded by deploying more officers along with military tanks. These actions led to relative calm in the area. Despite these grand efforts to quell the situation, Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation (SCCRR) was requested to intervene and equip key influential stakeholders with peace-building skills to various local key stakeholders in order to build their capacity in Conflict Prevention, Management, Transformation, Resolution and Reconciliation.
In October 2015, SCCRR began its first workshop in Baragoi. The aim of these workshops would be to enable the locals settle their own issues amicably by themselves. So far, a group comprising of 35 participants have been trained on conflict mapping and conflict early warning and early response. These are conflict prevention modules. The group trained comprises of members of the “Inter-faith group”, a multi-denominational group formed by the religious leaders of Maralal, Baragoi Women Peace Group, local administrators like Chiefs and selected key individuals from the two communities. After the meeting in October 2015, members of the inter-faith group resolved to pass the message of peace and tolerance in the villages within Baragoi. Ten participants from the group visited Ngirai, Nachola, Bendera, Natiti and Legeteti villages in November and December, 2015. They specifically targeted the elders since they are the ones who have the power to sanction and/or quell violence. As reiterated by Rev. Lesiangole, the elders acknowledged that indeed they played a part in the vicious cycle of violence. They were positive about the initiative saying that actually not all elders yearn for continued maiming and killing. The women group headed by Ms. Michelina Ayanae also held similar meetings in Marti and Nachola, their agenda being to rally for the returning of stolen animals and to urge people to embrace each other despite their ethnicity.
Indeed these local efforts seem to be fruitful as evidenced by the unrestricted mobility of locals in Baragoi town. Contrary to the meeting held in October 2015 where the Turkana people did not attend SCCRR workshop, this particular workshop held in May 2016 was attended by a substantial number of Turkana participants. The fact that these two communities agreed to sit together in a hall to be trained is an assurance that they are ready to engage in a peace process. They are ready to make a truce and complement one another. The participants agreed to carry on with community dialogue along with establishing a common market that would bring communities living in the various villages together. The community posits that with the market in place, the two ethnic group will be able to interact hence enhancing co-existence. SCCRR intervened and shared the idea of having the community start a market as a connector project with the Member of County Assembly of El Barta ward as well as the office of the Deputy County Commissioner. The idea was received well. The two offices pledged their support in the establishment of the common market as a peace connector project.
The recent visit in May also culminated in the formation of trained Peace Clubs in Baragoi Girls Secondary School and Baragoi Boys Secondary School. The two schools This is in recognition of the fact that it is these same students in schools who will be churned out into the society in due time and they will play a critical role either in contributing in the violence or averting it. The head teachers of the two schools were positive about the move and that the Peace Club would receive the much needed support.
With the demonstrated willingness of the Turkana and Samburu communities to coexist peaceful, SCCRR is on the right track towards succeeding in its quest to build greater cohesion between the Samburu and Turkana communities residing in Baragoi.