Devine, P. R. PhD: History Of The Conflict Between The Pokot And The Turkana in Space And Time: Causes And Policy Implications

By May 28, 2021 February 2nd, 2023 No Comments

(Extract from the Ph.D Dissertation, ‘Persistent Conflict between the Pokot and Turkana: Causes and Policy Implications’, by Patrick R. Devine – The University of Nairobi; © The University of Nairobi & © 2021 SHALOM-SCCRR} *


Recurring localized conflict between Pokot and Turkana ethnic communities in northwestern Kenya is an aspect of their intercommunal relations that goes back in time for more than a century. All along, it has been a drag on the development of this part of the country. This research study sought to explore the conflict’s persistence. The research was underpinned by the realistic assumption that the understanding of the conflict cannot be positioned above history.

The theory that guided the study was structural violence whose argument is that the underlying structures of society are the main mechanism that explains violent conflict behaviour. Individual intentions and motivations are insufficient to explain human behavior. When individual intentions and motivations are aggregated, they precipitate the formation of structures in all societies. Structures have a life of their own that determines human and group behaviour. It is the structure as a whole that has greater impact than the sum of all the individual parts.  These structures influence, constrain and facilitate decision-making and behavioral expressions, as the case may be. In line with structural violence, more often than not, individuals who exist in the margins of society may not be conscious of the role that structures bear on why and how they express themselves. Indeed, individuals in general, regardless of structural violence, are frequently not conscious of the impact that structures have on decision processes. Structures are invariably of practical importance in that they significantly determine decision making and the manifestations of social behavior, be it peaceful or conflictual.

The overarching objective was to explain the conflict’s persistence. Three hypotheses whereby the objective was achieved were posited. First, the conflict persists because the underlying causes have not been identified. Second, the conflict persists because of ineffective approaches by the state in managing the conflict. Third, the conflict persists because of ineffective activities by the Catholic Church in managing the conflict.

The research design was a one-off sample survey. Participants were selected through cluster sampling. The sampling unit was a manyatta (a collection of minuscule dwellings built very close to each other); and the unit of data collection was an individual. A questionnaire was administered to 381 individuals, 190 of whom were Pokot men and women and 191 Turkana men and women. The survey was supplemented with interview (face-to-face and focused group discussion).

Component (factor) analysis was applied to the first hypothesis. The application identified three underlying causes of the conflict, namely, core resources (pasture and water); political economy – the communities predominantly exist in the margins of the national society because they are largely denied access to important positions and symbols of economic and political power; and infrastructure-insecurity – learning facilities, roads, medical facilities and security patrol. The second hypothesis was tested through Pearson correlation. It was affirmed. That is to say, provision of basic public services and political goods, which is a responsibility of the state, is hugely wanting. This leads to the cycle of intercommunal/ethnic conflict, which validates ineffective conflict management on the part of the state. Skewness and multiple regression were applied to the third hypothesis. Since the demise of the colonial state the Catholic Church has invariably contributed to amelioration of the effects of marginalization on the local ethnic populations of northwestern Kenya. Results of testing the hypothesis in question showed that some of the initiatives/activities by the Church make a significant contributionto management of the conflict while others make no significant contributionThis suggests that further research needs to be done in order to clarify the nature, infrastructure and dynamics of the Catholic Church’s role in terms of contributing to management of the conflict.

The major policy implications of the research’s findings against the backdrop of the conflict’s long history were two, one pertaining to the Kenyan state and the other to the Catholic Church. First, policy practices – initiatives and activities – should be considerably proactive rather than predominantly reactive as it is the case today. This is warranted by the fact that the conflict is amenable to prediction by virtue of its being recurring – a cycle of intercommunal violent aggression and counter intercommunal violent aggression. Consequently this conflict, lends itself to being significantly staved off by proactive conflict management policy practices addressing the underlying causes.  Second, the Catholic Church’s peace policy practices, be they direct or indirect, should concentrate on approaches that improve and maximize their own institution’s effectiveness regarding quality contribution  to conflict management capacity building, and livelihood resilience on the part of the parties in conflict. This policy implication flows from the fact – established by the research – that the Church’s on-the-ground peacebuilders significantly lack trained knowledge competence and analytic skills that transformative peacebuilding action requires.



This is a spatial-temporal depiction of the conflict. It is an inclusive and tight presentation of critical aspects of the conflict that are parameters of understanding what is phrased as an abstract above. Conflict between the Pokot and Turkana has a long history.  Conflict has a memory that is resilient and robust, and anchored in culture. It frequently gets distorted by social narratives.  The narratives as distortions are relative, in that they are a function of the long-term movements of power within resource relations.  However, history as fact, as what actually happened, does not change.   Narratives tend to serve particular dominant interests, whereas history serves the cause of truth. Every conflict has a history.  The thread running through this spatial-temporal depiction is the manifest violent conflict between the Pokot and the Turkana, in space and time. 

Historical Dimensions

History forms a fundamental basis for understanding conflict because it narrates the conflict memory over time, relates the records of actors, issues, interests and describes the forms of violence among other things.  As such, history gives an insight into the different parties to the conflict and their perceptions, information about the diverse and incompatible goals involved and the types of violence – manifest and structural – that were operationalized.  In relative terms, Kenya’s northern region, unlike other regions, is and has been prone to conflict between members of different ethnically defined social formations, including their intra ethnic clan conflicts.  The problematic nature of development, or virtual lack thereof, in the region is habitually ascribed to the conflict.  If, in simplified terms here, conflict is equated with lack of peace, then it follows that there is a positive relationship between peace and development.  However, the relationship is neither simple nor direct; it is complex.  A significant part of this complexity is residual obfuscation that derives, in part, from the synchronic image that many academics, such as anthropologists in particular, and policy makers/ peace practitioners have about the nature of the conflict.  This synchronic image exists because fundamentally there is no systematic and well considered attempt in their academic discourses and policy lore to situate the conflict in a diachronic purview.  A diachronic purview is essential in order to not only know and understand the facts that make up the conflict’s reality but also to know and understand the dynamics of historical forces that establish the facts.  The Pokot and Turkana people, located in the North Rift, are the two primary actors throughout the history of this conflict under study since pre-colonial times.  The British Colonial regime became involved in the conflict dynamic in the late Nineteenth Century after the Conference of Berlin in 1885 that subjected the Pokot and Turkana peoples to British colonization. Colonization, by its nature, is structural violence that is inflicted on the colonized.  To begin with, it is a form of international systemic marginalisation.  Unquestionably, Kenya has also become a strategic actor in the conflict since attaining independence in 1963.  The other key actor operating in the Pokot-Turkana conflict environment, trying to bring peace and development, since the time of independence is the Catholic Church, (Mwangi, & Niels, 1985).  

This chapter does not constitute an in-depth history of the conflict; rather, it is a spatio-temporal background to the research object of this study, namely, violent conflict behaviour between Pokots and Turkanas. The chapter, thus, gives what amounts to a synoptic image, or account, of the forces of the conflict.  This is achieved through interplay of selected manifestations, namely economic, political, ethnic, cultural and ecological since the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century. The identification of these forces and their interplay in the conflict provides a significant historical overview and vision of the Pokot-Turkana’s past relationship and this helps to understand the underlying causes of the conflict and its persistence.  The forces are historical imperatives of the conflict, but they may also be constructed as parameters of the conflict in space and time.  The rationale for this position is that violent conflict behaviour between the Pokots and the Turkanas can hardly be understood unless it is situated in the interplay.  The interplay, therefore, constitutes the context of the conflict.  The interplay of these forces has, however, existed for more than one hundred years, but its statics and dynamics constitute neither a chronology nor an interpretation of the conflict, even as the interplay forms the context of the conflict.  Furthermore, it is important to keep in focus, and to reasonably assert, that for humans to historically exist and develop, certain basic and ontological needs have to be satisfied (Maslow, 1970; Burton, 1991).  These needs are, in turn, critically interwoven into peoples’ actualization of potential (Galtung, 1969).  These needs are inextricably intertwined with livelihood social, political and economic issues, and the structures underpinning their operationalization.  What is assayed in this contextual chapter of the conflict under research presupposes that: first, politics and economics are embedded and secondly, that violence as politics is a means of economics.  Lastly, economics as marginalization along ethnic lines generates counter-marginalization praxis in the form of identity politics, which finds expression in either violent conflict behaviour between “us” and neighbouring ethnic “other” and/or organized subversion of State legitimations, institutions and functionaries roles..  With respect to three subsequent divisions of this chapter, it is pertinent to emphasize, at this juncture, that the pre-colonial period of the conflict was not subject to State structures or institutions, or apparatuses.  Instead, the conflict between the two communities was subject to their own ethnic structures of culture.  It is these structures that define and legitimize the accepted manifest patterned behaviour by them towards each other.  The reality of a Kenyan State only emerged with the incursion of British colonialism into Eastern Africa.  This period was pre-statehood where ethnic systems of governance prevailed, untouched by modes of governance determined by the international system and the modern concept of state-hood.  During this time, the conflict was not subject to forces of “repressive State apparatus” and “ideological State apparatus”, terms explicated by the Louis Althuser, the French Political philosopher (Althuser, 1971), and which became operational during the colonial and post-colonial periods of the conflict. Since this study is about the persistence of a conflict between two distinct ethnic groups within the Kenyan State it is useful to bear in mind the definition of an ethnic community:  “named human population, with a myth of common ancestry, shared memories and cultural elements; a link with a historic territory or homeland, and a measure of solidarity” (Smith, 1993,: pp. 28-29).

Pre-Colonial Period

The origins and migration of Pokots and Turkanas constitute in retrospect a correlate of not only their interaction but, also competition and conflict underpinned by an incompatibility of goals between them.  The correlate undergirds what is said here concerning Pokots and Turkanas separately, as well as the conflict content before the era of British imperialism in the North Rift.  Specifically, the correlate is taken as a point of departure in this attempt to depict a distant past, the time before the era of imperialism.  The correlate is comprised of a complex of selected aspects of Pokot as well as Turkana life experiences and Pokot-Turkana relations, which is certainly important in terms of making sense of their violent conflict today.  The depiction is informed by recognizing and taking into account at least two challenges of assaying the conflict during late pre-colonial period.  First, the degree to which oral and recorded narrations of the conflict are problematic because of the lack of commonly agreed upon criteria of what counted or should count as the factual, not invented, Pokot-Turkana conflict history.  Second, the subtlety of the task of determining whether or not a given source of information or data drawn on is a species of academic, popular or propaganda form of history.  Implicit in these challenges is the observation that during the late pre-colonial years of the conflict, analysis is not untainted by bias stemming from particular dominant material interests and hegemonic value preferences.  In addition to ideological colouring, are the limitations of relatively scanty sources of the pre-colonial period specific to the Pokot-Turkana conflict, and the uncertainties and disputes of their interpretation.  One version is that the Pokot originated from an area that is today southern Ethiopia and migrated southwards many centuries ago, into what is today the northern end of the western highlands of Kenya, living there since the Sixteenth Century (Curtin et al., 1995; Fedders & Salvador, 1979).  Another version is that the Pokot originated from an amalgamation of refugees from wars between and among nearby ethnic communities (Peristany, 1951; Harold, 1953).  Like the Turkana, the vast majority of the Pokot reside in the Rift Valley region of Kenya.  A small area of customary Pokot-land straddles the Kenya-Uganda border.  This situation resulted from the British Colonial policy of failure to respect the unity of an ethnic group in boundary demarcations of its administrative structures, such as Uganda and Kenya.  The Pokot community is generally categorized into two distinct subdivisions: the pastoralist Pokots who, to this day, interface with the Turkana in violent behavioural conflict along an approximate 250 kilometre semi-arid desert frontline (Kratli et al., 1999, Mkutu, 2008, Eaton 2008, Ng’asike, 2013), and the arable farming agriculturalist Pokots residing south of the pastoralists (Grahn, 2005;Dolan2006) who do not have direct engagement with the Turkana as much as the pastoralist Pokots do. 

According to the traditional migration accounts of Turkanas, they migrated before the Sixteenth Century from what is presently Southern Sudan into what is today Northern Uganda, and in the eighteenth century, into the present day Turkana-land in the North Rift (Gulliver, 1955; Thomas, 1966; Barrett, 1998).  The reason for their migration from their original homeland is a matter of speculation.  One view is that aggressiveness and militant territorial expansion tendencies that were characteristic of Turkanas are what caused them to migrate to their present homeland in Kenya (Lamphear, 1992; Lonsdale, 1977).  A different view is that the Turkanas came down the Dodoth escarpment into what is the North Rift because of decreasing environmental carrying capacity.  Increasing human and animal population in northern Uganda, which is the area of dispersal of Karamojong ethnics of which the Turkana are a part, created problems of environmental sustainability (Mazrui, 1977; Berman and Lonsdale, 1992; Dietz, 1983).  As the Turkana relocated, they found other ethnic communities including the Pokot in what is today Turkanaland, and through a series of wars in the nineteenth century drove the Pokot south into the Pokot hills (Gulliver, 1955; Lamphear, 1988).  By 1900, the fault lines of Pokot-Turkana customary interfacing borders had by and large stabilized (Johnston, 1904, as cited in Lamphear, 1988).  Today, the overwhelming majority of the Turkana people live in Kenya, with small segments of them straddling the borders of Uganda, the Republic of South Sudan, and the Ilemi Triangle to the north (Mburu, 2007). 

Interaction in retrospect

Pokot-Turkana interaction had multiple aspects including: peaceful coexistence, abandonment of occupied territorial area and moving to another area because of evidential threat, perceived insecurity, assimilation, and raiding (McCabe, 1990).  The difference between evidential threat and perceived insecurity is that the former refers to objective phenomena of Pokot-Turkana interaction in the form of people and their herds moving away from one area to another area, external to the observer and directly measurable.  On the other hand, the latter refers to mentalistic entities of thoughts, feelings, attitudes, perceptions, beliefs, which because they are subjective, are not amenable to direct observation or measurement, but influence or cause behaviour such as conflict between Pokots and Turkana.  Evidential threats only existed generally in the form of being raided or counter-raided by either community.  On the other hand, perceived insecurity meant that Pokots and Turkanas were endangered and the danger stemmed from perceived insecurity that was common to all of them.  It is most plausible that perceived insecurity facilitated self-control, the ability to inhibit impulses in everyone with a result that fighting between Pokots and Turkanas was averted sometimes.  It stands to reason that this was one of the mechanisms as well as strategies and tactics by which the occurrence of incidents of conflict between Pokots and Turkanas was minimized or rendered insignificant in a statistical sense.  However, it is important to point out the obverse of the foregoing, primarily because what is discussed here should be, and is, about the violent conflict behaviour dimension of Pokot-Turkana relations with matters of peace being treated as tangential to the discussion.  The obverse, then, is that if impulses flared up in Pokot due to wrong doing or untoward activity by Turkanas, and vice versa, conflict would likely occur, depending on circumstances of the particular situation or moment.  All of the above aspects were adaptive behaviour whose parameters were economic, socio-political, cultural and ecological.  This needs some elaboration. 

The aspects of Pokot-Turkana interaction specified above arose from the specific conditions, which had until then, prevailed in the evolution of Pokot culture and Turkana culture: the need to master natures’ harsh physical environment in the struggle against scarcity.  These aspects and their dynamics were culturally specific to the economy of scarcity then.  This is partly why aspects of Pokot-Turkana conflict interaction today, particularly in terms of their dynamics, are considerably different from what obtained in the pre-colonial State era. 

Historiographical Issues

It is fitting at this juncture to bring in the historiographical speculations, of late nineteenth and early twentieth century anthropologists and historians.  To begin with, one criticism of them from the standpoint of post-colonial theoretical perspective is that they were handmaidens of imperialism.  What is important here is not whether or not the criticism holds water but the making of history of which they were part.  In a sense, history is not so much what actually happened as what writers of history say happened.  In a similar vein, it is tenable that history is made and recorded by and for the victors.  These perspectives on “what writers of history say” has to do with the dependence of history on secondary sources, while “made and recorded by and for the victors” bespeaks the extent to which history, construed as development, is the development of oppression and marginalization.  The point being made is applicable to Pokot-Turkana relations as history before the second half of the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century.  In the second half of the last quarter of the Century, and thereafter, the victors were British colonial imperialists and the vanquished were Pokots and the Turkanas. 

Anthropologists and historians, including some missionaries, who acted as ideologues of colonial imperialism, not only speculated about pre-colonial Pokot and Turkana social formations, but also about Pokot–Turkana conflict interaction.  The speculations were interspersed with judgments about Pokot and Turkana social formations and culture that stemmed from cultural value preferences and ideological inclinations of the speculators or writers.  Specifically, the value preferences and ideological inclinations were couched in terms of what was negative or repulsive about the manner and customs of the Pokot and the Turkana.  Besides, Pokot and Turkana cultures were, more or less, dubbed cultures of violence (Gluckman, 1963; Fry & Baszarkiewcz, 2008).  Put differently, the perceptions postulated through the pre-colonial historiography of Pokot-Turkana interaction and inter-tribal wars painted a picture of communities stuck in a violent static culture since time immemorial, from which they could not transcend.  Pokots and Turkana were portrayed as enemy neighbours and fights between them taken as the typical manifestation of the interaction (Rosberg and Nottingham, 1966; Alexander et al., 2000; Berkeley, 2001).  The above strand of thought has not waned, even though time has passed encompassing significant social transformation changes as well as changes in the nature of the dynamics of Pokot-Turkana conflict relations over the last one hundred years or so. This perception continues to exist today because of the pervasive notion that raids are integral to the social formations of Pokot and Turkana due to their pastoralist way of life (Bollig, 1990). According to Pratt, Gall, & Haan, (1997), the term pastoralism is “the finely-honed symbiotic relationship between local ecology, domesticated livestock and people in resource-scarce regions often at the threshold of human survival” (p. 169).

The notion that raids are integral to Pokot and Turkana societies can be faulted at least on two grounds.  First, the notion is not an historical intellectual label of the changes Pokot-Turkana conflict interaction has undergone in retrospect but a populist, as specified earlier, conflation of occurrences or episodes of raiding and spans of time of relative peace between Pokots and Turkanas.  Second, and more telling, particularly from a practical point of view, is that, it implies that pastoralism entails raiding.  This is to say that, it is necessary for Pokots and Turkana to raid one another because they are pastoralists; if Pokots and Turkanas were not pastoralists they would not raid one another. The necessary implication of this argument is that, until pastoralism as Pokot and Turkana’s major means of livelihood atrophies through obsolescence dialectic, Pokots and Turkanas are likely to continue raiding one another.  This critical evaluation is not intended to suggest that in the pre-colonial times Pokots and Turkanas did not raid one another.  Granted, there was Pokot-Turkana raiding in pre-colonial times, but Pokot-Turkana relations were not systematically raid ridden (Ogot, 1972).  Besides, it is untenable that occurrences of violent conflict behaviour between two communities were linked without exception to matters of livestock.  Some occurrences of the behaviour were independent of matters of livestock, for example, territorial expansion, particularly by the Turkana.

Motive forces of violent conflict behaviour

This study is, as explicated in the first chapter, about the persistence of violent conflict behaviour between the Pokots and the Turkanas. The behaviour was, and is still invariably motivated and had multiple motivations or goals.  The possibility of the existence of unconscious elements generating some of the motivations, specified below, is not ruled out.  Before giving the motive forces of the conflict in the pre-colonial period, it is important to reiterate the differences between raids pertaining to livestock and violent conflict behaviour in the context of relations between Pokots and Turkanas.  The difference is this: all occurrences of raiding between Pokots and Turkanas were violent conflict behaviour between them but not all occurrences of violent conflict behaviour between them were raids.  Raids are, and were, a part of the conflict between them, even as they are and were the typical expression of conflict between them.  It would be logically false, as well as empirically problematic, to reduce raids to violent conflict behaviour between Pokots and Turkanas.  Besides, to conflate Pokot and Turkana cattle raiding and violent conflict behaviour between the two communities, as some writers on pastoralist conflicts have done, (Dyson-Hudson, 1976 & Dyson-Hudson, 1980) is tantamount to confounding the relationship between and among the motive forces of the conflict that pertain to cattle with those that do not pertain to cattle.  The difference spelt out earlier is taken into account throughout this study for purposes of specificity and clarity concerning what the conflict encompasses, what it entails, and what it implies.

Occurrences of the conflict in the pre-colonial period were related to livestock but the occurrences were not invariably related to livestock.  It cannot be denied that some occurrences of the conflict were tangential to or had nothing to do with livestock matters.  The raiding episodes stemmed from multiple motivations.  The motive forces of pre-colonial occurrence of conflict behaviour between Pokot and Turkana were to: create a more beneficial economic base and enhance socio-economic status, control grazing areas, which subsequently led to an entrenched position of the stronger of the two groups, increase herd size as insurance against unexpected calamities such as long drought, famine, and livestock epidemic diseases.  Other reasons included: restock after a calamity such as prolonged drought resulting in massive loss of herds due to lack of pasture, restock consequent upon massive loss of herds due to livestock epidemic diseases, and to meet the requirements of rite of passage into adulthood. Raids were also carried out to obtain livestock (typically cattle) for the bride price or dowry, to intimidate the other community to move to another territory, to recoup livestock losses suffered through enemy raids, and to revenge in the form of tit-for-tat for killings or deadly casualties or injuries stemming from any of the nine above (Ogot, 1972; Gulliver, 1951; Murdock, 1959; Eaton, 2008).  By virtue of being inhabitants of a mostly harsh arid and semi-arid physical environment, the two communities had to rely on livestock and mobility for their livelihoods.  Mobility was social structural, not ecological but both the social structural and the ecological were related to subsistence need, which in turn, was causally linked to competition and antagonism between them.  They had to undertake seasonal migration in search of pasture and water to sustain their herds, which were the means of livelihood. 

One would find it difficult to deny that the mobility in the form of nomadism and migration ever brought inter-communal contact and dispute over access to key resources, which sometimes eventuated into violent conflict behaviour between them.  This is a probability statement about their interaction.  What this means is that the interaction did not preclude chances of physical violence occurring between the Pokots and the Turkanas; and that the violence was neither the sole characteristic of their interaction nor the dominant one.  The fact of being enemy neighbours did not necessarily entail engaging in endless violent conflict behaviour.  Violent conflict behaviour was not a routine aspect of the social history of the Pokot and the Turkana.  A testimony to this is that for quite some time before the last quarter of the Nineteen Century, Turkanas and Pokots allied and pushed the Samburus further south-east of Lake Turkana (Mwanzi, 1985).  Concerning the five aspects of interaction, specified earlier, during the pre-colonial period the one whose substance largely constitutes the object of this research is raiding.  This aspect can be disaggregated into two sets of behaviour: unprovoked intentional group violent aggression manifested as raiding against the other, and provoked intentional group violent aggression which is a reaction to unprovoked intentional violent aggression manifested as raiding of one community by the other.  Unprovoked violent aggression had negative effects on Pokots/Turkanas as well as provoked violent aggression in reaction to unprovoked violent aggression had negative effects on both of them.  Each of the two sets of behaviour was, more or less, an expression of power.  Granted that the antidote to power is power; it is persuasive to infer in line with realism that the antidote to raiding power was reactive raiding power.  This inference is at once analytic and ex post facto, and makes it clear in no uncertain terms what is/was encompassed by the conflict as a label for a range of episodes of violent conflict behaviour wherein parties to the conflict are/were Pokots and Turkanas during the pre-colonial period, colonial period and post-colonial period.

Dynamics of conflict in pre-colonial period

The Pokot-Turkana conflict has a lot to do with livestock.  Any attempt to make sense of this conflict that does not take livestock into account is from the onset bound to be inadequate.  However, it is not the case that each and every aspect of the conflict during pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial periods can be described, explained, and understood wholly in terms of direct and indirect dependence of the Pokot/Turkana on their livestock.  This section of the chapter gives the dynamics of Pokot-Turkana conflict in pre-colonial times.  However, this should not be construed as suggesting that in all processes as well as particular occurrences of the conflict, livestock matters were central.  To do so would be an oversimplification of occurrences of incidents or episodes of violent conflict that were a feature of pre-colonial Pokot-Turkana interaction.  Raiding was not a momentary episode.  In terms of relations between the two communities, it was violent conflict behaviour whose context of meaning was constituted by history and culture of the Pokot and Turkana.  This culture was pillared on structures that legitimised engagement in conflict.  A behavioural definition of such conflict which neatly fits pre-colonial times is that it was, and still is to a large extent, a group incursion or forceful attack by an outside group whose main, if not sole objective, was to steal or take livestock (usually cattle) by force, rather than territorial expansion which arose as response to environmental stress that stemmed from localized famine, livestock epidemic diseases, and drought (Gray et al., 2003; Mulegeta, 2008).

There was no definitive permanent Pokot-Turkana territorial boundary.  This situation was occasioned by mobility, in the form of transhumance or nomadism, as a characteristic of the way of life of the two communities.  However, lack of such a boundary did not negate the operation of territorial imperative on the part of the Turkanas as well as the Pokots.  The territorial imperative has to do with territorial behaviour as made popular in social science in the second half of the Twentieth Century, particularly through the work of Ardrey (1961, 1966 1970).  Specifically, it is the tendency of individuals or groups of individuals to protect their territory (Ardrey, 1966).  Research, from which the concept of territorial imperative and territorial behaviour thereof derived, extrapolated to the study of human behaviour, was done in Kenya in the 1950s.  Territorial imperative is a species of socio-biology theory and research that seeks to provide biological explanation for the evolution of structured social patterned behaviour and organization in humans. Territorial behaviour, a manifestation of territorial imperative, is invariably and exclusively defensive and is naturally resorted to if there is intrusion into individual or group territory.  Raiding, as behaviourally defined above, and its immediate consequences, lent itself to explanation in terms of territorial imperative.  What is on historical record about the pre-colonial past of Pokot-Turkana relations/interaction suggests that in most of the violent conflict occurrences Turkanas, more than Pokots, were the aggressors and intruders.

The warrior groups of the two communities did not engage in long distance raiding in faraway areas of the enemy’s territory primarily due to  lack of familiarity with the terrain and the high risk of getting harmed or killed in the course of the raiding activity.  In light of this, the radius of the raiding action was short and, thus, localized (Dyson-Hudson and Dyson-Hudson, 1980; Leff, 2009).  Hostilities were typically concentrated in periods of extreme environmental stress, brought about by abrupt and calamitous fluctuations in the livelihoods base.  Raiding warrior groups and counter-raiding warrior groups used traditional weaponry, such as, spears, bows and arrows, machetes, rungus, and shields made from hides of certain animals.  The conflict incidence was not long drawn out; it was characteristically constituted by brief surprise attacks that were small scale cattle raids whose number of deadly casualties was typically small.  Raiding warriors and counter-raiding warriors did not deplete the entire stocks and thereby render the raided destitute. Cattle obtained from the raids were not exchanged for other goods or items (Curtin et al., 1955; Murdock, 1959).  There were some killings during some raiding incidents but, again, on quite a small scale; and the killing was not indiscriminate (Hendrickson et al., 1998; Schneider, 1957).  This state of affairs was, by and large, a function of the fact that fighting was hand-to-hand between warrior groups using traditional weaponry.  The people likely to be killed were Pokot warriors and Turkana warriors participating in the particular raiding acts either as raiders or as counter-raiders.  Children and women, as well as old people, were, from the onset, not objects for killing because they were not warriors and did not participate in the particular acts.  The structure of raiding activities, comprising of behaviour and norms, was under the stewardship of elders who were the custodians of traditional conflict management imperatives (Mazrui, 1977, Mamdani, 1996).  Raiding was typically seasonal.  Occurrence of particular raiding activity lent itself to being predicted reasonably well by virtue of seasonal occurrence of raiding and, consequently, being prevented through strategies such as moving to some different area of Pokot/Turkana territory because of insecurity.  It is quite safe to state, as a generalization, that raiding was not a means of personal enrichment but patterned behaviour, constituted by strategies and tactics that were much more a means of survival through adaptation in calamitous or hardship situations, and much less a culturally charged response to calamitous or hardship situations.

Colonial Period

This section looks at the second chronological part of conflict dynamics with Pokots, Turkanas, European settlers in Kenya’s northwestern highlands, and colonial State functionaries as key stakeholders and actors during the colonial period.  It is reasonable to argue that settlers, as a community and State functionaries, were a consequence of the dynamics of capitalism in its late Nineteenth Century imperialist stage.  In line with world system theory, (Wallestein, 1974) imperialism was a necessary product of capitalist industrialization whose political economy forces included a search for ways and means of capitalist accumulation, through markets, pre-capitalist societies to subjugate, low wages, and higher investment returns (Baran, 1957; Nkrumah, 1965; Rodney, 1973, Amin, 1974).  Accumulation was mostly achieved by means of coercive power.  This imperialist capitalism and its coercive application of power had its foundation in structural violence being justified morally and ethically as a strategy enabling imperialism achieve its goals.  It would be difficult to dissociate the history and persistence of the conflict under research during the colonial period from this negatively laden philosophy and strategy.  Bearing these points in mind, it is also valuable to take into consideration the fact that the rise of capitalism had a strong theoretical basis in religion, specifically ascetical Protestantism (Weber, 1930).  The imperialism of British colonialism, which brought settlers and administrators who were mainly protestant by religion into contact with the Pokot-Turkana conflict, had its origins in the protestant ethic that gave rise to capitalistic modes of production.  These were alien theoretical-based ideologies to the pre-colonial Pokot and Turkana community’s modes of production, and to their cultural and religious theories.Pokot and Turkana social formations had to be, and were indeed subjugated by virtue of their being pre-capitalist, and subsequently absorbed into the capitalist system at its periphery.  This meant that their dominant mode of production of pastoralism was, by and large, unaffected by the absorption; the Pokot and the Turkana, thus, remained largely social formations of peripheral capitalism.  However, the subjugation through coercive appropriation of the northwestern highlands as part of British East Africa and later, Kenya, differentially affected Pokots and Turkanas with regards to their conflict over livestock, grazing land and water.

Entrenchment of Colonial Rule

To establish hegemonic control over the Pokot and Turkana people, the British employed various strategies and tactics including the ones specified below.  The first strategy was the criminalization of Pokot-Turkana cattle raiding.  Before criminalization, Hobley, a one-time District Commissioner in western Kenya in the early part of the twentieth century, expressed a view about the same, subscribed to by other British officials thus: “It is necessary at all costs to repress the pernicious system of inter-tribal raiding, the curse of this district [Turkana] for so many centuries….Until inter-tribal fighting and raiding ceases, all real progress is impossible” (Matson, 1972, p.218; Mazrui, 1977, p. 252; Ellis, 1976, p. 557; Davidson,1968, p. 182). The second strategy was to get the Pokot to acquiesce to colonial rule.  In most of pre-colonial period occurrence of Pokot-Turkana violent conflict, the Turkana were the aggressors (Gulliver, 1955).  In light of this, some sections of the Pokot regarded the arrival of the Europeans as an undisguised piece of good fortune, so to speak, and sought actively to build an alliance with them; accommodation of the colonial forces was far more viable an option than resistance to them (Lonsdale, 1977).  The third strategy was to essentialize the notion of tribe with particular reference to Pokot and Turkana: what Pokot were, Turkana were not.  The Turkana were dreadful, recalcitrant, aggressive, expansive, belligerent, hostile, audacious, irreconcilable, truculent, and the like (Schneider, 1957; Leff, 2009; Gulliver, 1951; Lamphear, 1992; Thomas, 1966; Berman and Lonsdale 1992).  Of course, none of these behavioural characteristics the British attributed to the Turkana obtained amongst the Pokot! This categorisation had to do with social perception.  Perceptions have a major influence on behaviour: the perceivers form impressions of other people, and adopt hypotheses about the kind of people the others are.  In this vein, the British knowledge and expectations about Turkana were much determined by impressions they formed of the Turkana.  “The British [held] Eturkana and its people in low esteem”, (Lamphear, 1992, p.88) which, in turn, determined how the British behaved towards them.  Fourthly, the colonial State coercively appropriated highland areas of Pokot territory for European plantation cash farming and ranching.  The farms were allocated to Boers and English speaking Europeans.  This in effect decreased part of traditional Pokot grazing territory and forced domicile adaptations among the Pokots.  In addition, it sandwiched the Pokots between the settlers and the Turkanas.  Both effects, consequently, increased the probability of violent conflict over cattle and grazing land. The conflict usually elicited punitive reprisals by King’s African Rifles (KAR) and/or police garrisons against the Turkanas and not the Pokots.  This is because Pokots were generally subservient to the colonial government and its forces – KAR, police, levies, and auxiliaries. The Pokot also acted as a buffer zone between the British settlers and the Turkanas. 

Fifth, the colonial State facilitated movement of some of the Pokot into Uganda, to an area that was part of Karamojong territory in a bid to ease pressure caused by the alienation of their land. However, contrary to the expectation of government agents and settlers, it did not ease pressure on Pokots since the Pokots were sandwiched between the settlers and Turkanas.  The movement simply increased the chances of occurrence of violent conflict between the Pokot and the Turkana, Pokot and Karamojong, and between the Turkana and Karamojong.  Sixth, the colonial government garrisoned trouble areas of Turkana territory and subjected mobility of the people in the south to surveillance by garrisons of KAR and police, levies and auxiliaries included. Seventh, the military measures that were designed to exert absolute control over the entire Turkana territory rendered the Turkana incapable of raiding their enemies’ (the Pokots) herds with impunity.  However, this was achieved only after decades during which the Turkana were subjected to punitive reprisals by State agents and forces, namely the KAR, police, levies, and auxiliaries, for real and/or alleged raiding of Pokots.  Instead of being cowed into submission, the Turkana determinately resisted British military measures to subjugate and rule them.  Indeed, initial active resistance to British conquest and imposition of colonial rule in Kenya lasted longest in Turkana-land (Davidson, 1968; Curtin et al., 1955; Anderson, 2005).

Colonial Pacification of the Turkanas

From the perspective of the British, Turkana resistance in the form of raids was dangerous on two grounds.  First, the British saw Turkana raids against Pokot and other hostile neighbours as having a thwarting effect on British colonial ambitions throughout the North Rift (Featherston, 1973; Berman and Lonsdale, 1992).  Second, the British feared that Turkana ‘expansion’, particularly southwards, would threaten the still fragile frontier between indigenous people and highland European settlers to the disadvantage of the latter (Gulliver, 1951).  The foregoing were perceptions that resonated quite well with the negative British image of Turkana, which they began to build up from their earliest contact with the Turkana, as a ‘trumpet’ people or social formation with whom conflict would be likely (Mazrui, 1977; Dietz, 1983).  The image propagated by the British of the Turkana actually became a self-fulfilling prophecy. This negative image of the Turkana precipitated aggressive violent behaviour towards the Turkana by the British that appeared to validate the colonial government’s image of the Turkana.  The British, thus, engaged in self-initiated violent conflict behaviour with the Turkana.  Subjection of Turkanas to relentless unpredictable raids became the mainstay of the British in their bid to get the Turkanas to submit to colonial rule.  The British embarked on raiding or “pacification” as the British themselves called it, of the Turkana, with a view of impressing upon the Turkana that any raids by them on the Pokot and other ethnically defined groups whom the colonial government had undertaken to protect would be punished by immediate reprisals undertaken by KAR/Police, garrisons Levies and/or auxiliaries included (Barber, 1965).  Raiding between ethnically defined groups was something the KAR simply would not tolerate and those who did so were liable to severe punishment; the Turkana were prone to punishment more so than other such groups.  The primary interest of the colonial forces was not to stop raiding and counter-raiding between the Pokot and Turkana nor fostering social progress in areas of the North Rift inhabited by these communities.  The immediate concern was the progression and stability of their British settler program in Kenya.  Effective colonial rule, of necessity, entailed subjecting the Pokot and Turkana to the violence of its fire-power in order to protect British settler community interests as well as bring about law and order.  The British control of Turkana-land was also partially influenced by the need to thwart any Ethiopian incursions into northern Kenya, which if allowed to happen would negatively impact on its imperialist political economic policy in Eastern Africa (Barber, 1968; Mburu, 2007).

The Pokot, for the most part, acquiesced to colonial rule, in the early stages of colonial rule, primarily as a self-preservation strategy against Turkana attacks.  Their acquiescence to British rule also averted subjugation to the violence of colonial firepower.  At the same time, the Pokots continued the raids on the Turkana since they knew that the colonial government was unlikely to subjugate them to the violence of its firepower.  Unlike pre-colonial Pokot-Turkana conflict, in the form of raids, which was predictable, the conflict between the Turkana on the one hand and the colonial government, the Pokot, and the settlers on the other hand, did not lend itself to easy prediction.  The conflict could be triggered off any time by any of five contingencies.  First, actual Turkana intrusion into Pokot grazing territory/area as explained earlier in terms of territorial imperative. Second, Pokots exaggerating to government authorities the seriousness of damage inflicted on them by Turkana raiding, third, Pokot lying to government authorities that Turkana were planning to attack, which prompted the sending of the KAR askari or police for a supposedly pre-emptive strike against the Turkana. Fourth, a rash speech (harangue) by a British official (commissioner or garrison commander); in some cases, the speech was the immediate prologue to quick and heavy-handed reprisal against the Turkana by KAR/Police garrison. Lastly, the violence on the Turkana could be used as a species or form of sport for the British.  The fifth contingency was, in particular, unrelated to the possibility of the Turkana thwarting British colonial ambitions in the North Rift, raiding of the Pokot, and Turkana posing a threat to settler community interests.  It was psychological, not environmental, and constituted a totally unprovoked violent aggression against the Turkana. That unprovoked violence was practiced against the Turkana as a sporting activity is borne out by the words of Eric von Otter, an administrator in Turkana District in the 1910s (Lamphear,1992):

The Turkana…considered the government as the biggest raiders of them all…I do not doubt that on very many occasions the innocent were punished…orders show that natives were fired on at sight and the Turkana referred to themselves on more than one occasion as wild animals hunted through the bush by the government ( p. 198).

By the end of the first quarter of the Twentieth Century, the Turkana were weakened to an extent that could not undertake significant raiding on the Pokot and, of course, they could not pose any major threat to British settlers and/or their interests.  In the course of colonial rule, the previous occurrences of Pokot-Turkana violent conflict (with the Turkana typically as the aggressors) in the form of raids/counter–raids decreased. Colonial rule did not obviate the possibility of occurrences of Pokot-Turkana conflict; rather, colonial rule largely decreased the chances of raiding/counterraiding occurring especially during the last four or so decades of colonial rule.  Thus, while violent conflict between the Pokot and the Turkana on account of livestock, and access to grazing and water territory did not end totally during British Colonial rule, it was, in a sense, suspended.  Up to the time of independence in 1963, the British policy in Turkana-land gradually developed into one of isolating the Turkana from practically all exterior influence through continued subjugation and a closed area policy to outsiders (Good, 2007; Pavitt, 1997).  In terms of behavioural psychology, in the traditional political science sense of behaviouralism, which is concerned with political behaviour, participation, non-participation attitudes and public opinion, the suspension was not a manifestation of suppression of the urge to engage in raiding behaviour.Rather, it was a period during which Pokot and Turkana warriors sublimated raiding behaviour energy and directed the energy into activities that were conflict-free and socially beneficial to their respective communities.  The reason for saying that occurrences of raiding/counter-raiding were largely suspended is that the occurrences resurged and escalated in the aftermath of the demise of the colonial State.  Since then, it has become a challenge to the post-colonial State’s successive regimes in terms of their capacity to end raiding and counter-raiding.  The colonial State was able to reduce the frequency of occurrence of Pokot-Turkana violent conflict through four strategies: heavy handed political violence, socially systemic fear, rifle disarmament, and undermining of their economic base.  As the colonial State evolved, the Turkana became the principal target of the strategies.  In general, the British policy attitude towards Kenyan pastoralists was that pastoralism (with uncivilized nomadic habits) was a brake on the development of the country, which was critical to colonial interests and it should be curbed (Spencer, 1983).

The British exploited the Pokot-Turkana inter-ethnic conflict to achieve their own strategic political and economic interests of which security was fundamental.  The economic resources of Kenya were valued by the domestic and imperial expansion policies of Britain.  Firstly, there was the need to provide long term security and development in the areas occupied by the ever increasing colonial white settlers in the fertile highlands of Kenya, located to the south and east of the Pokot homeland.  The threat of Turkana expansion southwards displacing the Pokots was seen as a danger to this goal (Good, 2007).  Secondly, there was a need to create a buffer zone against Ethiopian colonial incursions into Northern Kenya (Barber, 1968 in Kratli and Swift).  The control of Turkana-land and the subjugation of its people were seen as critical to this end; between 1898 and 1903, two Ethiopian armed expeditions had infiltrated Turkana-land (Good, 2007).  On a wider geo-political perspective, control of the Nile waters flowing from Uganda, “the pearl of Africa” to Egypt, another strategic British Colony, was an ever-present issue in British foreign policy.  Any threats to British hegemony in these countries and/or issues affecting the Nile’s water from other countries or arising from issues of ethnic conflicts were to be curbed rapidly.  It is clear from this overview of the interaction between the colonial government, the Pokots, and the Turkanas that issues of structural violence appear to have permeated their relationships.  Structural violence seems to underlie the manifest violence behaviour between the Turkana and the government as well as contributing to the persistent conflict between the Pokot and the Turkana. 

Post-colonial period 

After Kenya attained independence, governance, attitudes and approaches to issues of peace and social progress for the Pokots and the Turkanas changed little from the colonial policies (Nkinyangi 1983; Spencer, 1983; Dolan, 2006; Mkutu, 2008; Gifford, 2009).  Structural violence, particularly in the form of marginalization, continued to be the order of the day.  According to Nkinyangi (1983, p. 186), pastoralist peoples continued “to exist at the periphery of the Kenyan society, impoverished, dominated, and underprivileged in all spheres of life”.  The socio-political-economic under-development predicament of the Pokot and Turkana pastoralists and their persistent violent conflict dynamics persisted into the first decade of the Twenty-first Century, (Tibaldo, 2006).  Undoubtedly, fully armed and roaming warriors were an affront and threat to the State itself, (Tibaldo, 2006).  Writing about Pokot, Turkana and adjacent semi-arid districts Mkutu (2008:123) maintains that, “the marginalization, brutalization and dehumanization of the districts by the colonial State have been sustained by the post-colonial regimes to a greater extent than other areas of Kenya”.  Peace, in the sense of an absence of incidents involving direct physical armed violence between the two communities, rarely lasts longer than a month (Mkutu, 2008, Eaton, 2009).  In February 2012, the government administrator in charge of Turkana East District stated that he had put Kenyan security forces on high alert due to incidents of the Pokot both raiding the Turkana and attacks on the State security forces in the area (Ng’asike, 2013).  Even the respect for cultural customary law and its associated traditional conflict management mechanisms by the state continued to diminish (Mkutu, 2004).  Under three different leaders – Jomo Kenyatta (1963-78), Daniel Moi (1978-2002) and Mwai Kibaki (2002-12) – respectively, the State continued the British policy of appointing chiefs.  These government-appointed and imposed chiefs were alien to the aspirations and community leadership structures of the Pokot and Turkana communities (Dolan, 2006).  He maintains that these chiefs were aided and abetted by corrupt administrations primarily concerned with promoting interests of the government and those of the ruling party (KANU), which entailed terrifying the Pokot and Turkana into submission.  According to Dolan, the main aim of the government and KANU, up to 2003, was to contain, ignore and use the pastoralists for political expediency.  This policy continued to weaken local inter-ethnic Track I conflict management effectiveness in the conflict environment under study.  The overall effect was that the indigenous structural basis for deciding on what are the best conflict management tools to apply was undermined and eroding.   

However, it is not factual to say that there was no substantive State policy shift, at least on paper, to addressing the difficulties of pastoralist communities.  The emergence in 1980 of the Arid Lands Resource Management Project reflected a policy modification towards some concern about the pastoralist communities’ situation and grievances (Grahn, 2005).  A more in-depth analysis of the inter-relationship of poverty, conflict, security and development planning was evident in National Poverty Eradication Plan, 1999-2015 (Office of the President, 1999).  While providing a framework for mainstreaming conflict management within development planning, there is no significant evidence of conflict transformation impacts in the Pokot-Turkana conflict environment to date.  Even establishment of District Peace and Development Committees (DPDC) (Grahn, 2005) in the late 1990s has yielded nothing of consequence towards ending the persistence of conflict between the Pokot and Turkanas.  DPDCs are made up of civil society actors such as elders, women’s organizations, NGOs, who join with State officials in a conflict management body.  The DPDCs, which were essentially State structures, somewhat recognized the value of traditional community based conflict management mechanisms by integrating elders into the committees.  However, the legal status of the structure remains ambiguous, lacking a legal framework and judicial weight despite recognition from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s (IGAD) department of Conflict Early Warning Network (CEWARN).  CEWARN is operational within the Karamojong cluster, of which the Pokot and Turkana are constituent groups, collecting information, which is processed at its relevant State institutions within each IGAD country and regional offices.  Conflict persists in spite of these initiatives.  While taxes continued to be collected and borders patrolled to various degrees during the post-colonial period, minimal development initiatives were undertaken for the Turkana people until the Church entities, particularly the Catholic Church arrived in the 1960s (Davis, 1978, Pavitt, 1997; Good, 2007).  

The Catholic Church’s entry into the Turkana and Pokot conflict environment provides close range and insightful recorded perspectives of the conflict and its dynamics.  The Turkana were considered more aggressive than the Pokot, yet they were always easy targets for the Pokot raiders, who were and still are, based on the slopes of the Cherangani hills and adjacent parts (Good, 2007). Good observes that Pokot tactics involve brief and bloody attacks to strike terror in their victims followed by a quick gateway into the hills where the captured cattle disappear into the narrow enclaves and valleys of the 10,000 ft. mountains.  Catholic Church records from the years 1966-71 outline the dangers that the Church and its personnel confronted whilst establishing medical clinics, building roads, initiating farm irrigation schemes in the conflict environment (Good, 2007).  O’Callaghan, a catholic priest working in the area during this period, recorded in his diary that in one skirmish, 68 Pokot and Turkana were killed and many more wounded (as cited in Good, 2007).  Subsequent raids became so frequent that development projects were provisionally abandoned; the ingenious Pokot removed all the bolts on clinic doors; “to [use them as] parts for home-made rifles for use in future raids” (O’Callaghan, as Cited in Good, 2007, p. 68).  Good further reports that throughout the 1970s and 80s, Catholic Church initiated farm irrigation schemes were persistently disrupted by recurrent violent conflict between the two communities.  The main objective of the manifest violent conflict was to raid and counter-raid livestock. 

Similar incidents of conflict and dynamics continued in the 1990s along the approximately 250-kilometre fault line of the conflict.  Kratli and Swift (1999) consider the number of incidents reported to represent only a fragment of the number of ongoing raids that occurred across a broad spectrum of time.  For instance, they provide details of Pokot-Turkana conflict in 1997/98 in areas near Kainuk and Katilu and further to the northwest in Lorengipi and Lokiriama areas, leaving numerous dead, and many more maimed and displaced.  Tension and events deteriorated so badly in April 1998 that government-armed security personnel were despatched, followed by the army to the West Pokot-Turkana customary border areas to prevent further bloody violence. The Catholic Church considers the conflict management policies and interventions of the State to be both too weak to deal with the conflict and not able to provide an alternative way of life to those involved (Diocese of Lodwar Pastoral Plan 2007-2012, 2007).  Conversely, the Catholic Church Justice and Peace Commission, despite their high ideals, have also been adjudged to be frequently lacking in the capacity and gravitas to be considered serious conflict management players due to ‘low level staff’ promoting the values of peace and justice (Dolan, 2007).

Grahn (2005) compares the dynamics of violent conflict, over time, between the two communities.  He maintains that  while traditional violent conflict before the colonial era involving groups of several hundred youths attacking homesteads and capturing herds of cattle using spears, bow and arrows, it gradually became more sophisticated and comples in terms of weaponry, decision making and strategies.  The emergence of the colonial State in Kenya brought the conflict into a more globalized system of governance, economics and armament.  Raiding and resource conflict management were considered no longer confined to the parameters of traditional ethnic and cultural imperatives.  From the 1960’s onwards the Pokots and Turkanas increasingly purchased guns and amunition to defend themselves due to the State’s inability to safeguard their livelihoods (Dolan, 2006).  Dolan claims that the conflict environment was dangerous for all except the brave and the Church missionaries.  Due to the presence so many unlicensed guns, traditional cattle raiding was gradually supplemented with more sinister justifications for cattle raiding such as predation based on external commercial factors in the State’s political economy (Eaton, 2008).  According to Hendrickson (1998) and Eaton (2008) raids are now carried out by increasingly well-armed professional bandits.  Unscrupulous businessmen, politicians and warlords who are connected to arms dealers and to abattoirs in major cities of Kenya aid these bandits.  Increasingly, the arms merchant, the commercial cattle trader and the warlord are one and the same person, sometimes including State functionaries and traditional leaders (Mkutu, 2004).  Osamba (2000) maintains that the warlord phenomenon first emerged in Pokot and Turkana areas of Kenya in the 1980s (as cited in Shikwati, 2004).  A 2003 report highlighted increasing manifest violence between the Pokot and Turkana (Pkalya et al., 2003).  The report emphasizes the increasing loss of human life, large scale displacement, disruption of socio-economic activities and livelihoods, environmental degradation, high levels of starvation, unprecedented dependence on food relief and increasing hatred between the communities. The report further notes that the conflict has not only occasioned the displacement of 30,361 people in West Pokot but is one of the conflicts with the highest frequencies of violence in Kenya.  Eaton (2008) describes the situation in 2008 as characterized by an unforgiving heavily armed people (often better equipped than Kenya security personnel), incessant cattle raids and counter attacks.  Such negative forces appear not interested in peace as their survival and prosperity depends on the persistence of the Pokot-Turkana conflict.  These destructive forces trigger the exit of livestock from the local Pokot and Turkana communities causing rapid livestock depletion, shortage and an escalation of conflict in the effort to replenish or inflict revenge.

The proliferation and development of sophisticated small arms such as, AK 47s, G3s in the conflict environment spiralled throughout the Twentieth Century (Hendrickson, 1998).  As mentioned in the previous chapter (see The Kenya State and Conflict Management, (2.4.1)), the Turkana possessed 66, 239 illegal weapons and the Pokot were holding 36, 937, as of 2003 (SRIC, 2003; Dolan, 2006).  The Kenya State has threatened disarmament of the Pokot and Turkana numerous times.   A joint Kenya-Uganda initiative in 1984 to collect guns from the two communities had no real impact and further alienated the pastoralists from the government. The Pokot and the Turkana have yet to be disarmed despite over twenty attempts (Gifford, 2009) and other threats (Mkutu, 2008) by the State to do so since 1978.  This situation did not reflect a situation of State strength in terms of the State having a monopoly on violence in its territories (Tibaldo, 2006).  These warnings and attempts at disarmament never attained the stated objective.  Only a token number of firearms were surrendered and/or confiscated.  These were easily replenished by the Pokots and Turkanas due to easy access to sources.  Disarmament policies seemed focused much more on State security than transforming the underlying marginalized livelihood conditions of the two communities (Gifford, 2009).   State and regional policies were symptom focused rather than addressing the underlying causes (Bevan, 2007).  Despite commitments from the President Kibaki led government (2002-2007) to provide security for pastoralist communities in Kenya, cattle raids and violence escalated in the North Rift up until 2008 (Mkutu, 2008).  The conflict continues to exist; the Pokot and the Turkana ethnic communities are still heavily armed and there has being minimal change in their social economic conditions (Eaton, 2009).  It seems reasonable to argue that the underlying causes of the conflict were yet to be identified and their structural underpinnings addressed.

The National Policy on Peacebuilding and Conflict Management, discussed in the previous chapter  (see The Kenya State and Conflict Management, (2.4.1)), was introduced to strengthen, coordinate, and integrate various conflict management initiatives in Kenya.  While discussing conflict management perspectives in general the policy document highlights some poignant issues.  The document recognised the State negligence in respect to policy guidelines for the co-ordination of approaches to peace building and conflict management.  It maintains that most actors engaged on ad hoc basis and with interventions that were reactionary in nature, at times exacerbated conflicts.  It recognized that sufficient resources have not been mobilised to avert latent conflict issues and enable rapid response when conflict occurs.  To what extent the policy analysis is relevant to the Pokot-Turkana conflict situation is still speculative and needing rigorous research.  Even so, the policy initiative is a positive historical conflict management development in Kenya.  It offers some analysis and vision for the possible transformation of the persistent conflict.  However, the ongoing persistence of the conflict raises questions about the State’s commitment to the policy and its recommendations. 

This historical perspective of the spatio-temporal context of the Pokot-Turkana conflict contributes to understanding the nature, dynamics and conflict management challenges of the conflict.  The interests, as mentioned earlier, underpinning colonial policy are explained in the framework of imperialistic geo-political-economic factors, driven by Britain’s domestic and foreign policies.  Structural violence at the international level and within Kenya permeated the policy.  During the post-colonial period the State’s interest and approaches to address the underlying causes and end the persistence of the conflict have been found woefully wanting. In the colonial and post-colonial periods, academic explanations on the causes of the conflict have emerged from the cultural, ethnic and environmental resource schools of thought.  The underlying causes of the conflict have never been subjected to rigorous empirical research and analysis either by the colonial or post-colonial State administration.  An application of rigorous research from a structural violence theoretical standpoint to explain the underlying causes for the persistence of the conflict is not evident from the history.  Until this is done, other types of research, conjecture, and speculation seem to continue to inform State policy.  There is no evidence of traditional conflict management structures ever being officially validated by the State.  Instead, they were undermined by the State processes, exemplified particularly in the imposition of government appointed personnel to act as chiefs over the Pokot and Turkana communities.  State conflict management strategies and actors are very limited in their theoretical basis on what was needed to research and manage the conflict.  Disarmament on its own, as an approach and philosophy of conflict management reflects an extremely inadequate understanding of the causes, complexity and dynamics of the conflict.  Disarmament was merely symptom oriented. Questions have also to be raised about the conflict management interventions and programs of the Catholic Church. Mwagiru’s (2007) critique of the conflict management activities of the Church in Africa, without dismissing altruistic intentions and projects, seem very appropriate.  Its interventions are negatively criticised on grounds of: poor theoretical basis, lack of technical mastery, limited appreciation of history, and a lack of a systematic comprehensive policy that should include holistic transformation of the conflict to positive peace. 

It is evident that the geo-political management of the conflict from the 19th century to date has evolved and transformed.  There are numerous factors and variables which have impacted on the conflict, such as, cultural change, political governance, conflict dynamics, management approaches, social and economic changes, modernization, commercialization, development, and globalization (Grahn, 2005).  The conflict has evolved from conflict in an inter-ethnic context up to 1895 where it was impacted by the imperialism of British colonialism, up until Kenya attained independence in 1963.  The conflict between the two ethnic communities still persists.  Even the conflict management interventions of other third parties, such as the Catholic Church, have not had any enduring success.  Compared with the non-violent coexistence experienced between many ethnic communities in Kenya, the persistence of the conflict is ultimately a negative judgement on the part of the State in fulfilling its primary duty to provide peace and social progress to all its citizens, without discrimination.  Overall, there seems to be a detrimental lack of any attempt to situate the conflict in a diachronic purview, that is vital in order to not only discern the facts which make up the conflicts reality but also to comprehend the dynamics of historical forces underpinning the facts.  History is indeed a vision of the past.  It provides a basis to critique the effectiveness of the conflict management approaches and activities applied by the ethnic communities, the State and the Catholic Church.  The history of the conflict reveals disparities concerning the political, economic and social goals of all the parties to the conflict. The reasons for the persistence of the conflict were clarified by the research; see the two website links below,  ( (

* This document is copyright to The University of Nairobi & Shalom-SCCRR and cannot be reproduced without permission. Quotations from it should be acknowledged to The University of Nairobi & Shalom-SCCRR.


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Shalom Center

Shalom Center

Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation - contact Fr. Oliver Noonan for more information.

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