The area where South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya converge is frequently referred to as the Ilemi Triangle. This is the geographical terrain where the Turkana community on the Kenyan side and the Dassannech community on the Ethiopian side interface with each other. The two communities are predominantly livestock herders and fishermen along Lake Turkana and the River Omo. These two communities have for a long time engaged in conflict characterised by rivalry at fishing points, competition over grazing lands and access to water points which have resulted in killing, maiming, displacement and the destruction of homes. SCCRR – Shalom is working with both communities to transform the long-standing grievances amongst them and to explore the means to which a peaceful resolution can be found. This work takes place in a background of one of the remotest places in East Africa, a harsh climate and significant insecurity.
In order to understand and create an intervention, Shalom was in the area to listen to the people’s story: their experience of the conflict, how they have been affected, to hear the emotional stories of the loss of family members and the loss of livelihoods resulting in abject poverty. Shalom-SCCRR was on the ground, visiting their villages, interacting and talking to people to understand the root cause and emerging issues of their conflicts as well as challenges they face in their day to day life. In the background, one is always conscious of insecurity (this is one of the most insecure regions Shalom works in) where it is difficult to engage locals due to their security concerns and suspicions (where they view an outsider as a spy and an enemy irrespective of where they come from). The Shalom-SCCRR team walked distances from village to village, sitting with the people in temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius in order to understand their hopes, fears for themselves and their families and listen to their suggestions for possible solutions.
This work of listening and collecting information is under the direction of Professor Omoka, Shalom’s Director of Research as knowing the root causes through empirical research to the highest academic standards is fundamental to any intervention seeking long-term conflict transformation. The initial findings by the Shalom team as they travelled from village to village are as follows:
Competition for Natural Resources: Competition for these resources mainly grazing points, fishing points along Lake Turkana as well as water points are so because natural resources are vital for the security and sustainability of human life in this region.
The Border: Even though the international borders are demarcated and security agents are manning each side, conflicting communities’ feel that they should be left to cross to either side freely to access these resources without constrains. Underpinning this, is the fact that the Ilemi Triangle itself is a disputed territory between Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan.
Community Identity and Cultural Rivalry: Most commonly among these communities, force is used more than dialogue, as such these communities are unwilling to listen to each other and hence don’t have forums to resolve their issues. Most of their concerns go unresolved and as they continue to be unresolved, the hatred increases and the urge for revenge becomes stronger. This may often be fuelled by political activists and conflict entrepreneurs in this region.
Marginalisation: The Turkana and Dassanech feel marginalised by their governments, being remote places along Kenya/Ethiopia borders, there is poor education, health services and human security. The failure of states to meet the fundamental human needs of their people puts survival pressures on people, even to the point where their existence is threatened. People live way below the United Nations set standards and some even go for more than two days without food. Schools in this region are in a sorry state and children travel long distances to get to a school, a risky venture due to wild animals like hyenas and snakes.
Shalom is working hand in hand with these communities listening to them and helping them to device a locally designed solution to their conflict. School projects have been identified and some have already been receiving support. Irrespective of all setbacks which includes insecurity, unwillingness of some people to engage in positive dialogue and solution seeking, the SCCRR team is committed to being on the ground, listening to the people, walking with the people in their search for a better and brighter future for all.
By: Austin Ngacha Macharia MA; Project Officer.