By Godfrey Okoth
It is 11.15am and the heat from the scorching sun begins to be felt on the ground. A mountain of dust can be seen from a distance as the heavy wind blows from East to West on the bare land surface. A crowd of jovial children, young men and beautifully dressed traditional Daasanach women slowly gather in the parish compound and all that is written on their face is happiness and optimism; a clear indication that all they are saying is “welcome our visitors, we love that you paid us such a crucial visit!” This was the reality when the Shalom team of Paulson Erot, Mary Koech and Godfrey Okoth arrived in Illeret town on a mission to enhance trust in the relationship between the Gabra and the Daasanach communities who have been historical enemies following attacks and counterattacks that have left thousands dead, numerous people injured and more so created deep seated hatred between the communities of Illeret, North Horr and Dukana areas in Marsabit County.
Situated in the North of Kenya about 1,200km from the capital Nairobi and on the Eastern shores of Lake Turkana at the Kenya-Ethiopian border, Illeret town is home to the Shiir tribe of the larger Daasanach community. The community’s population is estimated at 15,000 people living in an area of about 400km2. The border between them and their fiercest rivals the Gabra is believed to be (even though contested) in Bulluk and Darate areas near Sibiloi National Park which is about 90km south of Illeret and 160km North East of North Horr town which is home to the Gabra. Even though history of attacks and revenge attacks between the 2 communities seems to be top on the list of factors that explain the origin of this conflict, the politics of national identity coupled by contested ethnic boundaries and competition for the existing water and pasture resources also dominate explanations on the causes of the Gabra-Daasanach conflict.
The existing stalemate between the two communities which has always complicated the efforts towards peace was the greatest motivating factor for the stakeholders from both the communities to start a process that carries with it the hope of restoring the lost relationship. The meeting in Illeret was therefore a fruit of the efforts of the Catholic Diocese of Marsabit in collaboration with SCCRR to enhance the process of reconciliation. While reiterating the importance of this meeting Fr. John Ngugi of North Horr parish observed that it cannot be taken for granted that the Gabra and the Daasanach had come together and were talking to find a common solution to the problem of conflict. He further observes that the relationship between the communities has been bad and meetings between them are rare occurrences. Similar sentiments are echoed by the head teacher of Illeret Primary School Mrs Hildegard Adomeh who observes that even though there has been no major interethnic attack since 1997 when the Daasanach attacked a Gabra village killing several in a raid that was named the Kokoi massacre, there has been frantic efforts from both communities to ensure that they safeguard their territories including keeping the members of the rival ethnic community at bay; a situation which has not only entrenched the enmity but also led to even more revenge attacks and raids.
The deeply entrenched hatred and the protracted killing and counter killing between the Gabra and Daasanach calls for frantic efforts among peacebuilding stakeholders to move with speed to rally the communities together to earnestly seek for long lasting solutions to the conflict. Shalom has indeed taken centre stage by leading one of the major initiatives aimed at transforming this conflict. Having met the 2 communities for the second time (North Horr in February 2016 and Illeret in August 2016), SCCRR successfully mapped the conflict thus establishing among other things the key structural, proximate and trigger causes of the conflict between the Gabra and the Daasanach as well as the key stakeholders that should be brought on board for a successful conflict intervention. Through the good rapport that SCCRR has established with the two communities, the ground has been set for the commencement of interethnic activities that will boost greater collaboration and interaction between the two communities in seeking for lasting solutions to the conflict. The historic meeting between the two rivals for the second time now has led to the establishment of peace committees on both sides. Furthermore, each community through the peace committees has taken an initiative to go back to their respective communities to rally their fellow ethnic group members to embrace the spirit of dialogue and problem solving with their rivals. This is being done with the aim that the key leaders from the two communities can later come together to deliberate together with a view of implementing a grass root solution to the conflict between the Gabra and the Daasanach.
The enthusiasm about peace which has eluded the Gabra and the Daasanach for many years coupled by the massive support that SCCRR has received from the communities of North Horr, Illeret and Dukana, hope appears to be alive that one day, harmony will be the sole vocabulary that describes the relationship between the Gabra and the Daasanach.