The pastoralist communities in Kenya comprise of four regions namely North Rift, South Rift, North Eastern and Upper Eastern. Majorly they live in arid and semi arides parts of the country which has sparse population density, majority of whom are poor pastoralists. Some of these pastoralist communities depend on relief food for long periods especially from North eastern and upper eastern parts. They are living in the rural areas, and a few small and scattered settlements, poor infrastructure, with only some parts of their Towns served with facilities like electricity, piped water and telephones. There is a significant lack of modern economic activities in all areas except the major towns. Compounding this underdevelopment, pastoralists have suffered clan-based conflict dating back to the start of the colonial Kenyan state. Conflict in parts of north and upper eastern is chronic and has a tendency of taking a cross-border dimension. Numerous cross-border raids and alliances, especially along the Wajir, Mandera, Tana delta, Isiolo, Pokot, and Turkana Borders complicate the conflict even further.
Permanent water sources are rare and the amount of water available from boreholes and springs is limited. Resources such as pasture and water sources are often at the center of conflict between these communities. The ever-increasing human population in the major towns, especially over the last few decades has put more pressure on natural resources. Availability of water and pasture fluctuates with seasons and differ between areas. Mobility as well as considered sharing of resources is a major and traditional coping strategy. Several challenges are the ever facing this traditional mobility. The new face of administration and constituencies boundaries which are results in shifting of boundaries have profound more implications on livelihood patterns of grazing movements between these communities. The creation of new districts, divisions, locations and sub- locations and the posting of administrative personnel are extremely sensitive and contested. Confusion and overlap between ethnic, community, administrative and electoral boundaries exacerbate competition, with communities laying claim over land that they believe will secure them political, economic or social advantage. The proliferation of constituency districts has brought with it unrealistic expectations and the view that new districts are exclusive homelands of specific clans.
The local administrative system in pastoralist communities is characterized by inadequate capacity and the declaration of new districts has only exacerbated the situation. Transport and communication is a major problem for the local security forces, in areas where the terrain is most challenging. Proliferation of small arms is a major problem in greater parts of pastoralist. This is attributed by failure of the state to protect pastoralist communities from invasion by Ethiopia and Somalia militia. Also attributed to the proximities of borders which have made it easy to acquire arms from the Ethiopian, Uganda and Somali communities across the border, coupled with the civil war in Somalia. These conflicts have had negative impacts on lives, livelihoods, trade and education of the communities. There has been unnecessary loss of life and many injuries, cases of rape and displacements. Factors that influence these conflicts include severe drought, boundary issues, access to pasture and water resources and identity politics.
A number of actors have been involved in ending conflict and restoring peace in these pastoralist communities. These include government, civil society organizations, community based organizations, local leaders (clan elders, religious elders) and local communities
Finding a lasting solution to the pastoralist conflicts requires commitment of all actors involved. The government will in particularly need to demonstrate more commitment in addressing the underlying causes of conflicts in these areas. Improving the socio-economic lifestyle situation in terms of infrastructure development, enhancing access to water points, pasture, improving livelihoods of these communities and resolving boundary related issues are particularly crucial. Involvement of the pastoralist communities in decision making especially in areas where their interest concerns should be a key consideration.
During drought seasons, at times a small misunderstanding between herders may lead to a major fight; clan ownership becomes an issue where new water point is developed, especially where it is located near a boundary between two clans. For instance a borehole in Alango borehole in Mandera is a case in point. Pasture availability, like availability of water, also fluctuates with seasons and differs between pastoralists areas. The pastoralists have developed and prefer to graze their animals in specific areas where the grasses are plenty and water is salty. As pasture becomes scarce over the dry season, the pastoralists have traditionally seen migrating with their herds from one area to another as a means of survival. For instance, the Pokot herders looking water and pasture in Marakwet as well as in Turkana areas, Borana and Gabra are fighting for pasture and water.
Failure by the local security forces to prevent escalation of clan based conflicts points to lack of or inadequacy of security intelligence system on the ground. Conflicts build up over time, and a working intelligence system should be able to detect them in good time. For example, ‘Proxy indicators’ may highlight preparation for conflict by a clan, for an effective militia cannot be organized secretly. Water will have to be ferried by those going to fight; youth and fighters mobilize for hostility. Conflicts are costly, and belligerents will make efforts to collect money. The price of bullets usually goes up before clashes, and goes down when conflict is dying down. The activities of tribal leaders may give away intentions. Yet the realities on the ground are constant administrative finger pointing; ‘The chiefs are also to blame – they do not give intelligence reports about the militias on time for prompt action by the police.The police accuse the clans, especially the religious elite, the traders, the intellectual and developmental elite who ‘sometimes work together and sometimes are divided along clan lines. The community members are accused of complicity with their militias to conceal information from the administration. Such a mental framework absolves the local security forces of responsibility for protecting lives, limbs and property, shifting the blame to the local communities, who they act as being responsible for the banditry, eventually justifying communal punishment.