A journey from violence to dialogue in northern Kenya
February 23, 2021
The recurring dispute between the Garre and Murulle communities in Kenya’s Mandera County has disrupted social cohesion and community life for years. The two communities in northeast Kenya have experienced repeated cycle of violence resulting in the loss of life, damage to property and leaving their loved ones injured. Recently, both communities decided to talk to each other, instead of fighting, thereby transforming a violent situation into a peaceful process.
“I lost my brother because of the tension between the Garre and the Murulle. As a leader and member of the community, I stand here to witness this process and to advocate for peace,” said Hon. Abdullahi Siyad, Member of the County Assembly for Lafey Ward.
The Garre and Murulle communities lived together peacefully, sharing a common ancestral heritage, customs, religion, values and resources, until 1983 when a dispute over grazing land and water claimed several lives, destroyed property and disrupted social cohesion. In December 2004, violence broke out again after decades of ongoing tension. More than 100 people died, and thousands of others were displaced. An agreement known as the Umul Accord was reached to end the violence. However, failure to fully implement the Accord provided the way for fresh violence in 2008, forcing the Kenyan army to intervene.
In July 2020, renewed tension between the Garre and Murulle communities over ownership of Yado/Yatho – a village along the Kenya-Somalia border – led to an arson attack on 11 houses and a school in the disputed village by suspected Murulle militia.
With tensions escalating, Interpeace and its partner the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) intervened to facilitate a three-day dialogue in August 2020, in collaboration with Mandera County government to resolve the conflict. A committee of 20 members including representatives of both communities, County government officials and peace stakeholders were selected to discuss the causes of the conflict and recommend a peaceful resolution. The peace dialogue ended on 15 August 2020, with the signing of an accord known as the Granada I peace agreement.
However, the agreement did not immediately end the tension. Following sporadic and retaliatory attacks, the NCIC and Interpeace peacebuilding team facilitated public peace rallies in the towns of Elwak and Lafey, in October 2020. This was aimed at reducing the tension and commence a long-term peace process to address the underlying drivers of the conflict. These well-attended peace rallies were led by the Mandera County governor, together with the County commissioner and members of national parliament from the conflicting Garre and Murulle communities.
Deadly attacks in November 2020 prompted another dialogue at the beginning of December between the two communities to encourage a ceasefire over the Yado/Yatho conflict. The meeting ended with yet another peace agreement known as the Granada II peace agreement, and a commitment given by both communities through their leaders – Sultan Ali Nur Sheikh Ibrahim and Sultan Mohamud Khalif Ali – to implement the agreed resolutions.
The Granada II agreement strengthened the previous ceasefire arrangement and propelled the peace process into a critical stage where both parties in conflict agreed to have a third-party arbiter to resolve their decade-long dispute over the ownership of the Yado/Yatho village. Both communities agreed to invite an influential Nairobi-based cleric, Sheikh Mohamed Abdi Umal to arbitrate the conflict between the Garre and Murulle.
“The request by the two communities for an external arbiter to come in and help them reach a consensus towards resolving their historical disputes shows that indeed our peacebuilding programme in the region is bearing fruits,“ said Hassan Ismail, Interpeace Kenya Country Representative.
He added: “When we started our peacebuilding programme in the northeastern part of the country, communities were using mainly violence to solve their disputes. The communities are now starting to embrace dialogue, peace and cohesion as an alternative to violence. It is a move towards the right direction.”
Sheikh Abdi Umal had previously brokered the Umul Accord peace deal that put a stop to decades of deadly clashes between the two communities. Both the Murulle and Garre have committed to accepting the verdict of the arbitrator and his team, irrespective of which community it favours.
“The arbiters have listened to both parties. We consented to abide by the resolutions. We shall accept the decision and implement it whether it is bitter or sweet,” said Abdinassir Maalim Adan, a representative of the Murulle community.
They also invited the NCIC and Interpeace team to join the Mandera County government in facilitating the arbitration process. The agreement was a breakthrough in the peace process, and an important first step towards reducing and eventually ending violence.
“We and our brothers from the Murulle community have been given ample time to talk and find solutions to our differences. We are ready to accept the resolutions and work towards sustainable peace in the region,” explained Sultan Alinoor Ibrahim of the Garre community.
On 8 February 2021, the NCIC and Interpeace peacebuilding team partnered with the County government in organizing a meeting of all stakeholders to sign the resolutions of the arbitration between the Garre and the Murulle communities, committing themselves to the peace process.
“This is a good model of peace and reconciliation. I believe that it will serve as motivation for other communities and regions in the country. The journey has been indeed very long, as the process was encumbered in many ways. We want to thank Sheikh Umal for spearheading this process and all stakeholders, both local and national government, our partner Interpeace as well as NCIC,” said Dr. Samuel Kobia, Chairperson of the NCIC, adding that, “we shall work hand in hand to ensure that the just concluded process bears durable peace.”
The agreement was named the “Umal Accord II, 2021” and was signed, among others, by representatives of both parties in conflict, community elders, local and national government representatives, political leaders and the Chairperson of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission.
“We are currently drafting a matrix for implementation of the resolutions that will be discussed by the different stakeholders,” said Mr Ismail of Interpeace.