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Voices from Mandera: Stories of hope and peace from the Mandera County in Kenya

April 7, 2022
Est. Reading: 5 minutes

The people in the Mandera County in Kenya have experienced their fair share of conflict and violence in the past decade. Nestled in Kenya’s north-eastern corner, bordering Somalia and Ethiopia, the county has been plagued by killing, livestock raids, cross border attacks and retaliation, played out among large pastoralist clans.

In this region, villages are scattered across land divided by ethnic groupings and  some designated  colonial borders, seemingly arbitrary lines across which people and animals regularly roam in search of grazing pastures. Histories of violence blanket the region whose nomadic practice have always disregarded borders that obstruct their wandering way of life.

Exacerbated by the scarcity of resources and the neglect to improve public services and infrastructure, inter-clan violence plagued the county, further reinforcing the vicious cycle of suffering and instability. In particular, the conflict between the Garre and Degodia clans of 2010-2015 has since led to the displacement of more than 18,000 households and the deaths of more than 70 people. Pockets of internally displaced persons still live in the county awaiting resettlement.

However, in 2020, leaders from Garre and Degodia clans committed to end hostilities, enshrined in the signature of the Banissa peace declaration which led to the immediate cessation of hostilities and reduction in criminal activities such as raids and property damage, which led to much lower levels of internal displacement.

Facilitated by Interpeace and its local partner the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), the declaration was the fruit of the dialogues of local leaders themselves which reflected a cross-clan desire for peace. Reinforced by the creation of the Ceasefire Monitoring Committees (CMCs), the declaration is still in effect and is being respected, but the efforts towards reconciliation and strengthening social cohesion continue to this day.

Creating lasting peace in the region does not end with the signature of one agreement. Interclan conflicts still plague the region, yet the work of Interpeace and its partners continue, building on what has been learned in the years of community engagement and consultations in the county.

Resolving resource disputes between the Degodia and Garre clans – inspiration for other models

Between 2010 and 2020, movement of people and livestock between the villages of Domal-Choroqo, Banisa-Guba , Malkamari-Eymole, Boqonsar-Handrak, Malkaruqa-Ardagarbicha was heavily restricted due to fear of attacks and theft. Inhabited by the opposing Garre and Degodia clans, members of these villages have for years battled over the scarce resources of the area – issues of land ownership as well as grazing rights were exacerbated by political conflict. These 5 villages are located in the buffer zones of the two clans and have suffered most from the effects of the vicious cycles of violence.

Interpeace and its partner NCIC mobilized community members to participate in dialogue meetings, acting as mediators among elders, local administrators, youth and women from the 5 villages. Interpeace and NCIC created inter-village dialogue spaces, where members from different sides of the conflict came together to develop solutions to preventing and mitigating inter-clan escalations.  Taking up the role of mediators, Interpeace and NCIC held dialogues among the different constituencies, recognising that these villages, while at the buffer zone that delineates clan divides, are also the frontliners to ensure peace and dialogue between the clans.

In March 2020, 5 intervillage pacts were agreed by members of the Garre and Degodia clans,  including the sharing of water and pasture between the towns. Since the signature of the pacts, the clans agreed to share their resources and resolve disputes peacefully.

The intervillage dialogues carried out in this conflict has been the model Interpeace and NCIC have been using to provide peaceful approaches to long-standing interclan conflicts in Mandera and the North Rift of Kenya. This dialogue model has also spread to Ethiopia, opening up relations across the Kenyan-Ethiopian border which has led to safe cross border movement of people, trade and livestock in search of water and pasture.

Dialogue and reconciliation between the Murulle and Garre clans

In addition to conflicts that arrive from resource disputes, Mandera also experiences conflicts that arise from border disputes among different clans and villages. One such case was seen between the Murulle and Garre clans, located close to Somalia,  whose inter-clan border disputes continued to ensue despite accords that were not respected by both sides in the past decade. Ceasefire attempts have been made since 2000, but the conflict has continued to escalate which has led to death and destruction to both clans for the past two decades.

Interpeace,NCIC and the Mandera county government first examined the reasons behind the violence despite previous accords, and after consultations with members from both clans, it was clear that the deadlocks were caused by lack of representation and influence of both clans in the mediation process. Preceding peace processes provided very little roles for both clans in the judgement and creation of the accords, which has led to the communities to return to violent solutions to resource disputes.

On the request of the conflicting communities,  Interpeace and NCIC brought an external arbiter whom the two clans trusted. other  intergovernmental agencies – the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Land, Survey of Kenya, National Land Commission (NLC), National Steering Committee on Peacebuilding (NSC) and the Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission were brought on board– to the negotiation table to arrive at a sustainable solution to this deadly stalemate. The process led to two clear verdicts, co-designed and agreed upon by the conflicting groups: (1) the immediate cessation of hostilities and directives for reparation to be led by the local peace infrastructure and (2) that the border dispute will fall under the government who will delineate the disputed territory.

On February 8 2021, the political class, elders, religious leaders, civil society members and members of security team witnessed the signing of the Sheikh Umal II peace accord between the Murulle and Garre clans at the County headquarters’ hall.

The accord led to compensation of destroyed and vandalized properties during the conflict. It was also during this accord that the government was tasked with delimitation of the contested boundary to bring permanent solution to the conflict, which has also opened opportunities for collaboration and restoring trust between the clans and the local government. The process of intergovernmental agencies to demarcate the border is ongoing.

Interpeace would like to thank the Government of Germany, the United Kingdom, the European Union in Kenya, and the Swiss Embassy in Kenya for their support in creating spaces for peace in Mandera County and other Interpeace programme areas in Kenya. Interpeace is also grateful to its local partners, NCIC, the Mandera County, as well as the Frontiers Counties Development Council ( FCDC) for their crucial contributions to these community-led peace efforts.