Approaches to fostering peace in the North Rift Region of Kenya
April 14, 2023
There has been a rise in theft of livestock, killings, and violent crime in the North Rift region. In response, the government has implemented a heavy-handed police-led operation and a dusk-to-dawn curfew jointly with the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), effective 14 February 2022. These measures, which target parts of Turkana, Samburu, Baringo, Elgeyo Marakwet, West Pokot, and Laikipia counties, are intended to restore a level of safety and stability. The curfew may help to establish a sense of normalcy for a few months and even assist in the retrieval of illegal firearms, but the situation in the North Rift region requires a more comprehensive and strategic approach that involves all stakeholders. Indeed, incidents of violence have been on the rise since the establishment of the security operation.
The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC)/Interpeace Kenya Peacebuilding Programme has been facilitating community peace dialogues across the North Rift region counties of Baringo, Samburu, Turkana, Elgeyo Marakwet, and West Pokot since 2019. This has resulted in several peace agreements between communities with long-standing grievances – bringing about periods of relative peace and stability in parts of the North Rift that saw the reopening of schools and roads, as well as increased interactions between groups. While the current surge in violence mainly takes the form of commercialised livestock raids and (counter-)attacks between armed groups and the government, it has undermined these peace gains and risks further derailing peace processes between communities.
The underlying causes of insecurity in the North Rift are multifaceted and interconnected, rooted in a long history of marginalisation and violence that has engendered a deep-seated mistrust of the government and a belief that communities must take responsibility for their own security. This lack of trust is also reflected in the relationships between communities, which have been characterised by violent clashes for a long time. Revenge attacks are often linked to livestock raids, which have evolved from a cultural practise to a primarily commercial activity. Youth are particularly vulnerable to engaging in these raids due to a lack of economic opportunities. Climate change further exacerbates this dynamic, as it reduces the viability of pastoral livelihoods and lifestyles and can trigger violent encounters as communities with deep-seated grievances compete for increasingly scarce water points and pasture areas. This situation is further exacerbated by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, which are easily accessible due to porous borders and years of armed conflict in neighbouring countries.
The Kenya Country Representative of the Interpeace Peacebuilding Programme provides invaluable insights and recommendations to assist all stakeholders working with the government in resolving conflict in the North Rift.
Given the numerous challenges, the hard security approach announced by the government is unlikely to be successful in the long term. While it may provide temporary stabilisation, disarmament exercises will be doomed to fail if the underlying motivations for owning weapons, such as community safety and livelihoods, are not addressed. Excessive use of force could further exacerbate underlying conflict drivers and entrench resentment against the government. Therefore, the security operation should prioritise trust-building with communities and an effective response to early warning information. Additionally, these efforts should be part of a comprehensive approach that is enacted through partnerships across silos and focuses on the economic development of the North Rift, the reduction of communities’ vulnerability to climate change, and the deepening of trust-building and peace processes between communities.