While Kenya’s 46 other counties are preparing for the next ballot, through consensus building for some and negotiated democracy for others, Marsabit residents are caught in a snare, not knowing where the next bullet will be fired from and whose life it will snuff out. This has been their reality for the last four years.
All is not well at Marsabit; we have thrown the sanctity of human life to the dogs and turned Marsabit Central, our only oasis in the desert, into a hell on earth. Sixty lives have been lost in the Saku constituency alone in the last four months. But this figure is not conclusive since the killings are not systematically reported and revenge attacks are swift.
The changing dynamics of this conflict are evident; targeted daylight assassinations in Marsabit town have introduced a new and dangerous twist to the tribal hostility between the Boran and Gabra, once close cousins now arch-enemies.
It is claimed that the assassins use either a motorbike or a saloon car to carry out attacks targeting influential people in the rival community. This has led to a four-month ban on boda boda within Marsabit town, exacerbating youth unemployment and resulting in the economic decline of families whose source of livelihood revolves exclusively around the boda boda business.
The result is that Marsabit town has become a ghost town; businesses have collapsed, and some people have abandoned their homes and fled to other towns to seek refuge. Most affluent families have temporarily relocated to Isiolo, Nanyuki, and Meru, leaving behind the poor—those with no means of escape—to continue butchering each other.
These constant attacks and counterattacks have reduced Marsabit to an empty shell of its former self. Yet I believe that it cannot be that we lack the ability and the goodwill to engage in constructive conversations. At this juncture, let me share an interesting story I came across on social media:
If you can catch about 100 red fire ants that live mostly in the desert and also about 100 of those large black ants and drop them in the same jar, not much will happen– until you shake the jar vigorously and dump them out on the ground. The red ants will attack the black ants and the black ants will attack the red ants and they`ll devastate each other. The thing is, the red ants think the enemy is the black ants and the black ants think the enemy is the red ants and all those ants put together never figure out that the real enemy is the guy who shook the jar. (Anonymous)
It is difficult to prove or disprove this tale. However, I am interested in using it, like one of Aesop’s fables, to dig deeper into the moral of the story in the context of our situation as Marsabit residents.
The centre of interest in this tale is the “outside force” that shook the jar. The ants lived in harmony until that outside force set them against each other. The same hand of disruption must be at play in the Marsabit conflict; we had been going about our daily lives in perfect harmony until someone shook our jar and destroyed our peace and stability. Therefore, the onus is on each one of us to dig deep and unearth the faces behind those shaking our jar and denying us peace.
Of all the factors contributing to the insecurity in Marsabit, the one that stands out is the unhealthy fight for political supremacy that is used as a wedge to pull us apart, yet politics is just a small part of who we are. We were like those ants in the jar, existing side by side and often interacting without boundaries as far as our relationships are concerned until someone somewhere disrupted this serene coexistence.
We had been going about our daily lives in perfect harmony until someone shook our jar and destroyed our peace and stability.
To illustrate this point further, look at the cordial relationship enjoyed by the Borana and Gabra just two decades ago, a relationship in which the two communities lived in harmony, intermarrying and sharing resources, including grazing rights and even certain aspects of each other’s culture.
Who shook our jar and turned us against each other so successfully that we no longer see eye to eye today? Our past relationships and blood ties are no longer binding. The animosity and hostility between us is at an all-time high. We have turned into each other’s nemesis overnight, baying for and shedding each other’s blood every day.
Who is this powerful, faceless individual who has set us apart and created a conflict that has led to massive loss of life, displacement of populations and destruction of property? The finger is often pointed at our elected leaders and politicians as the instigators of this ongoing conflict that is devastating Marsabit; and they are on record making accusations and counter-accusations and blaming each other through press releases.
We have turned into each other’s nemesis overnight, baying for and shedding each other’s blood every day.
Instead of addressing this runaway violence, our political leaders are now rushing to switch political parties for their political survival, committing betrayals that will likely aggravate the conflict during this election season in total disregard of the people’s suffering.
The political class and their supporters seem to benefit from this vicious cycle of conflict; at times they pretend to be in control of the chaos and able to pull us back from the abyss of our self-destruction. And while the incumbents are using the conflict as their main campaign tool for re-election, some of the new aspirants have not been left behind since they are presenting themselves as the antidote to what ails Marsabit while others act as warlords to shield their communities from aggression.
Indeed, the onus is on each one of us within our communities, as members of the civil society, as religious leaders, as the business community, and as professionals, to make the hard choice between continuing to enable these conflicts or choosing to hold the forces shaking our jar accountable to reverse the path of self-destruction in which we have placed ourselves.
Let us use this electioneering period to right some of the wrongs by choosing the right leaders whose manifestos revolve around promoting unity and peace among our diverse population instead of selecting those who present themselves as warlords. Let us also utilize this opportunity to weed out and send home those of our current leaders whom we believe to be part of the individuals shaking our jar and thus trading with our lives.
Let us also utilize this opportunity to weed out and send home those of our current leaders whom we believe to be part of the individuals shaking our jar and thus trading with our lives.
Let us embrace honesty and open engagement to return the warring communities to peaceful coexistence. Let us jumpstart a process of sincere reconciliation anchored on justice. True justice demands that perpetrators of violence be brought to book and held liable for their actions regardless of their status in society. Moreover, for justice to prevail, those who have lost their loved ones, their homes, and their livestock must be compensated. And although peacebuilding is a complex process, a lasting peace can be achieved if we are willing to act.