By David Njagi
The promise of a new look Isiolo as a resort city is causing more pain than joy as thousands of families find themselves without homes, food and shelter due to repeated clashes.
Security officers say the armed attacks which are often retaliatory are being flared by the Turkana and Borana communities as each seeks to dominate the treasures that the proposed Isiolo county is said to hold.
Among the resources thought to be making the region attractive to unscrupulous power brokers include establishment of a resort city, a new airport, diverse wildlife as well as the possibility of the region holding huge reserves of natural gas and oil.
The construction of the Lamu Port Southern Sudan Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) transport corridor, which will link Kenya’s coast to its northern neighbours through Isiolo has also attracted land speculators who are reportedly caused a raise in land prices.
A report by the Consolata Missionaries Justice and Peace Commission (CMJPC) indicates that the clashes began in October last year but lack of security intervention has presently paralyzed movement along the North Eastern trade corridor.
According to Fr, Nicholas Makau, the author of the report, tourism could suffer a heavy toll as assailants have reportedly also been targeting visitors to the region.
“People desperate to make a living in northern Kenya have been benefiting through tourism,” says Fr. Makau. “The conflict is a severe blow to their fragile enterprises.”
Big tour operators could suffer too. Due to poor infrastructure, explains Fr. Makau, tourists rely on established operators to guide them along but the recent flare ups have kept them away.
The CMJPC report, which is the latest indicates that recent clashes have left about 30 people dead and thousands displaced.
“It has returned the development stride to the scratch as property was reduced to ashes and potential income generating people maimed and incapacitated,” says the report.
Civil leaders have also hinted that the clashes are politically linked to power brokers keen to position their proxies for the new governor and senator county seats.
“Tensions emerge every time we are approaching a general election,” says Steven Ali, an official with the Pastoralist Community Development Organization (PCDO). “This time the conflicts have been heightened by the struggle to control resources.”
The report quotes security officials heaping blame on the local communities where pressure over land and chiefdom dominance is linked to the conflict.
For instance, it claims, security officers say the land in dispute is trust land and no one can claim ownership
“There is pressure over grazing land,” says the report. “Boranas are herders, while Turkanas are adopting agriculture.”