By David Njagi
His occasional trips from Marsabit to Isiolo have always left him scarred from bandit attacks, but Steven Ali is lately figuring out how to rally the Upper Eastern communities against conflict.
Recently, he was on transit from North Horr, when the vehicle he was travelling by was attacked by a gun wielding gang leaving one passenger injured.
“We ducked to the floor of the bus,” recalls Ali. “This saved us but the vehicle was damaged by the bullets.”
Like Ali, many communities living in this part of Kenya have found themselves in a web of conflict that none seems to understand its cause.
Some say it is politically instigated, others say it is fuelled by struggle for resources, yet others think it has to do with the possibility of an oil find in North Horr.
But what is clear is that the tension is breaking up homes, with women and children being the most affected.
For Halima Halake, who sells Khat in Isiolo town, it is better to stay within the town than to travel to her village in Muguru na Nyori, only 30 kilometers away.
“The bandits are operating within a two kilometers radius outside the town,” says the 32-year-old mother of four. “I wait until it is safe to go and see my children in the village. Sometimes I wait for weeks.”
The previous day, a teacher had been ambushed at his home and killed amid heavy military and security presence in the town, she recalls.
A local leader in the region suggested that the clashes have been stirred by the Borana tribe, which is looking to dominate other tribes once the new Isiolo County is in place.
“When we are near a general election violence always erupts here,” says former councilor Abduba Adho. “There is nothing we can do until the elections are held. That is when there will be calm.”
However, there are some who are trying.
The Pastoralist Community Development Organization (PCDO) has started peace building activities that officials say may reduce tensions among the warring tribes.
“Those that have been identified include educating the people about the need for peaceful sharing of resources such as water,” explains Ali, who is also the chief executive officer at PCDO.
Communities are also being encouraged to plant trees and practice dry land farming, he says.
The International Small Group Tree Planting Programme (TIST) says such an activity can serve to bridge the peace gap.
According to Dr. Dorothy Naitore an officer with TIST the most viable projects that can suit the region include water harvesting, fencing existing water points as well as the planting of pioneer trees, such as the Neem tree.
“Building extensions at water points could prevent over consumption hence reduce tensions over the resource,” explains Dr. Naitore.