Insecurity in Marsabit county: The unspoken truth

If the voters of Marsabit do not reject politicians who do not value human life, then they deserve their fate.

In Summary

• Politicians, business and religious leaders, elders, youth and women groups and professionals should give peace a chance.

• Elected leaders need to step up and reaffirm their genuine commitment to build a county of peace.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i hosted Marsabit Interfaith Delegation to discuss ways of brokering peace in the County on Wednesday 26, 2019
Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i hosted Marsabit Interfaith Delegation to discuss ways of brokering peace in the County on Wednesday 26, 2019

The pastoralist dry lands of northern Kenya have long been associated with marginalisation, inter-communal conflict and adverse human development indicators.

Some of the historical stress factors have been studied and documented, and these include climate change and environmental degradation; drought, famine and other natural catastrophes; resource and land related conflicts (some relating to administrative and electoral boundaries); the proliferation of small arms and light weapons; and human-wildlife conflicts aggravated by competing uses of land for private conservancies and wildlife conservation.

In Marsabit county, conflicts have become increasingly insidious and the ongoing violence involving the three major ethnic groups have steadily moved away from traditional resource-based tiffs to more sinister criminal acts fuelled by efforts to sustain long-term economic and political gain.


Sadly, the onset of devolution has also been accompanied by politically charged erosion of trust and intolerance amongst these groups.

The attacks and counterattacks have been both vicious and wanton.

Armed, ragtag militias maim and kill indiscriminately and disappear as evidenced by the recent horrific killings of the four young students who were sharing a boda boda ride to their homes in Songa, Saku constituency.

Every human life is sacred and special, but losing such young, educated youth with tremendous potential to this kind of evil violence is particularly heart-wrenching, and such cases are becoming way too frequent and almost normal.

The injured are hospitalised, the dead are buried, politicians issue the same hollow, platitudinous statements and the police promise investigations, and that is where it all ends.

No arrests, and if any, no successful prosecutions. Too many grieving families are left traumatised and permanently scarred, and with no real closure. And the cycle continues.

However, we all know what is going on and we must openly acknowledge all the contours of our new pain points.

I am appealing to all the leaders, elders, youth and professionals from Marsabit to face this issue with a renewed sense of urgency and seriousness.

If your moral compass is pointing in the right direction, you must speak up. You cannot and should no longer remain silent.

First, we need to frame the challenge and articulate it clearly, fervently and truthfully.

Visionless politics of ethnic supremacy, the politics around land and development projects, coupled with weak land tenure rights and the chronic failures of policing and justice have generated a perfect storm of militia activities under the guise of inter-communal violence.

Politicians and conflict financiers have used ethnicity and identity to mobilise and engage jobless, illiterate young people in violence to achieve ego-fuelled, personal political and economic goals.

This is the unspoken truth that is hiding in plain sight, but when peace meetings are called, all speakers use code words, phrases and innuendos to spin and sidestep the truth, declare fake ceasefire, pray for rain and peace, and disperse.

This graveyard of duplicitous interactions followed by inaction must stop.

Second, we have no choice but to discuss peace. Genuine peace.

The kind of peace that makes life in that county worth living, the kind that enables parents, families and communities to hope and build a better life for their children.

At the same time, I am not naïve. I know that the pursuit of genuine peace is not as sexy or emotionally dramatic as the pursuit of hate, division and animosity – and more often than not, the efforts of peace makers or peace mongers fall on deaf ears.

But given where we have reached, my brothers and sisters, we have no more urgent task.


Each of us should begin by looking inward and engaging in some self-evaluation, by examining our own attitude, thoughts and actions.

Ask yourself: is this where I want to raise a family; what role am I playing; am I part of the problem or the solution?

The fact of the matter is that conflict in Marsabit is local and man-made. Therefore, the solution can only come from us and it is not beyond us. Accepting death, suffering and pain is not an option anymore.

Third, let us talk about peace not just as a way out of conflict but as a way of solving problems.

Mobilise all genuine and trained peace champions (they have been sidelined) and kick start a process with a series of concrete actions and negotiated agreements which serve the interest of all concerned.

Genuine and lasting peace can only emerge if all the aggrieved parties are involved, including the parents and communities that have been impacted by the violence.

We may not erase all the bitterness or fill the void in the heart of each parent or family members who have lost loved ones, but we can begin the healing process and at least make the County a safe space for diversity, love and understanding to thrive.

For, at the end of the day, our irrefutable common link is that we shall continue to share the burdens and bounties of our only ancestral home – Marsabit county.

None of the communities that live in that county will leave and settle elsewhere.

They will continue to breathe the same air, share the same resources as they have always done, raise families, and hopefully live and die in peace – since we are all mortal, including the killers and their funders and enablers!

Fourth, peace and security are two sides of the same coin. It is the responsibility of the relevant agencies of the national government to guarantee all citizens – safety, security, freedom and equal protections under the law, as enshrined in the Constitution.

However, all the available anecdotal evidence points to some serious gaps in the capacity and willingness of the various security and administrative branches of the government to play this role fairly and effectively.

This failure must be addressed because any government that consistently fails to safeguard the security of its own citizens and their property has no legitimacy to govern.

Finally, politicians, business and religious leaders, elders, youth and women groups and professionals should give peace a chance.

Elected leaders need to step up and reaffirm their genuine commitment to build a county of peace where the weak and vulnerable are safe, jobless youth are not exploited or manipulated, and all development resources are channelled to make a difference in the life of  mwananchi.

That is what conscious leaders do – they don’t go below the line and become defensive or seek to distribute blame or pass judgement.

Instead they stay above the line, remain curious and open minded, accept responsibility, align and mobilise people and resources to achieve results – not for themselves and their cronies, but for the people.

Moving forward, if the voters of Marsabit do not collectively reject politicians who do not seem to value human life, lie to them repeatedly and disastrously, and waste or abuse their resources with impunity, then they deserve their fate.

The writer is a US-based international development consultant and a native of Marsabit

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