There has been a clash between Turkana and Dassenech (or Merille) in the Ethio-Kenyan border on May 2 and the following days. The incident has been a hot topic in Kenyan papers, though it was hardly reported on Ethiopian papers in Addis. [For a good summary of the Kenyan news and the context of the clash on Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the incident, the responses and the efforts taken to mitigate further escalation on its May 13/2011 issue of ‘A Week in the Horn’. Here it is.
A serious incident in the Karamoja cluster caused a number of deaths and disappearances last week. The numbers are still unclear. The original incidents happened at the Ethiopia Kenya border in an area inhabited by Turkana and Dassenech (or Merille). On May 1st a Turkana from Lourbay in Kenya agreed to trade a goat for a sack of sorghum with a Dassenech from Toltale in Ethiopia. Subsequently, the Turkana shot and killed the Dassenech. The following day another Dassenech was killed at Neswat, in Kenya when he had gone to collect a goat he had bought earlier, he was also from Toltale. The news of the deaths spread quickly among the people in Neswat at the time. Because of the drought in the area, there has been a lot of movement across the border with animals and foodstuff being bought and sold along the corridor between Todenyag and Nebremus. As a result there were a large number of Turkana and Dassenech present in the area. As the news of the incidents spread, fighting broke out. Nineteen Turkana, including women and children, were killed, and four Dassenech.
Local, regional and federal administration officials responded quickly to try and stop any escalation of the fighting. The next day, May 3rd Dassenech Woreda administration deployed the woreda militia and police in the area of Nebremus to protect any Turkana who had come to Ethiopia to purchase food from the Dassenech. The security forces escorted over 40 Turkana safely to the Turkana side of the border. At the moment there are still about 30 Dassenech who were on the Turkana side when the incident occurred and who are still unaccounted for.
The local administrations and security forces from both sides have been working hard to try and diffuse the problem. There have already been two meetings, the latest on Monday this week, to discuss joint strategies and exchange information. On the Ethiopian side, a team from the Regional Government and the South Omo Zone Administration travelled to the area on May 4th to investigate the incidents. Zonal and Dassenech Woreda security officials are currently holding consultations with Dassenech communities in all the kebeles neighboring Kenya on the west bank of the Omo River. Among issues being discussed are the exact numbers of Dassenech who have been stranded on the Kenyan side of the border, as well as the need to refrain from mounting any revenge attacks.
The danger of more retaliatory attacks should now have receded following interventions from both sides. Local Peace Committees, administration officials and theAtoweykisi-Ekisil Pastoralist Development Association, a local NGO, are currently developing an action plan to hold joint consultation/roundtable discussions between the two communities through the Rapid Response Fund peace building project in Dassenech. Equally, the Ethiopian and Kenyan Conflict Early Warning and Response Units (CEWERUs) will have to take the initiative to spearhead a peace process between the pastoralist communities involved.
There have been a number of incidents of cross-border raiding and livestock thefts that need to be addressed. And on Thursday, leaders of Ethiopia and Kenya who met in Kampala on the side lines of the swearing-in ceremony for President Musevini, agreed to work together to address the challenges people are facing in the cluster. The Joint Ministerial Commission meeting, due to be held at the end of May or early June, can now be expected to address the problem comprehensively. The continuous drought in the area has made already uncertain relationships in the area considerably more difficult. In the meantime, there is general agreement that local politicians and others should refrain from trying to capitalize on the incidents or inciting retaliatory measures that might escalate the conflict.
Within the Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN) of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Ethiopia and Kenya CEWERUs have been holding a two day consultation with local stakeholders in Moyale, Ethiopia. CEWERU heads and their representatives, local administration officials, Country Coordinators and Field monitors, representatives of the pastoral communities and civil society organizations were present. The meeting was called to discuss strategies to further progress towards peace in the area following development interventions that have improved the livelihood of pastoral communities along the border.
Since Ethiopia and Kenya have began to cooperate within the framework of CEWARN to address pastoral conflicts along the border of the Somali Cluster, a number of coordinated and sustained interventions have significantly reduced cross-border violence and improved communal relations. The two governments have facilitated communal peace processes resulting in a number of peace agreements allowing pastoralists to share in and have access to pasture and water located on both sides of the border. Peace structures on both sides of the border now liaise regularly in response to occasional disputes. Annual peace tournaments have been initiated to engage youth and women in the peace processes.
The Moyale consultation discussed appropriate future development interventions for the area. It reached a consensus on identifying the expansion and rehabilitation of water resources and the establishment of livestock markets as key interventions that would equally benefit the pastoral communities in both countries. Development partners who were present showed interest to support realization of these projects in the immediate future.
In order to provide systematic and continuous engagement to sustain the improved peace and security situation in the area, the two governments, in collaboration with CEWARN and other development partners, initiated the strategy of combining peace interventions with development support. This is designed to respond to one of the key motivations for conflict, competition for scarce resources. The new strategy aims at identifying ways to support alternative livelihood programs to address underlying causes of conflict and ensure sustainable peace building.