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Regional stability: Hailing the peaceful governor

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On August 12, 2020, elders, political and religious leaders from the Garre and Murule clans, in a rare move met at Granada hotel in Mandera town under the theme – no to hostilities and violence in the county.

Elders at Granada Hotel, Mandera town.

The stakeholder’s peace meeting was aimed at providing a long-term solution to inter-clan animosity that has lasted over two decades.

The high-level meeting comprised of county and national officials, security, and national cohesion and integration commission members among others.

Spreading peace

It was a matter of firing the last bullet to get peace. The national government’s message to the local leaders was very clear: Anyone found sponsoring clashes or spreading hatred will face the law.

The inter-clan peace meeting followed the conflict between the two communities over Yatho village located at Lafey and Elwak South Constituency borderline.

Onesmus Kyatha, County Commissioner, speaking at Granada Hotel, Mandera town

Both Garre and Murule community members claimed ownership of the land where the village stood. The government warned it would declare the area dangerous and uninhabitable if security breaches continue.

Mandera County Governor Ali Roba implored on the different cadres of leaders to find a long-lasting peaceful solution to the conflict.

Seen it all

“For the eight years that I have been in office, I have witnessed a lot. All I want to see now is people getting along on common ground for getting peace in Mandera County”, the governor says.

The need to ensure stable security in Mandera County that borders Somalia and Ethiopia pushed the governor to work keenly and closely with the national security teams.

Having witnessed previous clan clashes among communities in his early years in office, the governor said his administration is prepared and enthusiastic in supporting peace initiatives to end the clan conflicts.

Despite heated arguments among the stakeholders on the resolutions, the county boss was clear – he will put all available resources for everlasting communal peace.

Supporting peace initiatives

“I am ready to support any peace initiative because we have enough resources to do that,” said Mr. Roba while advising the two clans to employ forgiveness and honesty in the peace-making process.

He urged the leaders to come up with resolutions that will ease tension and form a basis for reconciliation.

The two communities agreed to bury the hatchet as the government worked to find a lasting solution to the border dispute.

The Murule community majorly resides in Lafey and has been agitating for the abolishment of Yatho village where several houses and classrooms were set ablaze by unknown arsonists.

The Garre community, on the other hand, claims the village lies in Elwak South, where they are the dominant community.

Uniting the two clans on a common ground has been Governor Roba’s main peace plan.

Through pledging more resources to the area, advising leaders and encouraging locals, the county boss managed to persuade parties to agree on certain key issues.

Ultimate agreement

Fortunately, the four-day peace consultation resulted in a partnership agreement on cessation of violence and hostilities, arresting and prosecution of criminals, honoring previous agreements and resolving past grievances.

Mandera Governor, Ali Roba, reading the peace resolution.

Since independence, Northern Kenya has had its fair share of conflicts that left many people dead, others maimed or uprooted from their homes and properties destroyed.

Colonial strategies

The colonial ruler set aside two major strategies in the northern frontier district – movement restriction and rangeland demarcation – as part of controlling communal conflict over grazing lands.

When devolution started in 2013, Kenyans particularly northern Kenya residents were excited about benefitting from a fair share of national resources.

To the northern counties, devolution meant an end to marginalization. But as the country ushered devolution, Mandera County remained the target of Al-Shabab which carried out numerous terror-related attacks across the border.

On October 16, 2011, Kenyan troops crossed into Somalia in a move aimed at strengthening security and eradicating the terror group operating in Somalia.

Increased inter-clan rivalry and conflicts in Mandera emanating from clan political alliances exposed the county to external terror bouts.

Terror attacks

On several occasions, non-locals have been targeted – among them quarry workers and teachers. Tackling the thorn in the flesh has not been a walk in the park.

In the crisis period, Governor Roba won the Mandera County gubernatorial race.

When he took over leadership, Garre and Degodia communities were in conflict across the county.

Furthermore, the four years that followed were characterized by lethal terror attacks such as Nairobi’s Westgate, Garissa University and Mpeketoni in Lamu County.

“Mandera was literally disconnected from the rest of Kenya for close to 50 years and its economy was largely dependent on Somalia.

Mandera County leaders in meeting with the two communities.

The socio-economic ties of the population remained for close to 23 years after the fall of Siad Barre, whatever was happening inside Somalia was also finding sympathy in Mandera and the greater former North Eastern Province.

“On March 7, 2013, soon after the general election, I was confronted by the harsh reality of insecurity of a town run by terrorists. There had been no public baraza or celebration of national days for a record of three years. People lived in fear,” says Governor Roba.

Improving security situation

With the dire security state, the county boss focused on improving the situation by consulting with the national security team headed by the county commissioner and exploring the best possible alternatives to promote peace.

“We embarked on a series of security meetings with the security management team discussing how we got into this desperate state of insecurity in Mandera town,” Mr. Roba said adding that through consensus, they agreed to use home guards to unlock the fear.

The county, in a bid to invest heavily in security, facilitated the hiring of more than 330 National Police Reservists and leased vehicles for timely response to attacks.

Police officers in Mandera at the scene of a past bus attack / Courtesy.

In 2018, the county government in collaboration with the national government organized a regional conference on countering violent extremists that saw the coming together of counties in the larger north-eastern and eastern Kenya.

Participants pledged to unite and fight terrorism. It was about countering extremists via a community-driven approach.

Housing units for IDPs

The two levels of government in partnership managed to put 757 low-cost housing units for persons displaced by internal clan conflicts in Rhamu, Mandera North Constituency.

To improve access to basic services, the county leader launched several water kiosks.

Since then security has improved in the county. “We started engagements with the national security team and soon we had GSU base set up and officers deployed in big numbers.

The counter-terrorism unit was revamped and a military camp was set up strategically at points commonly used as access points by the militia.

More vehicles were assigned to Mandera and within a short time, the frequency of terror attacks was drastically reduced”, added the governor.

Nine years since the inception of devolution, there has been considerable progress in security with the lessening of clan fights and militia attacks.

Governor Roba notes that consistency in security patrols, improving day-to-day vigilance, strengthening alertness and winning public trust are crucial in ensuring security.

With ultimate security success in the county, various high-profile individuals recently visited Mandera County including British High Commissioner, Jane Marriott, IGAD Executive Secretary, Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu, Ethiopian Ambassador to Kenya, Meles Alem, Laikipia County Governor Nderitu Muriithi among others.

British High Commissioner, Jane Marriott visits Mandera County for the first time.

Recently, the governor launched a regional peace, cohesion and heritage centre in Mandera town. Mandera County donated the land and inter-peace funded the construction.

“A peaceful and secure environment is critical to every society since it affects all aspects of economic and social development in a country”, said the governor adding that a project with such magnitude will immensely aid in entrenching peace and security in cross-border communities – Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya.

Regional Peace, Cohesion and Heritage Centre opened in Mandera town.

Ultimately, the second-term governor of Mandera County urges everyone to work towards peace.

“We hope and pray that we never witness any ugly scenes. At the end of the day, we are all brothers and sisters who belong to the same God”.