Two years after six MPs died in a plane crash while on a peace mission to Marsabit in Northern Kenya, the peace they were trying to explore remains elusive.
It was a tragedy that left four constituencies in the larger Marsabit and Moyale districts without lawmakers. Dr Bonaya Godana (North Horr), Mr Abdi Sasura (Saku), Mr Titus Ngoyoni (Laisamis), and Dr Guracha Galgallo (Moyale) perished in the crash.
The Kenya Air Force plane crash also claimed Internal Security assistant minister Mirugi Karuiki, East Africa Legislative Assembly member Abdulahi Adan, Moyale district commissioner Peter Kingola, Anglican Bishop for Kirinyaga Diocese William Waqo and six others.
As memories of the tragedy continue to trouble residents of the area, their big dilemma remains whether they will ever enjoy peace. Today, they meet for prayers at the scene of the crash before gathering at Marsabit Stadium where local leaders will deliver speeches.
The commitment by the four area MPs – Mohamud Mohamed Ali (Moyale), Francis Chachu Ganya (North Horr), Hussein Tari Sasura (Saku) and Joseph Lekuton (Laisamis) – to jointly pursue peace has given locals some hope.
There was hardly any unity among the departed MPs, which was a major hindrance to peace. Mr Sasura, Mr Ngoyoni and Dr Galgallo were not seeing eye-to-eye with Dr Godana, a former Foreign minister and senior area politician.
Dr Godana was from the Gabra community. The community constantly fought with the Borana cousins and also the Rendille. Mr Sasura and Dr Galgallo were Boranas while Mr Ngoyoni was a Rendille.
After the by-elections to replace the MPs, tension subsided in the area even though there was still no close working relationship among the new legislators. Mr Sasura was replaced by his older brother Tari while Mr Lekuton, a Samburu, was elected in Laisamis.
In North Horr, Mr Ukur Yattani, a Gabra, won the by-election, beating Mrs Sarah Godana, the widow of Dr Godana. And in Moyale, the younger brother of Dr Galgallo, Mr Wario Malla, emerged the victor.
Both Mr Yattani and Mr Malla were edged out in the 2007 General Election. Mr Chachu ousted Mr Yattani while Ali defeated Mr Malla. Mr Chachu and Mr Ali are in ODM. The former is a Gabra while the latter is a Borana.
However, Mr Sasura (ODM Kenya) and Mr Lekuton (Kanu) retained their seats. Now, the four MPs have given the area a new lease of life - they attend peace meetings together. “We sit together during peace meetings and we have been having a series of them,” says Mr Chachu.
Despite the cooperation of the four MPs, peace is yet to return to Marsabit and Moyale. Since 2008, the Boranas and Rendilles have been fighting and stealing livestock from one another. Only late last week, a shoot-out between the two communities around Marsabit forest left one herder dead.
Raids on manyattas (Maasai traditional houses) and theft of livestock are a common occurrence. Early in 2006, 84 people were massacred at Turbi. It was this incident that forced the MPs to explore for peace when they met their death.
What has been the obstacle to peace in Marsabit? After carrying out interviews with different groups in the area recently, it was clear that one of the biggest impediments to peace are the Kenya Police reservists, commonly known as homeguards.
Marsabit, which is one of the security operation areas in country, has several homeguards. They are recruited to contain cattle raids.
Marsabit and Moyale communities are mainly pastoralists and they keep raiding one another. Boranas steal livestock from the Rendilles who later retaliate. But the worst incidents of livestock raids are experienced in North Horr, where Chalbi District has been created.
Members of the Gabra community in the area illegally own firearms and they are infamous for livestock raids. And other livestock raiders surround them, among them the Turkana who also own firearms (illegally). Dasanatch, who live on both sides of the Kenya-Ethiopia border also have sophisticated rifles.
Another community in Ethiopia known as Amarkoke often target Gabra livestock. The homeguards are given guns to protect their people who are vulnerable to attacks by the raiders.
“Homeguards are a threat to peace here. They are ethnic-based and during cattle raids where a community steals from its neighbours, they become part of the raiders,” says a former chairman of Marsabit peace committee, Mr Jeremiah Omar.
Mr Omar, who has worked for the peace committee for several years, notes that the main problem with the homeguards is that there is no one to supervise them.
The coordinator of Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC), Mr Hilary Halkano, concurs with Mr Omar. With his CJPC, Mr Halkano has for the last few years been involved in several peace projects in Marsabit and Moyale.
No homeguard would admit being involved in cattle raids but they have several grievances, which clearly confirms that it is possible for them to get involved in raids.
First, the homeguards do not undergo proper training unlike in the past. They are also not remunerated. Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe says the Kenya Police Reservists’ job is supposed to be voluntary. “It is a voluntary service where one is deployed within his locality to prevent cattle theft,” Mr Kiraithe explains.
According to him, a reservist is not supposed to be paid unless he has been deployed to carry out an operation outside his home area. And the police spokesman emphasises that the reservists, whose work is to supplement the regular police, are supposed to be supervised by local police chiefs. This appears not to be possible in Marsabit and Moyale due to their vastness.
During livestock raids, police usually take more than a day to reach the place of attack. “Today we are only given guns and we don’t get enough bullets, which is a disadvantage during combat,” says Mr Mamo Dido, 30, a former police reservist in North Horr.
He was forced to quit the job after he lost a leg during combat with Turkanas in 2005. He was not compensated and the artificial limb he uses was bought with the help of his family and the Catholic Church.
“There are more disadvantages than advantages of being a homeguard. First there is no salary or allowance for them and when they are injured during attacks, no one will bother taking them to hospital, leave alone compensating them,” says Mr Galgallo Tuye, a former homeguard and an ex-civic leader for North Horr location.
In Chalbi District, 80 per cent of the homeguards have either scratch marks, are disfigured or have disabilities suffered during operations to recover stolen livestock, according to chief of Dukana Location, Mr Tuye Katelo.
Mr Katelo, who is himself a police reservist, has a big bullet scar in his right leg from a wound suffered during operation. Despite their ills, residents of Chalbi would not wish the Government to disband police reservists in the area. Why? As Mr Halkano points out, the Kenyan police appear not to be properly trained to fight cattle rustling.
Police reservists who spoke the Nation said it was them who recover stolen animals during operations but the regular police take the credit.
Mr Chachu, the North Horr MP says since people need the homeguards, he intends to introduce a motion in Parliament to have the government remunerate them.
The homeguards issue is just one area threatening peace in Marsabit and Moyale. Much needs to be done as rivalry between the Boranas and the Gabras, which culminated to the Turbi Massacre, is yet to be tackled.