Even before campaigns for next year’s elections start officially, the war for political power between two rival communities in Marsabit County has started.
Today, there is an uneasy truce following fierce battles earlier in the year between the Borana and Gabra that drew in their cousins from across the Ethiopian border.
At stake, many observers say, is the coveted seat of governor and the power, finances and resources the two believe the holder will control.
Indeed, Marsabit is one of the 27 counties the National Security Intelligence Service has identified as a potential hotspot during the elections and voting period.
It is also under a special watch by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission which is working out strategies of avoiding election-related violence.
Dr Mzalendo Kibunjia of the commission says it may be desirable for the communities to negotiate pre-election power sharing deals to reduce the threat of violence.
This, for now at least, looks unlikely in Marsabit where the Borana and Gabra are going for the same seat of governor.
For a people who have fought constantly over resources for decades, the position has become a do-or-die affair with each community determined to clinch it.
Loggerheads over pasture
In the past, the two have been at loggerheads over pasture and water. With the billions devolution is taking to the grassroots, the stakes are even higher.
Smaller communities like the Burji, the Saquila and the Rendille have also been sucked into the violence as they are forced to take sides.
The focus now is political power and specifically the position of governor. Investigations by the Nation revealed that no one cares who takes the position of senator or the women’s representative.
According to the 2009 census, Marsabit county has a population of 291,166 with 87,102 registered voters.
Poverty levels stand at 83.2 per cent. About 70 per cent of the people have primary education while a mere 8.9 per cent have secondary education.
The county did not have any paved road, although this is changing with the ongoing pavement of the Marsabit-Moyale road.
Widespread poverty in the region is blamed on the old structure of governance inherited from colonialists which concentrated financial resources in the so-called prime regions of Kenya.
It is thus understandable that the communities see devolution as providing a chance for them to access what they have been denied — schools, hospitals, water, power and good roads. It is this prospect that is fuelling fears that those who take charge of devolved funds may marginalise the losers.
Ms Florence Sambiri-Jaoko, a former chair of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, says this is being caused by the widespread misconception among some in the political class and citizenry that devolution is about creating tribal kingdoms.
“Devolution was meant to take services closer to the people and therefore hasten development. People should know we are still in a nation called Kenya which is greater,” Ms Jaoko says.
The Borana and Gabra are spread across three constituencies of North Horr, Saku and Moyale. The fourth constituency - Laisamis - is dominated by the Samburu. Apart from the Samburu, all the other communities have their cousins across the border in Ethiopia whom they turn to for help when they are under attack.
In the latest violence early this year in Moyale, the two clans hired soldiers of fortune from across the border to fight their wars. Kenyan police watched helplessly as the militia fought pitched battles with heavy artillery and mortars. It took the intervention of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) to stop the fighting.
On the political front, the Gabra seem to have united other smaller communities to their side, a matter that has not been taken kindly by the Borana who now feel exposed.
While the Borana are the majority and dominate the civil service and politics, the Gabras wield economic power because of the many businesses they run.
Thus the Gabras efforts to forge an alliance with the smaller groups is being seen as a threat by the Borana as it may tip the balance of power in the race for governorship.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was a meeting held by the Gabra in Karacha in Maikona, Chalbi district in December last year in which it was agreed that the community will support one of its own for the position of governor.
At the meeting, the Gabra roped in the small communities who seem to have bought the idea of voting with them to defeat the Borana.
Kenya’s ambassador to Austria, Mr Ukur Kanacho Yatani, was identified as the sole candidate to lead the onslaught. He is expected to return any time to launch his campaign.
Mr Yatani is a former assistant minister, having gone to Parliament in a 2006 by-election in North Horr constituency following the death of Dr Bonaya Godana in a plane crash.
He also worked in the provincial administration as a district commissioner.
This development sent shock waves in the Borana community who felt they were losing out because they had not identified their candidate as several people from the community were interested in the seat.
The front-runners include the current Moyale MP Mohamud Ali and Mr Chachu Tadicha, the Save the Children country director in Ethiopia. Others who had expressed interest in the seat but seem to have fallen by the wayside include Mr Molu Dika and Mr Halake Dida.
As elections approach, both communities are viewing the position of governor as the best defence against their rivals.
There is a belief that with the massive resources expected in the counties, whoever is elected governor will control the purse and thus be in a position to promote his community.
The failure by the Borana to agree on a single candidate to face Mr Yattani is causing concern that there may be even more violence in the county. The community met last month in Ethiopia to discuss the matter and pick one person to contest the seat.
The meeting in Ethiopia’s Region Four was presided over by Abba Gadha (Borana supreme leader) Guyo Gobba, who is said to wield immense influence among the Borana in Kenya and Ethiopia.
The 33-year-old leader’s word on matters affecting the Borana community is said to be final. However, his influence is usually in cultural matters and this is the first time he is being involved in politics.
Many say this means the community is taking the governor’s position seriously and may signal trouble in the county.
The names on the table were that of Mr Tadicha and Mr Mohammed Ali, the Moyale MP.
The meeting came in the week following the helicopter crash in which Internal Security minister George Saitoti and his assistant Orwa Ojodeh were killed.
Mr Ali, who said he was involved in the funeral arrangements of his colleagues unsuccessfully tried to have the meeting postponed.
His rival capitalised on his absence and was dully picked as the Borana flag bearer in the election.
Mr Ali and his supporters have refused to recognise the decision and are questioning the role played by Ethiopian government officials in the decision. They accuse them of meddling in Kenyan politics.
The split among the Borana is likely to cause violence in the county.
“We are crossing our fingers on the issue of violence during the elections because it is clear the competition will be fierce now that Boranas seem not to have agreed on a candidate yet the Gabras have already done that,” a source who sought anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter said in an interview.