Cablegate: Promoting Peace in Kenya's Upper Eastern Province

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P 050552Z DEC 08



E.O.12958: N /A



1. Kenya's remote upper Eastern Province is caught in a
cycle of violence driven by competition over scarce
resources and characterized by inter-tribal revenge
killings and livestock raiding. Local politicians have a
history of quietly supporting these activities, which has
made grassroots efforts to halt the cycle of violence
extremely difficult. During a recent trip to the region,
the Ambassador attempted to enlist the support of a cabinet
minister and three local members of parliament to speak out
in support of peace. While only two of the four
politicians were ready to denounce violence publicly, the
rumors and media attention surrounding the Ambassador's
trip may have disrupted a planned revenge attack against
the Rendille community. We will continue our efforts to
bring attention to the problems facing this often-forgotten
region and encourage local leaders to promote peace. End

Politics Drive Clashes

2. Marsabit District, which lies between Lake Turkana and
Moyale District along the Ethiopian border in Kenya's arid
and remote upper Eastern Province, has always been a
difficult place to live; however, the area is now
experiencing a time of particular hardship: increased human
and livestock populations are placing intense pressure on
the area's arid landscape, while droughts are becoming
longer and more frequent. More immediately, cycles of
livestock raiding and corresponding revenge attacks among
the different clans are, by some accounts, becoming worse
and increasingly politicized.

3. The Government's failure to provide a robust security
presence to deter attacks and punish those responsible
compounds the problem. Because the media are also a scarce
resource in the remote region, few in Nairobi are aware of
just how serious the situation has become. PolOff and
PolFSN recently traveled to Marsabit to gain a greater
understanding of the environment and lay the groundwork for
a visit by the Ambassador.

4. The greater Marsabit region is large and sparsely
populated: approximately 143,000 people live in a 41,000
square mile area. (Note: The district is bigger than
Kentucky and slightly smaller than Tennessee. End Note.)
Like many other regions in Kenya, Marsabit residents divide
themselves along clear tribal lines and view one another
through the lens of tribal alliances or enmities. Major
tribes involved in the cycle of livestock raiding and
violence include the Borana, Rendille, and Gabbra (all
Cushitic tribes). The Samburu and Turkana, both Nilotic
tribes, live primarily in neighboring districts of Samburu,
Turkana and Isiolo, but are also involved in the cycle of
violence. The Borana maintain close political and cultural
ties with their kin in southern Ethiopia, dominate the town
of Marsabit, the district's administrative headquarters,
and far outnumber the neighboring Gabbra and Rendille
tribes. The Borana tribe's current enemy number one are
the Rendille (who are allied with the Samburu), although
there is still Borana/Gabbra tension years after the 2005
Turbi massacre. (Note: In July 2005, a Borana revenge
attack in Turbi left approximately 60 Gabbra dead, 22 of
them children. End Note.) The Gabbra, who inhabit the
Chalbi Desert, are sandwiched between three hostile tribes:
Borana to the east, Rendille to the south, and Turkana to
the west. The Marsabit District Commissioner has estimated
that, in addition to massive livestock losses,
approximately 60 people have been killed in 2008, and 11
reportedly have been killed since August alone.

5. Livestock raids by young warriors from the various
tribes form the basis of the conflict. Revenge attacks are
the norm after livestock raids and are a matter of pride
among the tribes. Women sing victory songs for young
warriors returning from a raid or revenge attack. However,
the communal nature of the conflict means that non-warriors
often bear the brunt of revenge attacks. Women gathering
firewood and children herding livestock have been killed to
avenge raids committed by fellow clan members. Elders who

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have attempted to halt the cycle and hold individuals of
their own clan accountable for raids or revenge attacks
have themselves been attacked by their own clan members.
Nevertheless, interlocutors from all sides expressed to
PolOff that the cycle of violence is getting out of

6. Kenyan politics have always been tribal, and local
members of parliament (MPs) are expected to represent their
own tribe's interests. In this sense, many view their area
MPs as both the problem and the solution. During the trip,
PolOff was told time and again that politicians were
responsible for continuing the cycle of violence by
providing financial and logistical support to livestock
raiders. While the truth of this statement may vary
according to the politician, it is certainly true that the
MPs of Marsabit District have failed to provide strong
leadership to stop the cycle of violence.

7. The last real attempt on the part of MPs to support
peace ended in tragedy. In April 2006, the plane carrying
two assistant ministers, four MPs, and 11 others crashed on
a hill in Marsabit town, killing all but three of the
passengers. The politicians had been on their way to
Marsabit to participate in a peace conference aimed at
quelling inter-tribal violence.

8. The MPs who replaced those killed in the crash failed to
re-ignite any initiatives toward peace, and the December
2007 elections put two of the three Marsabit MPs back in
office. To cater for different ethnic interests, the larger
Marsabit district has been divided into three smaller
districts, which each has its own member of parliament,
representing the Borana, Rendille, and Gabbra communities.
Hussein Sasura, a Borana representing Saku District, was
elected to replace his brother who was killed in the plane
crash and was re-elected in 2007. Joseph Lekuton, a former
teacher in Virginia who received his bachelor's degree from
St. Lawrence University and holds a master's degree from
Harvard, was elected in 2006 to represent the primarily
Rendille Laisamis District, and was re-elected in 2007.
Francis Chachu, a Gabbra representing North Horr District,
is a first-term parliamentarian. Like Lekuton, Chachu
received his undergraduate degree from St. Lawrence. The
NGO that Chachu founded and previously ran, the Pastoralist
Integrated Support Program (PISP), was a finalist for the
United Nations Development Program's Equator Prize in 2004.

Ambassador Enlists Support for Peace

9. In an attempt to re-engage politicians in the peace
process, the Ambassador invited the three MPs from Marsabit
District and the Minister for Northern Kenya and Other Arid
Lands Mohammed Elmi (a former regional program manager for
Oxfam and an ethnic Somali) to join him in Marsabit at a
graduation ceremony for "Peace Ambassadors" (i.e., youth
who play in inter-tribal soccer leagues and received
training in conflict resolution). The pitch: joint
attendance at a peace event in Marsabit would provide the
politicians with a platform to declare publicly their
support for dialogue and reconciliation and an end to the
cycle of attacks.

10. After a flurry of phone calls, mixed messages, and
changed plans, we learned that of the four invitees only
Chachu and Elmi were ready to take us up on the offer.
Sasura, who had initially confirmed and was already in
Marsabit, mysteriously left town the day before the event,
and was claiming that he was "sick" and unable to return to
Marsabit on the day of the Peace Ambassadors' graduation.
Lekuton called the Ambassador the morning of the event
apologizing for not attending. Sasura had threatened him,
he said, and told him not to come. We later learned of the
rumor circulating around town that the Borana (represented
by Sasura) were preparing a revenge attack against the
Rendille (represented by Lekuton) but the Ambassador's trip
to Marsabit disrupted it.

11. Even though the Kenyan VIP participation was limited to
Chachu and Elmi, the Peace Ambassadors' graduation event
was a success. The youth received much-deserved
recognition in front of their peers and elders for their
repudiation of violence. Chachu and Elmi spoke powerfully

NAIROBI 00002721 003 OF 003

in support of dialogue, reconciliation, and the importance
of working together to achieve the area's development
goals. The event was covered on national television, and
both men committed themselves publicly to seeking a
peaceful solution to the problems in Marsabit District.

12. At the event the Ambassador spoke strongly on the need
for the local MPs to demonstrate leadership for peace. He
assured the assembled local community that the United
States will remain engaged in efforts to pursue peace.
These remarks were warmly welcomed, with many lamenting
that senior Kenyan government officials have not
demonstrated the same level of commitment.

13. The next day the Ambassador visited North Horr, a
remote community six hours drive northwest of Marsabit,
which has also been caught up in the cycle of violence.
The Ambassador asked the district commissioner to accompany
him. The Ambassador held a town hall meeting for the
7,700-resident town, emphasizing similar messages to those
stated in Marsabit. At the town hall meeting, residents
grilled the district commissioner, confronting him that it
was the first time he had visited. The almost two-hour
town hall meeting proved to be a very constructive exchange
of views and provided insights into the nature of the
ethnic conflicts. The district commissioner followed up
later the same afternoon by holding a meeting with the
community elders focused on how to resolve the ethnic

14. The District Commissioner of Marsabit has also followed
up on the Ambassador's visit by holding meetings with
community leaders focused on resolving the ethnic
conflicts. It is important to note that, while ethnic
conflicts in the area have been taking place for many
decades, in recent years these conflicts have turned
increasingly violent with the introduction of automatic
weapons. Many more people are being killed than in the
past and there is substantially greater damage inflicted
upon the various communities. As a result, peace-making
has taken on a much greater sense of urgency.

Bringing the Others on Board

15. We are following up on the Ambassador's visit to push
the MPs and senior Kenyan government officials to intensify
efforts to end the violence ethnic clashes. After
returning from the visit, the Ambassador met with MP
Lekuton, who pledged to work for peace. We are seeking a
meeting with MP Sasura. Minister Elmi is also reaching out
to the MPs. Our objective is to encourage the three MPs to
make a public statement committing themselves to work for
peace in coordination with their ethnic communities and the
government. We are also looking for ways that we can
provide concrete support for peace efforts, including but
not limited to possible support for the Peace Ambassadors
Program. That said, bringing the politicians together to
achieve meaningful results will not be an easy process.

© Scoop Media

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