Cablegate: Isiolo Security Update

DE RUEHNR #2133/01 2810459
P 080459Z OCT 09



E.O.12958: N /A



1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Kenya's ongoing drought has exacerbated tribal and
political tensions between pastoralists in Kenya's Isiolo District.
The situation recently presented problems for the tourism industry
in Kenya's northern corridor when armed livestock herders moved into
wildlife conservation lands with their animals. While some
interpreted the move as an attempt to grab what little water and
pasture was left, others saw a political agenda by one group to
threaten the revenue stream of another group. Regardless of the
motive, some safari camps and hotels were forced to stop accepting
bookings. The Ambassador and mission staff engaged with local
politicians, the leadership of a USAID-funded conservation program,
and others to assist, and the immediate problem has been resolved.
Problems will remain, however, as long as there is poor security,
ethnic based winner-take-all politics, excessive reliance on the
livestock sector as a source of income, and ineffective mechanisms
to govern land use. If this situation continues, Kenya's arid north
will be just as vulnerable to political violence as the areas
affected by the 2007-8 post-election crisis. END SUMMARY.

Pastoralists Invade National Reserves

2. (SBU) An ongoing drought has exacerbated tensions between
pastoral groups in Isiolo and Samburu Districts, located in Kenya's
geographic center. Competition for scarce pasture and water is
intense, and the region's different tribes have aligned against one
another to secure control over valuable land and constituency votes
for the next round of general elections. Relations between the
Samburu and Borana tribes have been particularly strained, but other
groups have become involved as well, including Rendille, Turkana,
and Somalis.

3. (SBU) In August, approximately 300 armed moran (unmarried male
warriors) from the Samburu, Rendille and Turkana tribes led
approximately 10,000 head of cattle and goats into Shaba and Buffalo
Springs National Reserves located in the Borana area of Isiolo
District. In addition to grazing their herds, which is generally
permitted in many reserves managed by country councils, the moran
also killed protected wildlife and shot and wounded a game guard
while he was accompanying Spanish tourists on a game drive. The
tourists were unharmed but departed Kenya the next day.

4. (SBU) The Kenya Tourism Federation (KTF), alarmed at the
potential damage to Kenya's tourism industry, made their concerns
known to a number of government officials after it became clear that
safari camps and hotels in the affected area quietly stopped taking
bookings. KTF Chief Executive Officer Agatha Juma told Emboffs that
if anything happened to a tourist on safari anywhere in Kenya, it
had the potential of shutting down the entire country's tourism
industry. Further setbacks to tourism, she said, was something the
struggling industry, struck by the global financial crisis just as
it was recovering from the 2007/8 post-election violence, could ill
afford. KTF made it clear that they were very close to advising
their partners that Kenya's northern corridor be closed to tourists
until the security situation improved.

5. (SBU) In response to complaints by Isiolo Member of Parliament
(and Minister of Livestock) Mohammed Kuti, Minister of Tourism Najib
Balala, and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Minister of Internal
Security George Saitoti sent a contingent of 400 security officers
and eight trucks to the area to little effect. However, we heard
from multiple sources that the police did not try to force - and did
not even ask - anyone to leave the park. We were told they merely
drove on routine patrols and made no arrests.

U.S. Encourages Dialogue, Action

6. (SBU) The ongoing drought and polarized political environment
have created a situation ripe for conflict. Borana viewed the
mostly Samburu invasion of their conservation lands as a deliberate
attack against their tourist revenue stream, asserting that the
Samburu conservation lands had not been similarly overrun. The
Borana also saw the ineffectiveness of the police deployment as a
deliberate slight by the (ethnic Maasai) Minister of Internal
Security in favor of his fellow Maa-speaking (and Nilotic) Samburu.
The Samburu, on the other hand, were still feeling bitter and
victimized by the police security operation earlier this year (ref
E), and claimed that all areas were overgrazed, including Samburu

NAIROBI 00002133 002 OF 003

conservancies. In addition, the Samburu interpreted Borana
counter-raids as the onset of a sustained attack by the Borana, who
were importing fighters from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) to
wipe out the Samburu completely. (Note: The OLF is a guerilla and
political organization that has been fighting against the Government
of Ethiopia since 1973. The Oromo and Borana are closely related.
End Note.)

7. (SBU) The Mission's USAID and Political staff convened or
participated in a number of meetings with local politicians, USAID
grantees, and the KTF to generate options for immediate action. The
motive for the sparring groups to come together was clear: no matter
the political dimensions, any closure of Kenya's northern corridor
to tourism would affect both Samburu and Borana conservancies (and
their respective streams of revenue) equally.

8. (SBU) The first option was to open a dialogue between the Isiolo
County Council and KWS to negotiate a temporary KWS takeover to
secure the Reserves. (Note: KWS does not currently administer or
provide security for Shaba or Buffalo Springs National Reserves; the
Isiolo County Council administers them and collects the
corresponding revenues from tourist visits. End Note) While this
was the option KTF favored, securing such an agreement would take

9. (SBU) In support of defusing the conflict, the Northern
Rangelands Trust (NRT), a USAID-supported umbrella organization of
community conservancies (see Refs B-D), agreed on August 28 to form
and deploy an inter-ethnic team of local elders to the reserves to
encourage the moran to move out. This is part of a larger
USAID-supported and NRT-implemented peace and reconciliation
initiative that aims for a durable solution to the conflict. For
example, the team would pave the way for the local politicians to
appear together in front of their respective constituents to promote

10. (SBU) The first step of the NRT initiative was remarkably
successful. By September 19, the inter-ethnic team briefed the
Ambassador that half of the moran had agreed to depart the reserves.
Since then, the team has completed a second round of discussion
with the moran. We have heard from both the KTF and Minister
Saitoti that the reserves are now secure and a KWS takeover is no
longer necessary.

Raids/Violence Continue

11. (SBU) Unfortunately, the victory in Isiolo's Reserves appears to
be an isolated one. Raids and violence have continued and are
expected to worsen once the short rains begin and livestock become
more mobile. (Note: The rains are expected imminently. End Note)
The political divisions have not gone away, nor have the other
underlying conditions that drive raiding behavior and land grabbing.
On the contrary, the continued raiding is deepening political

12. (SBU) Local Members of Parliament from Samburu East and Isiolo
North have appealed to the government to provide livestock to both
sides to avert another round of raids. In response to a letter of
concern from the Ambassador, Minister of Internal Security Saitoti
replied that the Government is instead focusing on long-term
interventions to cushion pastoralists during drought and working
with neighboring countries on a "comprehensive disarmament
exercise." There are also media reports that the Government is
considering disarming the Kenya Police Reserves, or home guards,
because arms handed out to such citizens are reportedly being used
for cattle raiding. (Note: Disarmament exercises in Kenya do not
have a strong track record of success, but the European Union has
nevertheless reportedly pledged funding to support the next
exercise. End Note)

13. (SBU) Comment: The long term way forward will depend not only on
improving security, but also on evolving local perspectives on
ethnic based politics and the livestock monoculture. Residents of
the region will also have to find a way to deal peacefully and
creatively with the continued influx into Isiolo of populations from
arid regions searching for a way to make a living. We are exploring
ways to help. Senior officials at the Northern Rangelands Trust
assert that the way ahead lies in helping local populations find
more reliable and sustainable sources of income that will help them
move away from the livestock monoculture. We agree, but also see
that NRT's way of dealing with Kenya's dysfunctional, byzantine, and
corrupt land administration system (by admitting groups for
membership that engage in conservation activities but who in some
cases have no authority to control access to conservancy lands)
causes its own problems. USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives

NAIROBI 00002133 003 OF 003

appears to have found some success in grappling with a similar
series of problems in nearby Samburu North. In doing so, they have
found that the government's administrative subdivision of districts
appears to drive local conflict as much as longer-term
environmental, overpopulation, and migration issues.

14. (SBU) Comment, cont: Given the overwhelming political dimension
to the current conflict, it appears that the landscape in Kenya's
arid north is just as vulnerable to future political violence as
other areas in Kenya affected by the 2007/8 post-election crisis.
We will continue to work toward finding sustainable solutions for
the people of this troubled region.

© Scoop Media

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