Climate change drives tribal conflict in Kenya Warring tribes, part 2: Church and charities ease tensions over scarce resources

 Two tribes embroiled in conflict around Lake Turkana in northern Kenya have had substantial help towards finding a peaceful resolution.

The process has helped ease tensions between the Turkana and Dassanech tribes.

Fr Andrew Yakulula and his Missionary Community of St Paul Apostle colleagues, who were invited to the region by villagers to foster peace, have intervened to reduce the chances of herders and fishermen from opposing tribes running into each other at contested resource points.

Shalom, a conflict-resolution organisation established by Irish priest FrPatrick Devine and funded by Trócaire, has also been active in the area since 2011, where it has been working with tribal leaders to re-establish peace.

The Kenyan and Ethiopian governments have also deployed security personnel – soldiers and police – to the isolated area to provide a calming presence that can also react rapidly if violence breaks out.

The conflict between the tribal communities living along this 10km stretch of the lake is a tit-for-tat war rooted in climate change and the fight for scarce resources.


Shalom programme manager Peterlinus Ouma Odate told The Irish Timesthat after the Todonyang massacre in 2011 – when 28 Turkana traders were killed by Dassanech militia in a brutal attack – the programme sent a team to the area from Nairobi to conduct a conflict analysis that shaped their subsequent intervention.

“We conducted workshops with the local leaders in 2011 from each tribe to enhance their skills in conflict management. The training focused on non-violent strategies for effectively resolving conflicts, effective communication strategies, the use of third-party mediators, and the exploration of alternatives to conflict,” he said.

Meanwhile Fr Yakulula has taken Turkana and Dassanech children orphaned by the conflict into his mission school to foster peace between the communities.

“We hope bringing them [the opposing tribe members] together when they are young will break down the distrust that exists between these people,” he said.

Fr Yakulula’s religious order has also built 20 small fresh water dams throughout the area so the Turkana herders do not have to gather at the rivers, which have always been flash points between the tribes, to water their animals.

Climate pressure

But the grinding poverty affecting local tribe members and the ongoing difficulties both communities have in adapting to their fast-changing environment means tensions remain high. This has led some experts to surmise that future conflict between the tribes is inevitable.

Indeed, there is a school of thought that maintains the Turkana’s pastoralist lifestyle is no longer sustainable, as the area’s ecosystems cannot withstand the unpredictability of the changing weather patterns or the coming impact of the dams on the lake and its fish.

However, rather than advocating that these tribes give up their centuries-old lifestyle, Trócaire is trying to help the Turkana to adapt.

Paul Healy, head of Trócaire in Kenya, believes they have a right to make their own choices and must be supported in this. “Ultimately it is about the rights of indigenous individuals and communities to choose what way they want to live.”

The charity, through its intermediaries, lays fodder along the pastoralists’ migration routes, which also reduces inter-tribal competition; it provides veterinary services for the goat, camel and donkey herds that struggle to stay healthy in the area’s high temperatures.

Healy said much of the inter-tribal conflict in the country was down to the political elites who used historical tensions to achieve their own ends.

“Tribalism is the tool used by the political elite in Kenya to advance their own power agendas and economic interests. We have seen it regularly used around elections, with the 2008 poll in which over 1,000 people were killed in ethnic violence, a good example.” This article was supported by a grant from the Simon Cumbers Media Fund

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