- The clashes had turned outlying areas of Moyale into battlefields and it is the intervention by the military that restored an uneasy calm in this border town.
“I can’t say exactly why we’re killing each other. The cause of the war is over petty issues,” a dejected Adan Mohammed said when asked why his Borana and Gabra communities are fighting in Moyale sub-county.
The 59-year-old was among hundreds of people loitering around Somare Mosque, a few kilometres from Moyale Town, last week looking for food from relatives.
They had fled their homes in Butiye village on the outskirts of the town after Kenya Defence Forces personnel launched several mortars to separate combatants from the two communities in a battle that had started in the early hours of August 30.
The soldiers were travelling from their camp in Oddah for patrol on the Kenya-Ethiopia border. They had to pass through Butiye.
“The soldiers were caught in the crossfire and there was no other way to disperse the combatants other than mortars,” said Marsabit County Commissioner Isaiah Nakoru.
The village is now deserted but it is not clear whether people died during the incident as none of the communities reported casualties, said Mr Nakoru.
Several buildings, including a classroom at Butiye Primary, were destroyed.
Residents of Manyatta Burji and Helliu on the outskirts of Moyale, as well as Oddah village, less than 10km away, have also fled after the clashes between Borana and Gabra militias left at least 10 dead.
The clashes had turned outlying areas of Moyale into battlefields and it is the intervention by the military that restored an uneasy calm in this border town.
Marsabit County has for years experienced tension between pastoralist communities that always ends in violence as they fight over pasture and other resources.
But as many experts observe, the war between the Borana and Gabra has gone beyond competition for resources in this desolate county.
“Under normal circumstances, the two communities don’t fight unless there is a political pronouncement or election campaigns,” Mr James Ndung’u, who has participated in peace meetings in Marsabit says.
As the majority community in the county, Boranas have since independence been at the helm of political leadership in Marsabit County and winning the Moyale parliamentary seat has always been guaranteed.
But in the March 4 election, the Gabra and their allies captured most of the seats, a situation the Boranas are finding difficult to come to terms with.
“The perception they have is that they’ve no representation in the leadership of Marsabit County,” Mr Ndung’u said.
And due to the suspicion and hatred between the two communities, any slight provocation, he said, resulted in hostilities.
The latest clashes started on July 15 when an elderly Gabra man was killed and two others injured by Boranas in at Antuta in Bori location.
Antuta is suitable for grazing and the Gabras had started putting up a new settlement in an area the Boranas perceive as their ancestral land.
The provincial administration called a peace meeting attended by elders from both communities and it was decided to adopt the Maikona-Walda Declaration of 2009 that has been used for years to manage conflict between the communities.
In the declaration, a community is supposed to pay 35 head of cattle for every death that occurs in an attack on their rivals and 15 for an injury.
Thus the Boranas were required to compensate the Gabras with 65 head of cattle.
The Gabras, in turn, would vacate the area. The Gabras, however, refused saying they had for years been using Antuta as grazing land.
And this is how tension started to mount. It intensified on August 4, when a lorry belonging to a Burji trader was attacked in Kate on the Marsabit-Moyale road and the goods it was transporting to Moyale Town stolen. Kate is near the disputed Antuta settlement.
On August 23 the situation got out of hand in Moyale when Gabras attacked a Borana settlement between Funanyata-Antuta area. Two people died.
Two days later, they clashed again at Funanyata where another two people were killed.