Kenya/Ethiopia: Escalation of border conflict between ethnic communities
This report highlights the most recent conflicts between the Dassenetch community of Southwest Ethiopia and the Kenya security forces at Todonyang along the Kenya – Ethiopia common border on 15th April, 2012.
The Dassenetch community, who are agro –pastoralists living along the banks of River Omo extending to where the River ends in the Lake at the Kenya – Ethiopia border. The Turkana neighboring community from Kenya has fought incessant conflicts with the Dassenetch from time immemorial causing both human and livestock losses.
Though in the past these conflicts were minimal and manifested on wealth acquisition and cultural norms, it took different gauge as Dassenetch tried aggressively pushing themselves to acquire land on the Turkana side of the Kenya border. This made conflicts to escalate causing more human lives and livestock losses coupled with displacement and vandalization of structures. The escalation of this conflict is also attributed to the proliferation of illicit small arms to the local communities and the struggle for the diminishing natural resources caused by the climate change and the growing populations’ pressure.
The Turkana – Dassenetch picked escalating momentum in early nineties when the Dassenetch community acquire more guns following the collapse of the Ethiopia state after the coup that throw Mengistu regime in 90s. This the time the Dassenetch staged frequent attacks on the Turkana community targeting the fishing population around Todonyang with aim to cause fear and displace them from the area and they achieved this in 1996 when the people of Todonyang re- located Lowarengak for safety. However, further atrocities continued to be conducted by both sides in form of revenge and counter attacks.
The conflicts between the two communities defeated the governments and international organizations efforts of trying to intervene and mediate peace to allow them co-exist peacefully and share the local available resources. Following the escalation and intensification of conflicts the Todonyang centre was demolished in 2000 by the Dassenetch who had encroached several kilometers inside the Kenya border along the River Omo – Lake Turkana delta.
In an intervention effort to trying to address the worrying conflict situation in Turkana and her neighboring communities along common international borders, Oxfam GB in Kenya made consultation with the Oxfam in Ethiopia to trying to identify the Local peace actors to work in collaboration with the governments in peace effort between the Turkana and Dassenetch. This effort was done through series of cross border consultative meetings, workshops and seminars focused on the Turkana – Dassenetch conflicts. The effort led to the inception of the South Omo – Turkana conflict Mitigation Project which kicked off in April 2006 with the launch ceremonies at Todonyang and Kibish respectively. The funders of this Project were Oxfam GB and DAI through USAID.
The funding was made through Riam Riam Turkana peace network as a coordinating body while the implementation was done by the civil society Organizations at the grassroots e.g ECOREDEP/TUPADO from the Kenya side while EPaRDA from the Ethiopia side. This initiative effort saw the Turkana and Dassenetch communities interacting and accepting to live in peaceful co-existence sharing the local available resources amicably. The peace between the Turkana and the Dassenetch lasted for a period of three (3) years came to an abrupt end when the Dassenetch killed a Turkana Family of three on 17th November, 2008 at Todonyang area along the Lake. The Project implementation period was one year and since it was not renewed there were no funds to continue the peace building processes.
As the conflicts situation intensified among the two communities the Todonyang Catholic Parish in 2010 tried to initiate some peace processes in the area but again spoiled by the Dassenetch when it was gaining roots.
On the morning of 5nd May, 2010 the Dassenetch attacked and killed two Turkana fishermen at Todonyang beach forcing the Turkana to revenge by killing four (4) innocent Dassenetch who had come to sell their goods at Todonyang. This exacerbated the situation further and the Dassenetch rounded up all the Turkana in their village called Ses in the Kenya side of the border and massacred them in the open field near the Todonyang Kenya police post at 11.00 am. The Turkana who were in the interior villages of the Dassenetch inside Ethiopia border were saved and later returned back to Kenya by the Todonyang Catholic mission vehicles. The number of the massacred Turkana that day though given as forty (40) by standard newspaper might be high as no body counted those killed in the other outlying Dassenetch villages.
In the follow up to the mentioned massacre the Kenya government deployed the Rapid Deployed Unit (RDU) in the area to beef up security. Through consultative meetings between the Kenya and the Ethiopia governments the Dassenetch were evacuated from the Kenya side of the border and not to access any resources from Kenya side especially pastures. Though the security seemed to be tight on the Kenya side the tension remained high as the Dassenetch were not happy by the decision and the move.
On 2nd August, 2011, the Dassenetch ambushed and attacked Turkana pastoralists as they were watering their animals at the Lake and killed 13 which included 10 women who had gone to fetch water for their home consumption. This incident happened near the vicinity of the Kenya security forces e.g RDU, GSU and Police but they never intervened instead blamed the wind which was blowing that day. The replacement was done for security forces in the area and some changes in positioning the forces camps (RDU & GSU) with further instructions not to allow the Dassenetch access pastures in the Kenya border. This made it a routine for the Dassenetch cattle to be return back when they try to cross border to Kenya to access the coveted good pastures.
In early April, the chitchat was going round that the Dassenetch are re-grouping and planning to face and fight the Kenya security forces if they try to interfere by denying their animals pastures. However, the Kenya authorities were informed including the security forces. It seemed they down played the story assuming it a mere rumor. On 15th April at 2.00 pm the Dassenetch brought their cattle across the border but when the RDU tried to intervene and return them back, they were attacked from both sides by the Dassenetch who had already taken an ambush even round the RDU camps. The war started as the Dassenetch tried to force their way to the security camp. One Dassenetch was killed few metres from the RDU camp while two RDU personnel killed at the same time, another one was later reported missing. However, there the exact number of Dassenetch who lost lives that day is not clearly known though it’s higher as the combination of the RDU and GSU fought them.