Flickr: Northern Kenya EC:ECHO Daniel Dickinson
Northern Kenya has a long history of ethnic conflict, violence and marginalisation, but new conflict drivers and dynamics related to devolution, terrorism and resource extraction are now exacerbating these local tensions and raising challenges for traditional peacebuilding structures.
Control of large budgets and political posts by local political and economic elites in the newly created County governments, is fuelling inter-and intra-tribal and clan tensions. In Garissa County, for example, political competition over the control of local government is exacerbating existing conflicts over boundary disputes and natural resources. These localised conflicts could lead to post-election violence, the emergence of local militias, recruitment and infiltration by Al-Shabaab and harsh counter-terrorism responses from Kenyan security forces.
Increasing incidents of terror attacks by Somalia-based militant Islamist group, Al-Shabaab, also complicate the conflict and security situation in northern Kenya. Perception of injustices and a sense of marginalisation amongst Kenya’s Somali and Muslim populations have provided fertile ground for Al-Shabaab to localise its jihad at Kenya’s margins.* Al-Shabaab attacks also deflect the attention of state security away from local conflicts, which leads to an increase in communal and clan violence. State response to terrorism is largely security-centric, creating little incentive for collaboration between security institutions, county governments and local communities.
Resource and development
Oil concessions and major development projects such as the Lamu Port Project are aggravating existing conflict issues in northern Kenya through speculative land grabbing, contested communal and political borders, disputed allocation of oil revenues and in-migration.
The conflict systems in the Horn of Africa are intertwined, meaning the conflicts in northern Kenya cannot be resolved in isolation from the conflicts in Somalia and Ethiopia. Somali clans straddle the Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia borders. Some of the Kenyan-Somali elites supported the Kenyan military’s intervention in Somalia, which partly explains why Garissa County has witnessed most of the blowback attacks from Al-Shabaab. Garissa County also hosts over half a million refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia. The planned repatriation of Somali refugees is likely to impact local politics and economy, including potential clan tensions and conflicts over infrastructure and land to be vacated by the refugees.
* Tangled ties: Al-Shabaab and political volatility in Kenya, Jeremy Lind et al, Institute of Development Studies (IDS), April 2015