Kenyan Food Crisis Sparks Upsurge in Communal Violence

By Oxfam

The escalating food crisis in Kenya is threatening to plunge the affected region into a level of conflict that it hasn't been seen for almost a decade, Oxfam International warns.

The drought and resulting food crisis in Kenya are so severe that nomadic cattle herders are fighting over resources. The last time there was such large-scale communal violence was in 1997. The number of weapons in the area is making such encounters increasingly lethal as nomadic communities now have to travel hundreds of kilometers in search of pasture—often taking them into areas controlled by other communities. There is also growing conflict between farmers and cattle herders as livestock invade farms and deplete the remaining water supplies.

”It's not just the food crisis that is claiming lives in Kenya,” said Gezahegn Kebede, who heads Oxfam’s programs in Kenya. “The knock-on impact of the crisis risks sparking conflict on a scale that Kenya hasn't seen for almost a decade. Unless aid to the affected area is stepped up this month, March could see many more killed.”

A new assessment of the scale of the crisis is currently being compiled by a committee of aid agencies, the UN, and the Kenyan government. That assessment will be the basis for the scaled-up aid effort being launched this Wednesday.

The food crisis is exacerbating tensions in an area where a lack of long-term development aid has already led to tensions between communities over scarce resources. Oxfam is working with the Kenyan government to help formulate policies to address the underlying issues and ensure that an effective early-warning mechanism is in place.

Conflict has already broken out in many areas:

  • Pastures in Oropoi and Kainuk have been burnt, increasing tensions between the Turkana and Karimajong tribes. The Turkana believe that the fires were set in order to push them into Uganda in search of pasture, where they would then have been attacked for their remaining cattle.
  • Forty people were killed earlier this month at Lokamariyang and Kokoro during fighting between the Turkana and tribes from neighboring Ethiopia over water and pasture.
  • In Isiolo district, sheep and goat thefts have increased and a recent raid left nine people dead.
  • In Garissa this week a conflict between two clans over a water source was narrowly averted by the district peace committee.

"We now have a very small window in which to stop this crisis turning into a catastrophe,” said Gezahegn Kebede. “The implications of failing to step up the aid effort now will not just be starvation; it could also bring large-scale conflict to the region. It's not too late to avert the worst of this, but it soon will be."

The increased conflict, which has been sparked by the drought, is in turn making the food crisis worse. Many livestock herders are boxed in on all sides by hostile tribes. The exhausted pastureland cannot support their livestock, which, with no opportunity to roam freely, are now dying by the thousands.

Oxfam is calling on the Kenyan government to step up long-term help to the region, particularly the development of infrastructure such as boreholes, which will help safeguard livelihoods and reduce conflict.

Oxfam is supplying food and water to help more than 200,000 people affected by the food crisis in Turkana and Wajir.

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