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The birth of a new tribe and elusive peace in Marsabit



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On Saturday last week, Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani made a triumphant entry into Marsabit town to preside the handing over of a code to a ‘new’ tribe called Wayu.

He declared they are now an independent tribe recognised in the country.

That same day, violence broke out on the outskirts of the town, leading to the killing of two Borana people.

The following day, Mr George Biqa, the chief of Drib Gombo location who attended the Wayu tribe launch, was attacked and killed at the burial of one of the people murdered the previous day.

He was accused of betraying the community by attending the launch. At the function, a hard-hitting statement that can likely fuel animosity was issued by speakers.

Wayu had decided to shed off the name Watta, which they said was disparaging and meant to portray them as wanderers or beggars. In their effort to seek their own identity as a distinct ethnic group, Mr Yattani had stood with them while he served as governor.

In return, the Wayu council of elders decided to support him in his re-election bid against the current Governor Mohamud Ali of Jubilee.

Mr Ali is a Borana and a political rival of Mr Yattani.

“We all decided to support Ukur (Mr Yattani) and the chief was always on our side,” one of the Wayu leaders Nuria Gollo told Nation.

Some residents have faulted Mr Yattani, a Gabra, for choosing to hold such an event that has served to raise political temperatures and suspicion among communities at a time when elders and leaders are promoting peace initiatives.

However, Mr Yattani says he has a right to attend any functions in his county. “As a bone-fide resident of Marsabit I have a right to go home, attend functions in the county any time and anywhere,” he said.

The former governor added that the Wayu also have a right to celebrate their culture like other Kenyans.

“There are 14 different communities in Marsabit County. What’s wrong with the minority Wayu celebrating their culture. I am not a Wayu but a firm believer in standing with minorities in this country wherever they live,” Mr Yattani said.

But interviews with people who understand local political intrigues show that the process that culminated in the launch of the Wayu tribe had been carefully planned over the last five years, aided by Mr Yattani during his tenure as Marsabit governor.

Until Mr Yattani came to power, Wayu was known as Watta living mostly in Marsabit and Tana River counties.

His effort to rebrand the tribe was seen as politically-motivated to reduce the numerical strength of the Borana community, from where his political nemesis Mohamud Ali hails from.

The launch was a political theatre, with speakers led by Mr Yattani tearing into the county government.

Critics accuse Mr Yattani of using State resources not only to build his support base but also engage in events that are sowing discord.

When contacted for comment yesterday, Mr Yattani neither picked our calls nor replied to our text messages.

In January 2014, war broke out between Borana and Gabra communities in Moyale, leading to Deputy President William Ruto threatening that the county will be suspended unless Mr Yattani takes responsibility for the insecurity in his area.

But Mr Raila Odinga accused Mr Ruto and Jubilee of targeting Mr Yattani for being an Orange Democratic Movement governor.

The Indian Ocean Newsletter in its November 23 issue reported that Governor Ali is appealing to Nairobi over Mr Yattani’s role in escalating conflict between Gabra and Borana communities.

The paper claimed Mr Yattani’s influence had led to the government stopping the issuance of national identity cards to members of the Borana community.

After every electioneering year, a cycle of ethnic violence is always witnessed in Marsabit. And the question of what causes the ethnic conflicts remains indistinct as many, particularly the media, attribute it to a fight over resources.

Borana and Gabra are the main ethnic groups inhabiting Marsabit County. Their rivalry dates back to the late 1990s but it escalated in July 2005 when they fought bloody wars that culminated in the infamous Turbi Massacre in which more than 60 people, majority being school children, were killed.

Raiders from the Borana community had attacked Turbi trading centre — a Gabra settlement along Marsabit-Moyale border — targeting school children. They were ostensibly on a revenge mission following killings of their people, including the chief of Qilta location, Waqo Boru. He had been shot in one of the conflicts between the two communities.

Ever since, peace in Marsabit has remained elusive. However, the killing of the chief in the latest incident has left many wondering if the Borana/Gabra conflict is stoked by competition for pasture and water or is fuelled by politics.

Marsabit County Commissioner, Gilbert Kitio said three people, one of them a woman, have been arrested in connection with the gruesome murder of the chief.

Ms Nuria Gollo, the founder of Marsabit Women Advocacy and Development Organisation, attributes the lynching to politics. “The murder of the chief is purely political,” she said.

Through her organisation, Ms Gollo insists they had invited all leaders in the county to the Wayu celebrations.

Mr Yattani is accused of rewarding his allies who lost in past elections with State appointments.

On September 7, 2018, Mr Yattani appointed Ms Nuria Gollo as a member of the National Council for Children Services.

Ms Gollo vied for Saku parliamentary seat on Mr Yattani’s Frontier Alliance Party and lost. She hails from the ‘new’ Wayu community.

On June 6, 2018, barely four months after assuming office, Mr Yattani appointed former Laisamis MP Joseph Lekuton as a board member of the National Social Security Fund.

Mr Yattani’s running mate in last year’s polls Hassan Marsa Sarbo is now a National Council for Persons with Disabilities board member.

However, the CS dismissed the claims that he has been rewarding his cronies.

“Not true but I wish I could because there’s nothing wrong with that as long as they are qualified. Aren’t they Kenyans?”