Early Signs of Emerging Boundary Conflict between Garissa and Tana River Counties.


Early warning signs:
“NO BODY WANTS WAR. BUT IT HAPPENS. “This a Philosophical quote by Vishwa Jay (2016) when discussing the 6 signs of looming war. The English say “It never rains but it pours”. meaning when one bad thing happens, followed by a lot of other bad things that make a bad situation worse. Recent incidences of conflict in Abaratiro and now Masabubu are early indicators of a looming conflict between Garissa and Tana River Counties. The two areas are hot spots and have been engaged in a protracted border dispute. The author takes time to review the indicators of emerging conflict in order to assist residents and authoritices to initiate conflict resolution mechanisms early enough to curb the volatile situation.

At the moment there is a general division within the population on the border issue which has led to greater polarization and extremism between the two neighbours. It is evident that the slogan ‘if you are not for us you are against us” has emerged. If this mentality is not changed it breeds the mind set and conviction until the two communities are frothing at the mouth and start killing one another. This is a predominant sign of Civil war getting closer.

There is “Jingoism” – this is evident when people have generally developed a common sense of belonging (nationalist) and are war like. This is what we call jingoism. This sets the foundation for Community conviction to become increasingly hostile against their neighbours and increases the tendency to go to war. The idea that we are one Nation separated by Administrative Boundaries is thrown out of the window and people focus on community interests only.

Propaganda – A lot of the news media in the free world are privately owned, but are predisposed to “yellow journalism” (eg sensationalizing or exaggerating the drama in a news story so that it sells more. When official news do the same then it is regarded as propaganda. Already the Social Media in the two Counties is being used to justify positions taken by the leaders and castigating the leaders from the other side. There are also local FM stations in both Counties reporting in favour of their Counties depicting the others as aggressors and enemies. When the main press and media houses begin reporting in favour of one group then we have full blown propaganda at work. At this juncture the Authorities must tame the Media to report cautiously. Let there be a similar move to curb rumours in the Social Media.

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Sound of silence – If a Government suddenly stops talking to the people, it’s a really good sign that there is something happening behind the scenes that is taking everyone’s time. Top level politicians are suddenly unavailable for comment. This is a strong sign that something is amiss. We are already here. Leaders and authorities have suddenly gone underground but a lot is going on behind the scenes. Let leaders and those responsible for security speak out. Silence breeds speculation and distortion of information

There is no guarantee that the manifestation of the foregoing signs may automatically result to war. The best is to act as if the best will happen but prepare for the worst.

Literature review:
The author carried out a research in 2004 on factors contributing to conflict between pastoralists and farmers in Galole and the Conflict resolution mechanisms in place to meet the challenge as part of the fulfillment of Advance Public Administration Course for the Kenya School of Government. In the Thesis the author identified the three miles strip separating Tana River and Garissa Counties as the main cause of conflict. The Garissa residents feel the Colonialists made a mistake by pushing them away from the river and consider it as historical injustice meted to them,
they have made frantic efforts to change the boundary in vain.


However, over the years they have successfully encroached into Tana River to justify their claim of territory. It worked for Garissa town which official maps were altered to curve Garissa township out of Tana River. The pressure now has shifted to Bura East, Fafi Constituency and Masalani in Ijara Constituency. The scramble for River Tana a permanent water source has always placed the two counties at loggerheads.

On 22 September, the Government set up a Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Tana River clashes, chaired by High Court judge Grace Nzioka. The full membership of the Commission appointed by retired President Mwai Kibaki is: Lady Justice Grace Nzioka – Chair, Chief Magistrate Emily Ominde, and Principal Magistrate Abdulqadir Lorot Ramadhan.

However, the report of the Commission has not been made public but could have informed the authorities on the dynamics that generate clashes and remedies proposed to counter the situation

Legal Provisions:
(i) Constitution of Kenya
Section 188 of the Constitution of Kenya regarding County Boundaries provides that:
(1) The boundaries of a county may be altered only by a resolution–
(a) recommended by an independent commission set up for that purpose by Parliament; and(b) passed by–
(i) the National Assembly, with the support of at least two-thirds of all of the members of the Assembly; and
(ii) the Senate, with the support of at least two-thirds of all of the county delegations.

(2) The boundaries of a county may be altered to take into account–
(a) population density and demographic trends;(b) physical and human infrastructure;(c) historical and cultural ties;(d) the cost of administration;(e) the views of the communities affected;(f) the objects of devolution of government; and(g) geographical features.

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(ii) The County Boundaries Bill 2015:
(7)(1) The Senate may pass a resolution for the establishment of a county boundaries mediation committee upon
(a) a request by the governor of any county whose boundary is disputed; or
(b) the recommendation of the Senate, made under section 21, for mediation as the ‘means of resolving a boundary dispute.

The Boundary of Tana River County is as set out in the First Schedule of the Boundaries Bill 2015:

“thence northerly and up-stream by that river to its intersection with a line running parallel to and 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) north of the median line of the Tana River; thence generally easterly and south-easterly by that parallel line to a point due north of the most westerly corner of Garissa Township on the eastern bank of the Tana River ;thence due south to that corner; thence by the boundaries of that township, so that Garissa is excluded from Tana River COUNTY,”

The National Government and County Governments need to be proactive and embark on putting in place mechanisms to address contentious issues that are threatening peace and stability in border tussle between neighbouring Counties of Tana River and Garissa. The Government should be bold enough to survey the border and clearly mark the Boundary. This will bring to an end the rumours being peddled by leaders on the location of the boundary

The County Commissioners and Governors of the two Counties must initiate dialogue to calm down the brewing tension in the area. The area leaders need to tone down and preach peace. Immediately activate the peace committees and community elders to engage in dialogue. The state must take tough measures against politicians making inflammatory statements with a view to inciting the residents to violence

The time to act is now

By Omar A Dhadho (BeD, M.Phil)


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