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Land scarcity drives a bout of ethnic violence in Kenya, Ethiopia

The Turkana of northwest Kenya and Daasanach of southern Ethiopia have been at odds for years, but food scarcity, drought, and changing lifestyles are exacerbating tensions.

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According to the above-mentioned Nairobi Star account, this violence is part of a pattern that reaches back years:

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The massacre is the latest in attacks that have pitted communities within the Elemi Triangle – the once disputed triangular border area between Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia – and the area has known no peace.

The region has been home to protracted and intermittent cattle rustling with many killed, maimed and much property lost. The Elemi Triangle has until recently been ‘unwanted’ and not economically developed by any regional government. Differences of perception and significance of the area between the authorities and the local herders has persisted for decades.

Apart from being the gateway to an area of Sudan rich in unexplored oil reserves, Elemi is only significant for its dry season pastures that support the Turkana, Didinga, Toposa, Inyangatom (Dong’iro) and Dassanech (Merille) communities, largely known as the Karamoja cluster groups of Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan.

Armed cattle rustling conflicts between the Turkana of Kenya and Ethiopia’s Merille have dominated headlines of the Elemi Triangle news. Between January 2002 and November 2004, at least 100 people were killed and unspecified number of livestock taken away.

The article goes on to detail attacks that occurred in 2010 and earlier this year.

Fighting between Turkana and Merille has displaced dozens of people and has stirred up local resentment against the Kenyan government. The Kenyan government, meanwhile, has complained to the Ethiopian government. Without a long-term solution to the tensions that pit the Turkana and Merille against each other, a deadly cycle will continue: government authority will corrode, local groups will turn to violence to solve conflicts, and the problem will persist.

I am including a video report from NTV Kenya below.

*I have used the name Merille because this is what Kenyan newspapers use, but I have tried to avoid a pro-Turkana bias – especially since many of the sources I used are Kenyan.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.

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