Kenyan food crisis sparks serious upsurge in communal violence

Published: 6 February 2006

Dozens already killed, violence set to increase further

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, warns Oxfam International today.

The drought and food crisis in Kenya is so severe that it is leading to nomadic cattle herders 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 sources.

"It's not just the food crisis that is claiming lives 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," said Gezahegn Kebede, Head of Oxfam in Kenya.

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. This will be the basis for the scaled-up aid effort being launched on Wednesday this week.

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 an effective early warning mechanism is in place.

Conflict has already broken out in many areas:

  • At Oropoi and Kainuk, pastures have been burnt down increasing tensions between the Turkana and the Karimajong tribes. The Turkana believe 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 sources and pasture.

  • In Isiolo district, sheep and goat thefts have increased and a recent raid left 9 people dead.

  • In Garissa this week a conflict between two clans over a water source was only just averted by the district peace committee.

In other areas tension is building and fighting could break out at any time. At Lomelo three tribes, the Samburu, the Pokot and the Turkanas, now have to share the remaining water and pasture available. Tensions are increasing as the Turkanas, the Pokot and Samburu are sharing increasingly scarce pasture and water.

"We now have a very small window in which to stop this crisis turning into a catastrophe. 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," said Gezahegn Kebede, head of Oxfam in Kenya.

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. With no opportunity to roam freely the exhausted pasture cannot support their livestock which are now dying in their thousands.

Oxfam is calling on the 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 helping over 200,000 people affected by the food crisis by supplying food and water in Turkana and Wajir.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Brendan Cox + 254 (0) 733 632 810
Anastasia Mutisya + 254 (0) 733 7926 74