25 January 2023

Climate security practice: Dialogue and peacebuilding in Lake Turkana

Climate change and water scarcity pose significant challenges to the stability and cohesion of communities in the Lake Turkana region. As fishing and pastoralist communities adapt to the changing environment they find themselves in growing competition for scarce water resources. Violent clashes have been reported for years in Turkana County, Marsabit County, and along the Ethiopian border, on the western, eastern and northern shores of the lake respectively.

The Water, Peace and Security (WPS) partnership has been operating in the region since 2021 and aims to identify and understand the security risks that water-related conflicts pose. Working with local partners and communities it then seeks to organise timely, informed and inclusive action for conflict prevention and mitigation.

The project is operating in a context with traditional mechanisms already in place to resolve disputes, particularly the council of elders, known as ‘kraal elders’. Government representatives, such as chiefs and assistant chiefs, are an integral part of the peacebuilding process. The solutions to the cases handled usually arrive after tremendous negotiations and dialogues.

Starting with the involvement of the kraal elders, the peace dialogues organised by WPS are being widely accepted by the community members, encouraging forgiveness, tolerance, and peaceful coexistence in the area.

WPS is promoting peaceful coexistence especially by increasing the interactions and dialogue between the pastoralist community of Turkana of Kenya and the Dassanech and Nyangatom of Ethiopia. The free movement of pastoralists across the border and the peaceful sharing of resources would allow communities to better cope with the consequences of the drought: “The peace aspect is very important to us because once we are at peace with our neighbors we can reduce the impact of climate change and environment stress through free movement across the borders” explains Purity, a 32-year-old small business owner in Kibish.

According to Zachariah Etukon, a Kibish sub-county administrator, sharing the resources, at least between Turkana and Nyangatom, seems possible: “They’re sharing water. They’re also sharing their pasture. They are sharing other social amenities such as schools. They’re also sharing churches and other spaces for worshipping side-by-side.” He continues clarifying that the engagement created through the dialogue was fundamental in opening an opportunity for a constructive collaboration, and to be able to equally share the natural resources, depending on the changes in the climate and in the rain patterns.

Finally, another element particularly appreciated by the participants to the dialogue has been WPS’ approach to bringing together different groups, a wide range of stakeholders and categories of people. This allows a wider buy-in of the process and strengthen the sustainability of peace.

But more needs to be done to expand the dialogue activities, to systematically involve Dassanech people, and possibly start opening channels of communication with the communities of South Sudan, such as the Toposa.

In fact, there is still a lack of strong linkages between the administrations of Kenya and South Sudan regarding peacebuilding and conflict resolution. Inclusivity is key in ensuring the sustainability of peace and leaving no one behind. It means, as Zachariah illustrates, supporting environmental coordination meetings across the borders, involving even more young and elderly people in discussions on how to maintain peace, and promoting inter-faith dialogues.

This will be key when facing new challenges, such as the raising number of incidents related to cattle stealing that are happening in Kibish and other sub-counties. These “peace spoilers”, as Zachariah described people involved in cattle stealing, are a potential threat to the relatively stable situation at the border with Ethiopia, and the authorities and communities are working to intensify their cooperation and promote more community dialogues to address collectively this issue.

Peacebuilding efforts in an increasingly water-scarce region will need to be redoubled. Community engagement and dialogue channels will need to be opened and maintained. With people like Zachariah, Achegei, Charles, Purity and Erupe on board, the WPS partnership will aim to continue doing just that.

This report on the work of WPS in Lake Turkana was originally published by International Alert. The original article can be viewed here.

Photo credit: Robin Hutton/ Flickr