By Dr. Ali Maalim
Failure is no Option. This was the transcending slogan of the Kaparo-Haji Presidential Peace Task Force for Mandera county conflict. After myriad peace efforts at county, regional and National levels failed, the protracted perennial clan conflict in Mandera has for the first time received the bold attention of the President.
In September 2014, President Uhuru Kenyatta named Kaparo-Haji Peace Task Force to deliver to him short- and long-term sustainable peace. The team moved with speed. Immediately after the appointment, the team formed a 40-member committee comprising both conflicting clans. In meetings that brought together leaders who generally won’t see eye-to-eye, Kaparo has with magical whistle sung the slogan ‘Failure is no option”.
This slogan reverberated rallying the committee and the political leadership from both counties of Mandera and Wajir. He started out with gusto, invariably giving no chance to detractors and doubters.
There are no better Kenyans than Francis Kaparo and Yusuf Haji for this conciliatory peace process. Both accomplished and eminent statesmen have charted distinguished careers in public life, one the longest serving Speaker of the National Assembly and the other the longest-serving administrator, Defence minister and currently a sitting senator. Undoubtedly, they double up as elders, and the role of an elder in African society explicitly noble. No one has the audacity to challenge them or the president for making this choice. After all, their recent engagement in Marsabit was conclusively resounding success.
In the morning of September 22, 2014, Kaparo and Haji walked into the conference hall at Crowne Plaza Hotel gleaming with confidence, portraying a sense of empowerment imbued by the presidential directive. They greeted the committee with “Failure is?” and the room roared back, “no option”! There was a sense of excitement and hope for communities that have not grazed together for over four years. There were even light moments among the leadership, with some using the opportunity to deliver the truths in half-jest and half-earnestly.
A genuine peace negotiation between the Degodia and Garre communities was for the first time set up by Kaparo and Haji. As the adage goes, inch-by-inch everything is a cinch, the Kaparo-Haji team promised peace will prevail at the end but we’ll have to walk step-by-step and resolve the root causes of the conflict one-by-one. In that spirit, he delivered a structured tiered peace process.
Tier one was to promulgate a sustainable and firm ceasefire on both sides of the conflicting clans. On the glare of all national screens and radio waves across the country, the Kaparo-Haji team successfully and resoundingly delivered the first tier of the peace process—the Resolution on Ceasefire. This was received and embraced widely leading to four months of calmness.
With the promise of proceeding to tiers two, three and four, each community worked on its key grievances, which it would present. In the hearts and minds of many, this was the one moment to bring out historical and current injustices and real causes of the conflict. Everyone waited for the follow-up peace meetings. But the team was never to be heard from again.
Two of the key leaders, one from each community, who were appointed to coordinate with the Kaparo-Haji team, were not able to give clear direction giving cues on the disillusioned task force. Rumours abound, there is no funding to proceed, they couldn’t secure an appointment with the President due to multiple layers of gate-keepers and the whole task force may collapse – so much for ‘failure is no option’.
A ceasefire alone would not sustain the peace for too long unless the root cause of the conflict is comprehensively addressed. The first incident, and hopefully the last, that has ruthlessly interrupted four months of calmness occurred this week. On January 10, at 3am, the first bullet was heard on the outskirts of Gubba at Banisa subcounty, Mandera. In an unprovoked attack, a 14-year-old was killed and his 80-year-old grandfather was seriously injured.
This attack has deeply and irreversibly dented the Ceasefire Agreement prompting many renewed questions on the mandate of the Kaparo-Haji task force. With IDPs still spread across the conflict zones, the fear of war lingers. Precedent has it that one incident has a domino effect due to the retaliatory nature of pastoral communities. Whether this attack will follow the precedent is unknown just yet, unlikely due to the bold and decisive move by the local leadership on both sides.
Is the county sliding back to those terrible months and years? Was the Kaparo-Haji Peace Task Force only mandated to get a Ceasefire Agreement without resolving the underpinning causes of the conflict? Ostensibly, the team was hit by a setback of sorts. It’s our prayer that this setback is a setup for a bigger and bolder comeback. The President and the newly appointed Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery could perhaps provide the setup and direction to take the Kaparo-Haji peace process to a logical conclusion.
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