Our Land, Their Land? It's Kenyan Land!

Updated: Mar 24, 2020

As a child, growing up in an area surrounded by conflicts wasn’t easy and it’s worrying that despite numerous efforts by elders of the warring communities holding talks to foster for unity and cohesion, we are not yet there, peace has been a rare thing at my homeland Ilemi owing to land disputes.

For a long period, my home, famously known as the Ilemi triangle which houses the Turkana, Didinga, Nyangatom, Topasa and Dassanech of Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia has been a bloody battlefield due to inter-ethnic conflicts and my prayer has always been that one-day things will change, and my home will experience peace.

Coming from the nomadic Turkana community with our main economic activity being pastoralism, land disputes, cattle rustling, and ethnic conflicts were the order of the day. Fighting over resources, water, access to pasture, fishing points as in the case of us the Turkana and Ethiopia’s Dassanech community overfishing at Lake Turkana, was not an easy thing. With an increased number of sophisticated guns and other weaponry held illegally and used by cross border communities, the frequent inter-communal violent conflicts led to an increased number of deaths and injuries in our area and sadly at one point I lost my uncle to these cross border disputes.

In the past Kenya has experienced similar land conflicts as in the case of the Migingo Island where a 2000 square meter land triggered border disputes among Kenyans and Ugandans.

Amidst all the challenges in the homeland, I am glad that my parents had seen a little light and were able to take me and my siblings to school where despite being on and off class due to frequent conflicts, we were able to acquire some education and today I can proudly say that I made it to the University, got employed and managed to shift my family from Elemi to where we stay now in Nakuru.

As they say, home is always the best, and Elemi remains to be our home. I have always wanted my home to thrive in unity and it saddens my heart that there still exists inter-ethnic conflicts at our homeland.

Since time immemorial, the Elemi triangle which was named after South Sudan’s chief Anuak Ilemi Akwon has seen its boundary change over the years and has locked Kenya, Sudan, and Ethiopia in an enduring ownership dispute for more than a century, a dispute that arose from unclear wording of colonial-era treaties, which attempted to allow for the movements of Turkana nomadic herders. There are up to five ‘borders’ describing the ambiguously defined territory, which measures between 10,320 and 14,000 square kilometers.

In the past Kenya has experienced similar land conflicts as in the case of the Migingo Island where a 2000 square meter land triggered border disputes among Kenyans and Ugandans.

Lately, I have been wondering how the people of the Elemi triangle would turn their land disputes into shared prosperity. My thoughts landed me to Kenya’s proposed Building Bridges Initiative which strongly advocates for shared prosperity and unity. National, county and community leaders ought to use the Building Bridges Initiative proposals to create a peaceful co-existence among border communities. Through advocating for unity and shared use of the existing resources in areas that experience cross-border conflicts, an opportunity to spur progress and developments in the regions will be assured.

Land ownership disputes are not a new thing to us Kenyans and it is possible to apply a shared prosperity approach and unity building among conflicting community members enhance to ensure devolution produces good fruit.

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