Posted Saturday, February 11 2012 at 22:20
The battle started at a peace meeting convened to end the deadly feud between members of two communities divided by little else than the fact that they share the same district and their leaders have a poisonous hatred for one another.
Elders from the Gabra and Borana communities filed into the compound near the Moyale Boys Secondary School – the only school elevated to national status in Marsabit county – in the mid-afternoon of January 3 to begin negotiations that the provincial administration hoped would bring peace to the troubled region.
It was not to be. The meeting degenerated into a shootout as armed men from both communities engaged in battle. That served as the start of the latest chapter of conflict between the Borana and Gabra. By the time the guns fell silent on January 28, 30 people had died.
A week-long investigation by the Sunday Nation revealed that the vicious battle was fought on behalf of the communities by Ethiopian militias within and around Moyale town under the noses of Kenyan security officers, including the military, who have a barracks in the town.
For the first time in recent memory, heavy weaponry, including mortars and assault rifles brought in from Ethiopia, was used.
Outnumbered both in terms of numbers and weaponry, Kenyan police officers were reduced to bystanders to the deadly conflict that has shone a light on the troublesome inter-communal relations in the district and which observers warn could spiral out of control.
“Nobody should lie to you. The recent clash was between militias from Ethiopia who were fighting on behalf of their kinsmen. Both the Gabra and Borana, who have kinsmen in Kenya and Ethiopia, brought in their people through the porous border to help them,” a police officer, who cannot be identified because he is not authorised to speak to the media, said.
The battles were so fierce that authorities all but abandoned the area. There was no one to collect the bodies of those killed; they were left to hyenas.
But Moyale DC Elias Kithaura was quick to defend the government’s inaction, saying that it was not easy to prevent the militias from crossing the border because they do not use designated entry points.
Further, with the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) having set up bases in the area for about 10 years until they were flushed out by the Kenya Government, people there have experience in the use of guns, the DC added.
The battle started as sporadic killings on November 28 between the two communities on the Ethiopian side. Soon, however, the fighting spilled into Kenya.
And following the abortive peace meeting, the battle intensified, with the worst clash taking place on January 26-27.
For the first time in Moyale, the sound of mortar and machine gun fire rent the air, forcing the army out of their barracks when it became evident that this was more than an ordinary clash between the two communities.
The government also sent a contingent of GSU officers, but by the time they arrived, the guns had fallen silent.