With trust-building dialogues, East African clans make peace

June 11, 2019

For many years, the Marehan and Murule clans in East Africa’s Mandera Triangle have lived in conflict. They share social and natural resources across the borders separating Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya – often the cause of disagreements. The Murule community blames the Marehan community for aiding Al Shabaab, a terror group that operates in villages along the Somali side of the border, ruining lives through fear, radicalization and violence.

In defense of his clan, Marehan elder Idris Adan says, “Our Murule brothers continue to blame us for matters beyond our control. In fact, the Marehan community suffers the most and has even lost many elders as a result of violent extremism. We encourage our colleagues to accept realities and help us in the fight against terror.”

On the other hand, the Marehan community accuses the Murule clan of pitting Kenyan security agents against their families residing in Mandera.

About a year and a half ago, the Regional Approaches for Sustainable Conflict Management project, or RASMI, began working with traditional clan leaders to stem the conflict and build social cohesion between the Marehan and Murule clans. RASMI, which mean “reliable” in Somali, uses a systems-based approach to promote peacebuilding, conflict management and conflict resolution capacity at the community and cross-border levels. Implemented by Pact, it is part of the EU's programme for Collaboration in the Cross-Border Areas of the Horn of Africa.

With RASMI’s support, the Murule and Marehan communities held trust-building dialogues to foster understanding and agreement. As a result, the two clans are becoming more resilient to incidences of conflict and are no longer easily provoked to retaliation. Both sides learned about how revenge killings hamper the resolution of conflicts, lead to more death and destruction, and hinder reconciliation. The traditional leaders helped galvanize those in their clans by presenting at the dialogues, agreeing to mobilize their communities, dissuading them from participating in retaliatory attacks and opting for negotiation rather than violence to manage conflict.

It has been the practice that agreements reached during the peak of conflicts are usually entered to quell the violence without intentions of honoring them, but these dialogues were different, says Abdille Sheikh Billow, a Murule elder.

“This forum has come at a time when the two communities are at peace, and this means we can have open and honest discussions on contentious issues that usually disrupt social cohesion,” he says.  

The dialogues have resulted in many positive follow-on effects, including a reduction in displacement of communities after incidents of conflict. Marehan children who attend school on the Kenyan side of the border now remain in school even after violent conflict occurs, for example, and cross-border business and other interactions continue. The progress in how the two communities now maintain relationships, even during violent incidents, speaks to the dialogues’ effectiveness in building trust. 

Since the dialogues, the communities have shown their ability to successfully de-escalate conflict. Earlier this year, two Murule men who worked as brokers at a livestock market in Elwak, Somalia, were killed there by Marehan gunmen. The killings did not spark inter-clan violence, and Marehan elders even participated in the men’s burials. The Marehan community took responsibility for the killings, immediately sent messages of condolences to the victims’ families and organized dialogues with the Murule clan to discuss the killings and reparations. And the Marehan quickly apprehended the killers, preempting any opportunities for revenge attacks.

This March, a Murule elder who had served as a Kenya Police Reservist was killed along the Kenya-Somalia border. The violence was accurately blamed on Al Shabaab rather than the Marehan community. Marehan elders reached out to the Murule clan with condolences and encouraged them to disseminate accurate information to nearby villages to avoid revenge attacks.

Lead photo: Murule and Marehan elders take part in a trust-building dialogue.