Kenya’s Marsabit county is one of the country’s popular tourist attractions, but unrest generated by ethnic conflicts in the region is paralyzing economic activities, said Nuno Galma, a driver in the town.
“My business is affected whenever the bandits attack our town. As a businessman when I hear gunshots, I have to run.”
Kenyan authorities said two major ethnic groups in the county, whose source of livelihood is pastoralism, fight over natural resources. Both groups access illegal firearms smuggled from neighboring Ethiopia.
The state declared a 30-day dusk to dawn curfew to crack down on illegal firearms and ammunition. Bruno Shioso is a Kenya police spokesperson.
“We have heightened surveillance because it has been declared a deserted area,” Shioso said. “We have increased the number of police. We are happy because leaders in the area are now talking, they are coming out to talk, so we believe as we continue with our work the leaders in the area will also preach peace.”
Security expert George Msamali said conflicts across the border in Ethiopia are sparking the unrest in Marsabit, especially because of the unsecured border, which he said enables people to smuggle weapons.
“Remember some communities have families across the border and the Kenya-Ethiopia border is so porous so, you’ll find that people moving from Ethiopia joining their kinsmen in Kenya and fighting against the other clan,” Msamali said. “It’s easy dfor them to smuggle weapons from Kenya into Ethiopia and vice versa.”
Dozens of people have been killed in recent months in what authorities said amounts to a political struggle to control resources.
Kenya Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i said the security operation in Marsabit may be extended until the state can get rid of illegal weapons in the region.