September 07, 2012
As parts of Kenya slowly recover from a spate of recent tribal conflict, tribal elders have scheduled a series of town hall meetings to seek monetary compensation for the families of some of the victims.
The practice, called maslah, is based on an old tradition common in the North Eastern Province in which families who have lost love ones in tribal violence are paid monetary damages by the offending tribe, Wajir District Commissioner Omar Dima told Sabahi.
At least 60 people have been killed in violence pitting at least four tribes against each other in Wajir, Mandera, Isiolo and Tana River Districts, Dima said. Unrest began in early August largely because of contested grazing and farming lands and watering points.
But as security officials and peace committees work to restore calm in the affected districts, tribal elders are using maslah to assist the families of the deceased.
The damages are calculated by assessing the victims' role in the family and assigning a set number of livestock or their cash equivalent as compensation, Dima said. Tribal representatives of the parties involved in the incident and neutral arbitrators who occasionally include government officials determine the final amount to be paid.
"The settlement enhances harmonious living among the involved tribes. But we do not stop there as government officials," Dima said. "To prevent a recurrence of the violence we arrest the culprits once they are identified."
The money is paid so that a full blown confrontation between other members of the clans is prevented, Dima said.
Acting Internal Security Minister Yussuf Haji told Sabahi that the government only allows maslah to be used because it helps to quell the fighting.
More than 50 suspects have been arrested in connection with the violence in Mandera, Wajir and Tana River Districts and have been arraigned in courts, Haji said.
He said security personnel have been increased in the affected areas and a dusk-to-dawn curfew is now in effect.
"The life of an individual is important and the culprits cannot go scot free even after their tribe pays for maslah," Haji said. In addition, he said the government is trying to reach lasting peace agreements with the help of elders and religious leaders.
Tribal elders and government officials met in Habaswein, Wajir District, on August 6th to discuss how much money should be paid for the death of Ahmed Abdikadir Mohamud, a 35-year-old Wajir pastoralist who was killed in a dispute over the jurisdiction of a watering point between two communities in Isiolo District.
Mohamud was killed February 6th and his death threatened clashes between Somali and Borana tribes, Wajir District Commissioner Omar Dima said.
After nearly a daylong deliberation, the Borana community agreed to pay 800,000 shillings ($9,500) to the family of the deceased before the end of October, Dima said.
While the practice of paying monetary damages for the loss of life in clan conflicts helps prevent escalation in the short term, analysts told Sabahi that the practice does not provide the needed long-term solution.
The government should be more focused on long term solutions that address the root causes of the clashes, such as improving access to natural resources, which is the primary cause of conflicts, said Executive Director of Northern Forum for Democracy Khalif Abdi Farah.
For example, more boreholes should be sunk in areas where water is the source of conflict, he told Sabahi.
In addition to not addressing the root cause of conflicts, monetary damages are not deterrent enough to some offenders, Farah said.
Although it is an individual who is accused of committing a crime, the tribe to which he belongs shoulders the responsibility by paying the money on the criminal's behalf, he said. "This could give a wrong impression that the tribe approves of the crime and the criminals who escape police arrest can repeat the same," he told Sabahi.
Sofia Gedi Ali, co-ordinator of Wajir Human Rights Watch, told Sabahi that instead of payoffs, the government and the community should proactively work towards preventing sporadic tribal violence and hold town hall meetings to preach peaceful co-existence.
"Some of the tribal elders are active when negotiating for monetary compensation and the government should use their negotiation skills to prevent conflicts," she said.
"Currently, peace and conflict resolution is only taught in universities as a programme, but the subject should be included even in elementary schools so that it is inculcated early on the importance of living harmoniously, irrespective of tribe and religions," she said.
Nonetheless, the communal payment is a way for the community to show that they feel the pain of the victim's family, said Mandera Central Parliamentarian Abdikadir Mohammed Hussein.
"Maslah means forgiveness or reconciliation. It is a short term measure but with the guilty party agreeing to pay within the stipulated time, a possible escalation of tribal feuds is averted in the long run," said Hussein, who is also a trained lawyer.
Those who directly commit crimes should still face the law to make sure the mechanism is not abused, he said.
"Deaths are God's will. Even our conventional courts cannot award the deceased families' financial rewards to start life," Rukia Abdi Abdille, councillor of Lagboghol Ward in Wajir District, told Sabahi. "It is for this that the communities first settle the affected families before moving to the next stage of prosecuting the culprit."
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