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Enhancing Peace and Security in Kenya through Mitigation of Climate Change


Climate change is among the greatest risks to peace and security in the 21st century. Climate change is not a direct cause of armed conflicts, but it indirectly increases the risk of conflict by exacerbating existing factors such as social, economic, and environmental conflicts. The intensity violence arising from livestock grazing lands is associated with periods of less than normal rainfall in Turkana County because of contestation of watering points, pasture, and livestock ownership, along with the availability of small arms that increase the risk of insecurity among the communities.

Climate change is a driver of conflicts and violence in the northwest, western and northeastern parts of Kenya, either directly or indirectly. These conflicts and violence are characterized by violent livestock raids and conflicts over communal resources and boundary disputes. This is exacerbated by the scarcity of land and water in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs), which make up to 85% of the land area in Kenya and where most people derive their livelihoods from pastoralism. The small-scale violence, for example, that has been witnessed between the Samburu and the Pokot, and Pokot and the Turkana communities, has been linked to climate change variabilities.

Policy Issue

The climate crisis has impacted national security through a scramble for meager natural resources, thus resulting in conflicts, violence, and insecurity. This has disrupted the livelihoods of residents in parts of Baringo, Laikipia, Isiolo, Turkana, and Pokot counties over the years. Even after countless police operations, these disruptions have persisted in the areas of Baragoi, Kapedo, Mukutan, Ol Donyiro, Laikipia Nature Conservancy, Ol Moran and Muchongoi in the past decade. The increased intensities and magnitudes of climate-related risks aggravate conflicts, mostly over natural resources. This has often forced the government to reallocate the development budget to address climate-related emergencies. In the year 2021, President Uhuru Kenyatta declared drought, a national disaster. Consequently, the Ministry of Agriculture proposed Ksh 670 million budget to the National Treasury for mitigating drought and adverse weather conditions.

Current Interventions

The Government of Kenya has put in place interventions that help communities in conflict areas to coexist with one another. The government, through the National Drought Management Authority in collaboration with development partners, has financed projects that cushion and build the resilience of local communities from the effects of climate change. Some of these projects focus on the introduction of drought-resistant crops and construction of pans to provide water for animals and households. Such programmes include the US Agency for International Development (USAID) providing nearly US$ 255 million for emergency and humanitarian assistance. This empowers locals from the fragility of such environs.   

The government has also initiated irrigation projects and sensitized the pastoralists on ways of diversifying their livelihood to combat climate change effects. This will ensure that their lives continue even after a severe drought, and they do not need to raid livestock from their neighbours.

The other solution that the government has offered is deploying security personnel to conflict areas to maintain law and order.  The county governments that border each other have been organizing and supporting peace caravans and meetings with the local leadership and the community at large. These campaigns help in ensuring that communities live in harmony and share resources without engaging in war.

Gaps and Emerging Issues

According to the Kenya Red Cross Society, in Laikipia alone, more than 73 police officers have lost their lives since 2012 and 291 civilians have lost their lives since 1998. In Baringo South, 591 families have been displaced while another 500 families have been displaced in Baringo North. In March 2022, 23 people lost their lives, including security officers. These conflicts are mostly attributed to banditry and drought conditions, particularly in conflict-affected settings. These conflicts can compound economic, social, or political drivers of insecurity, leaving already vulnerable populations on the frontlines of multiple, intersecting crises.  The children are faced with psychosocial trauma after the loss of their parents and relatives while parents are depressed after losing their livelihoods.

In recent years, there have been changes in climatic patterns, and the country has experienced erratic rainfall patterns. Most parts of northern Kenya where most people depend on rainfall for pastures have been extremely affected. Variability in rainfall has led to prolonged droughts that affect livestock and eventually threaten pastoral livelihoods. Eventually, communities are forced to move to areas where they can find pasture and water for their animals. Mostly they move close to their neighbours and due to increased pressure on scarce resources available, conflicts arise. Interactions between factors such as access to pasture and feed resources, poverty and marginalization, and lack of effective institutions for cooperative resource sharing can compound the effects of climate variability, leading to grievances and distrust between communities, which results in conflict risks.

Way Forward and Recommendations

Mitigation of climate change to curb associated conflicts is necessary for a country advocating for peaceful coexistence among the communities. Mitigation involves putting in place measures that will reduce the emission and flow of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Armed conflicts make it challenging for partners and the government to implement mitigation measures to curb climate change. The government and other development partners must put into place solutions that will make communities become more resilient to climate change. This includes provision of drought-resistant variants of crops that can withstand drought to ensure that communities have access to a nutritious source of food.

When building resilience for pastoralist communities, the government together with other partners may consider drilling boreholes to supply water for irrigation. Further, rehabilitate irrigation schemes that are small-scale within the community to stimulate and create economic empowerment. This will ensure communities can access food from their small farms and have water for their livestock. Most raiding activities involve young people. Therefore, the government can tackle this by establishing training centres where the youth can acquire skills and be empowered so that they can contribute to the diversification of livelihood in the communities instead of engaging in illegal activities such as cattle rustling.

Environmental education on mitigation and adaptation measures through different communication channels is one way of tackling such conflicts by government and other stakeholders. It can be used as a form of conflict resolution method. Raising such awareness among those in fragile ecosystems is vital, to avoid people and animal deaths arising from conflicts over scarce resources.

Designing programmes in climate change adaptation and mitigation should encourage post-conflict activities that will help build climate-resilient communities. Also, diplomacy and dialogue should be encouraged over shared resources such as water sources.

It is therefore important that greater effort is made to model climate-related conflict and security risks, and integrate climate, peace, and security policy into early warning systems and assessments, and diplomacy, security, and defense policies at the national and regional level across the continent.

Authors: Jecinta Anomat, Young Professional

Aldrine Kimtai, Young Professional

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