MARALAL, August 18 – In the first week of August, a host of morans (warriors) converged in Maralal, a town described as the gateway to Kenya’s northern wilderness, some 348 kilometres from Nairobi.
The town was hosting two internationally acclaimed events – the Tegla Loroupe Peace Run, and the Maralal International Camel Derby.
Lomen Lokoronyang had travelled for almost seven hours from his village, Malaso in Pokot at the invitation of his friend Dominic Lelesit.
Dominic is not from Maralal either; He had traveled from Siambu, a village in Samburu district which borders Pokot.
Joseph Lomumaka went to school with Dominic and he too had come to Maralal.
More about these young men will come later. For now, let me introduce you to the Peace Run and its organisers.
The Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation
The Tegla Loroupe Foundation has been organising races between warring pastoral communities of Northern Kenya and neighbouring Uganda to build trust and break the stereotypes existing amongst them besides helping them discover and nurture their talents in athletics.
The very warriors that participate in these peace races are used as ambassadors to sensitise their communities on the need to stop engaging in conflict.
The Foundation was a brainchild of world renowned Kenyan athlete Tegla Loroupe, who says she started the Peace Run based on her past; she grew up in the volatile area where the neighbouring communities often engaged in clashes over the scarce resources like pasture, water points and cattle.
The regional problem of illicit arms has scaled up the severity and frequency of cattle raids. Pastoralists are no longer raiding to replenish their stocks especially after periods of severe drought and animal diseases, but are increasingly raiding to enrich themselves.
“Known bandits have given up their weapons during previous races,” says Loroupe. But she believes that disarmament is just one factor in the conflict resolution process. The root cause of the violence is not the illicit guns she says, but the underdevelopment, neglect and marginalisation of the pastoral communities in the region.
The Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation holds annual peace races in West Pokot, Kapenguria, Tana River and Moroto in Uganda. Other races are held in Mt. Elgon, Moyale, Marsabit and Southern Sudan.
The August 3 event was the first peace run held in Maralal under the banner: ‘Wacha Vita Kubali Amani’. Loroupe noted that the event enjoined tourism, charity work and conflict resolution, raising the profile of peace-building.
In the inaugural Kapenguria Peace Race in 2003, which she also organised, a well-known bandit Mark Loktare traded his AK-47 rifle for running shoes.
Morans turned peace ambassadors
This year’s event was held on one of the clear days that punctuated the unusually long rainy season witnessed in this area towards the end of June into August.
It had three categories of races – 21km marathon for professional men and women athletes, 10km for morans and 2km for dignitaries.
“My main focus is the morans’ event which brings together participants from the Samburu, Turkana and Pokot, my home area,” said Loroupe.
The 1st, 2nd and 3rd positions in the morans’ race were awarded in an unconventional manner; the fastest moran from each community was picked, then the three were ranked according to their finishing times.
Dominic, Lomen and Joseph were tops from their respective communities.
Dominic, the winner of the Peace Run was the common denominator; he went to school with 2nd placed Joseph Lomumaka and at home they are neighbours with Lomen, who took 3rd position.
“The peace run will whip up support for the formation of youth groups,” enthused Dominic. He revealed that Samburu youth of his home area – Siambu, and Pokots from Malaso where Lomen hails from, called a truce last year and decided to work together.
“We have formed a peace committee which, to a certain extent, has broken ranks with the community elders by moving away from the institutionalised ways of acquiring wealth and respect in our culture, towards involving ourselves in development activities,” he explained.
Elders in the three communities form a dominant component of the customary mechanisms of conflict management. They command authority that makes them effective in maintaining peaceful relationships or instigating conflict.
Lomen went on to expound on the intricacies surrounding the age-old rivalry between the three communities saying that the elders control resources, marital relations, and networks that go beyond the clan boundaries stemming from past generations.
But breaking away from the elders’ stronghold on economic affairs, the youth groups have built a market place where they trade amongst themselves. Those who have tried their hand on a bit of agriculture now have a market for their produce.
On his part Jackson, said he plans to help diversify economic activities in his home area. “When I go back home, I will sell some of my cows and with that amount together with the price money I have received, I’ll start a poultry business.”
“I will try to become a good example for the youth in my village,” pledged Jackson, adding that he also intends to pay off his school fees debt, which has been outstanding since 2006 so that he can get his school leaving certificates.