Conflict Analysis Northern Kenya and Somaliland
By Ken Menkhaus
(Nairobi: Danish Demining Group, March 2015)
Both eastern Somaliland and northern Kenya are experiencing spikes in political and social tensions, armed
conflict, and communal clashes, and, in the case of northern Kenya, violent extremism.
• Available evidence suggests that the trend toward greater levels of armed conflict is likely to intensify with the arrival of a combination of transformational changes in the regional political economy, including new county budget lines in northern Kenya and possible oil windfall revenues in both northern Kenya and Somaliland.
• These changes are injecting or may inject substantial levels of new revenue into the national and regional
economies, dramatically increasing the stakes over who controls local and national governments.
• This anticipated influx of new revenue into state coffers is occurring in a context of poor economic governance,contested communal claims over rights to resources and revenues, and, in the case of northern Kenya, a new devolved political system with no established “rules of the game”. This is a dangerous combination and increases the odds that both regions could suffer destabilising levels of armed conflict.
• Oil exploration is already setting in motion local reactions, including speculative land-grabbing, that increase the odds of violent conflict even if actual oil extraction is not viable in some areas.
• Oil exploration may aggravate existing conflict issues, including contested communal and political borders,
grievances over job and contract allocation, local anxiety over land loss, land-grabbing, disputed allocation of oil revenues to local constituencies, in-migration, and control over elected government positions.
• In northern Kenya, large new county budgets have increased the stakes surrounding elections for top county
positions. The political elite has successfully mobilised clans and tribes to vote in blocs to maximise odds
of controlling county government revenues, and, as a result, elections are more likely to generate politically driven communal violence.
• Major new development projects associated with Vision 2030 are generating potential both for expanded
economic opportunity and for armed conflict across northern Kenya, as they exacerbate tensions over
communal and county claims to valuable land.
• Pastoral poverty, urban drift, and high urban unemployment in both eastern Somaliland and northern Kenya
contribute to social frustrations that can facilitate recruitment of young men into armed criminal, tribal,
or insurgency groups. The enormous refugee population in northern Kenya is an additional site of social
frustration and recruitment.
• Much of the worst communal and political violence in both regions can be traced back to violence entrepreneurs, including some individuals in positions in the government and others in the diaspora, who stoke communal tension and incite violence to advance their own political and economic interests.
• Land disputes – conflicting communal claims over rangeland, private claims on rangeland, land grabbing,
disputed and corrupted land titling systems in urban and peri-urban areas, and contested county borders –
remain a major underlying cause of conflict.
• While local resilience to conflict drivers in these areas has been very impressive over the past decade, it is now under unprecedented strain and is poorly equipped to deal with the new conflict dynamics in play.
• In both locations, oil risks becoming a “resource curse” unless stronger social compacts are brokered between communities on land and resources; greater levels of trust are built between peripheral communities and the state; and more robust political regimes governing resource allocation and accountability are forged.
• Violent extremism, in the form of Al Shabaab and its Kenyan affiliate, Al Hijra, is a rapidly mounting source of political violence in northern Kenya and a potential threat in eastern Somaliland. Oil extraction sites and related infrastructure, along with security sector personnel, civil servants, foreigners, and non-Muslim Kenyans, will all be attractive targets for these groups. This violence may deter investment in northern Kenya and is already impeding the retention of professional Kenyans engaged in health, education, and other vital sectors.
• In the past, government security forces in northern Kenya have at times engaged in collective punishment
and abusive behaviour. For local populations, such operations have been more a source of insecurity than
• One of the principal sources of resilience to drivers of armed violence in both Kenya and Somaliland has
been their vibrant democracies, which allow grievances to be articulated and addressed through non-violent
political processes. The governments of Kenya and Somaliland have, however, recently pursued policies and
passed laws that risk eroding civil liberties in the name of national security. When abused, expanded state
security, for whatever reasons, may exacerbate local grievances against the state and increase