Existing literature on inter-ethnic conflicts attribute the same to economic and political variables. Berman and Eyoh 2004, argues that ethnicity has continued to mar Africa causing displacement, migration, death and abuse of human rights of many people due to African post-independence governments which show bias in administration and distribution of national resources
This study aims at establishing the role of cultural perceptions, beliefs, and practices in influencing the cross-border conflict by examining how culture gives its people messages that shape their identity, attributes, judgements and ideas of self and others. Thus, I intend to look at the communities’ socio-cultural practices like circumcision and marriage customs, and assess how they relate with inter-ethnic conflicts in the area. The study will finally explore how indigenous inter-ethnic conflict resolution mechanisms could be used in resolving the socio-cultural conflicts in the Borabu/Sotik border.
1.2 Statement of the research problem
Kenya has experienced several post-independence ethnic conflicts which have been attributed to multiple root causes including: Struggle for economic and natural resources such as land water and pasture, as well as political, social and cultural based conflicts.
Collier and Benswanger 1999, argue that Africa conflicts are linked directly to contests of resources, a view that is also held by Berman and Eyoh 2004 , where they contend that bias distribution and administration of resources cause conflicts in Africa. Other scholars such as Adedeji 1998, attributes conflicts in Africa to political, economic, social and cultural causes while Prisca Kamunyi 2009, argues that politics and historical injustices are the causes of conflicts and clashes in Kenya. Despite these research and available literature, Borabu/Bomet area still experiences repeated ethnic conflicts which have become more than significant from 1991 to 2016. According to Satish Saberwal, awareness of the socio-religious identities help one to constitute useful social maps in one’s mind, demarcating the social territory into sacred, friendly, neutral or hostile. He further argues that these social maps are sometimes expressed in, and validated by, myths and legends. Every community has its cultural beliefs and practices which relate to the symbolic dimension of life, where individuals are constantly making meaning and enacting their identities. Cultural messages (what everyone in a group knows that outsiders do not know) from the group an individual belongs to, give them information about what is meaningful and important, or who they are in the society and in relation to others. Among the Gusii community, some words, such as “omobisa” (enemy) and “omomanyi” are concurrently used to refer to a Maasai man. Whenever cattle thefts occur within any Kisii homestead, women sound a distress call, urging the young men to pursue the cattle towards the border. Such incidents often escalate into confrontation and, sometimes, violence. It tends to become a ‘we versus them’ question and often a relationship contributing to strong ‘we’ sentiments on one side, and to relatively stereotyped ideas about ‘them’, the other community. The perception here is that cattle thieves lie in the neighbouring communities-Kipsigis and Maasai, as opposed to within, a believe held by the Kisii and passed over generations through cultural messages, which shapes its members’ understanding of relationships between the two communities and of how to deal with the conflict and harmony that are always present whenever members of these communities come together. Consequently, the Maasai and Kipsigis communities equally hold believe among them that all cows once belonged to them and so is their right to reposes them.
The fundamental argument of this study is that culture constructs notions of separateness, us and them. Intrinsically, cultural formations distinguish the social aggregates that provide the reasoning that ‘we’ are right, ‘they’ are wrong. This separateness provides the interface between culture and conflicts through creating awareness of cultural identities – ‘social maps’- demarcating ‘social territory’ into sacred, friendly and hostile, validated in myths and legends. Cultures affect the way communities name, frame, blame, and attempt to tame conflicts. The study seeks to establish that culture is always a factor in conflict whether it plays a central role or influences it. I argue that any conflict that touches individual/communal interests, where it matters, where individuals make meaning and hold their identities, there is always a cultural component. The Borabu- Sotik border conflicts are not just about cattle thefts across the border, but they are also about acknowledgement, representation, and legitimization of different identities and ways of living, sense of belonging, and, making meaning: who they see themselves to be.
1.3 Key research questions
1. What role does the cultural identities play in fuelling inter-ethnic conflict among the Kipsigis and Kisii in the study area?
2. How have culture and social mappings influenced conflict between the two communities?
3. What inter-ethnic conflict resolution mechanisms can be applied in resolving the Kipsigis/Kisii conflict at the border?
1.4 Objectives of the research
1. To evaluate the influence of cultural beliefs and practices in fuelling the Kipsigis/Kisii conflict.
2. To explore how culture and inter-communal perceptions influence the conflicts in the study area.
3. To assess the role of inter-ethnic conflict resolution mechanisms in resolving the Kipsigis/Kisii conflict.
1.5 Justification of the research
The Kipsigis and Kisii communities of former Rift Valley and Nyanza Provinces have perennially experienced conflict over a number of reasons among them land and cattle rustling. The Sotik/Borabu border is one area that is caught up in cycles of ethnic violence. The sporadic violence resulted in destruction of life and property. Schools were closed during the conflict and economic activities like farming and livestock production interrupted. The conflicts tend to be conducted within an environment of chants and abuses and singing of traditional songs. Despite the fact that much research has been done on ethnic conflicts, still these conflicts have