The Borana tribesmen came just before dawn, emerging silently from the darkness and surrounding the sleepy villagers emerging from their huts to begin a long day tending to their animals.
The raiders did not open fire. Instead, they simply ordered the villagers to leave immediately, allowing them to take nothing but the clothes on their backs. Darare Baqata, a 23-year-old mother of three from the pastoralist Gabbra tribe, was one of those who woke to find her life had changed forever.
She and the remnants of her community now live on a barren rocky slope in Northern Kenya, eking out a living from the few animals they could beg from the nearby village of Dukana.
“We want to return, but we have nothing to go back to,” she says in the baking sun outside her makeshift hut, two small children clinging to her legs. “The Borana took everything from us.”
Baqata is just one of many pastoralists in Northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia suffering the consequences of population pressures which, exacerbated by climate change, have led to armed clashes between tribes vying for dwindling water sources and pasture.
The residents of El-Hadi, which lies 20 kilometres from the Ethiopian border, were not quite as unfortunate as Baqata, but they have had to literally fight to survive.
Two years ago the rains failed and the villager's search for water took them to Ethiopia, setting them against a Borana community there.
"The fight went on for 15 days," says Sora Godana, El-Hadi's chief. "Twelve people from our community were killed. When there is no water, there is no peace."
Cattle rustling is part and parcel of the fighting. El-Hadi lost almost 10,000 camels, sheep, goats and cows to the Borana. Godana does not say how many animals his men took in return, but admits they “retaliated”.
The pattern is repeated elsewhere. Over the last five years there have been countless battles between tribes, with sometimes dozens of people being killed by automatic weapon fire.
Kenyan security forces policing the thousands of square kilometres of remote scrubland, rocky plains and swathes of desert are struggling to cope.
The Sabarei area near El-Hadi is one of the major flashpoints for cross-border raids during the dry season due to the proximity of several wells.
However, the soldiers based there are a ragged bunch – most of them young boys in flip-flops and torn t-shirts carrying weapons almost the same size as them.
According to local aid workers, Ethiopian raiders last year wiped out the force at the nearby Bulluk, which is just a ring of graffiti-covered metal huts atop a hill.
While climate change is stoking the conflicts – many pastoralists say they are experiencing longer dry seasons and therefore more clashes over water – Lammert Zwaagstra, Drought Coordinator for the Horn of Africa at the European Commission Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO), believes overpopulation is the real culprit.
Tribes such as the Gabbra, Borana, Turkana and Dasenach are traditionally nomadic, moving to where water and pasture are available.
According to UN figures, Kenya's population has hit 38 million - up from around 8.2 million in 1960. This means that now most of the land is already occupied or under dispute.
"Fifty years ago communities...would have moved on in the dry season, but now people are in those areas already." Zwaagstra says. ""There are more people and less access to grazing - this is an explosive mixture.”
Health services are also dire in the region. People often die from diarrhoea after drinking whatever water they can find and the ever-longer dry seasons are leading to a high animal mortality rate.
The upshot is that communities are struggling to survive. Aid agencies say that up to 1 million people are dependent on food aid in northern Kenya, while the numbers are even higher in Ethiopia.
The Commission has committed 30 million euros to help communities prepare for drought by funding shallow well rehabilitation, rainwater catchments and animal health improvement.
But Zwaagstra believes most donors are too focused on emergency aid. He wants more money pumped into long-term programmes that properly address key issues, such as raising the literacy rate from the current 16-17 per cent and giving pastoralists a chance to find jobs outside the arid areas.
"We are getting better at keeping people alive, but not providing livelihoods in the long term," he says. "We need a 20-30 year strategy, but donors only come in ever 2-3 years.”
But is not quite all doom and gloom. Fledgling peace agreements, brokered in part by the European Commission's humanitarian aid partners, show that communities are starting to realise they have to work together.“Now the Gabbra and Borana have satellite camps right next to each other – they use our water and we use their pasture,” says Godana. “We know we need peace to survive.”
East, West and Central Africa Correspondent
Deutsche Presse Agentur - DPA News International