Mention Samburu and the image that comes into the minds of many Kenyans is a region which is far from everywhere and where life can be short and brutal. It’s an image of ethnic warriors roaming the dry valleys and hills, killing their rivals and driving away animals with impunity. And not even government security agents are safe from the bullets of these warriors.
How to end these bloody feuds over cattle, pastures and water is one of the biggest challenges for the leadership of Samburu after March 4.The recent killing of nearly 40 policemen pursuing cattle rustlers in Baragoi has helped to reinforce the image of a lawless land.
Here, the Government is non-existent. In the wake of the police killings, the authorities were reduced to begging members of Turkana community to return more than 40 firearms stolen from the slain officers. Incidents of police dying at the hands of bandits during security operations are not new in Samburu, where the proliferation of small arms and light weapons has been going on unabated. The herders have been acquiring the firearms to protect themselves and their livestock. The communities that inhabit the county include Samburus who are the majority, Turkanas as well as Pokots. The Pokots usually migrate to Samburu with their livestock from East Pokot District of Baringo County. There are others who move in from Laikipia in search of pastures and water.
These pastoralists usually clash along Suguta Valley that extends from East Pokot to Lake Turkana. It is along this valley where pastures are in plenty and in the hot temperatures livestock thrives better compared to the highlands.
There are also pockets of Kikuyus, Merus and Somalis who have settled in Samburu to do business, and they are mainly found in towns of Maralal, Baragoi and Wamba. Samburu is divided into three constituencies namely Samburu West, Samburu East and newly created Samburu North. It neighbors Turkana, Marsabit, Isiolo and Laikipia counties, where pastoralists are also armed. Pastoralists in Turkana acquire weapons from neighbouring Sudan and Ethiopia. The Borana and Gabra from Marsabit and Isiolo also easily access Ethiopia and Somalia to buy guns, while Pokots purchase weapons from northern Uganda. Surrounded by these communities, which are well armed, pastoralists in Samburu have to equally acquire their own firearms to protect themselves.
The result is a region teeming with thousands of illegal weapons. And the insecurity these firearms bring has made Samburu lag behind in development. But Baragoi Location is the most insecure. It has been zoned, with one side being occupied by Samburus while the other one is inhabited by Turkanas.
Each community cannot risk venturing into the territory of the enemy as this would result in death. “The biggest hindrance to security here is lack of infrastructural development that would link up people. In some areas we have no roads, no schools or even shopping centers where people would have an opportunity to meet and interact,” Samburu Catholic Justice and Peace Commission coordinator Evans Onyiego says.
He has been organizing peace programmes in the county for several years. Mr. Onyiego recalls asking warring communities in the county if they would be willing to take their children to school to end cattle raids. “When I asked the question during a peace meeting, they told me that if I give them a pen and they realize it is sweet, they shall abandon the gun,” he explains.
Samburu is a county that has all the potential to grow. Such national monuments like Samburu National Reserve, Mathew Ranges, Ndoto Mountains and Mt Nyiro are in the county. And they are all famous tourists’ attraction sites.
Samburu National Reserve is where a lioness had adopted a baby Oryx, attracting hundreds of tourists from all over the world. The picture of the two animals has become the logo of the reserve.
Mathew Ranges in Samburu East District is another site where there are several conservancies with varieties of wildlife. Ngilai area, which is in the ranges, is home to classic butterflies only found also in Coast Province. Ndoto Mountains in the east of Baragoi town have unique scenic features. The mountain is also a bird watcher’s paradise.
Mt Nyiro, in East of Suguta Valley, is another attractive site with forest covered peaks. This is where members of the Samburu community have established their shrines, and visit the mountain to hold their festivals. Besides majority of the people being pastoralists, Samburu has arable land, which some of the inhabitants have started to cultivate for various crops. All through, wheat has been grown in large scale commercial farming in Lorroki Plateau of Samburu Central District.
Presently people around this highland area have started growing maize and beans to diversify from livestock that has proved unreliable owing to persistent drought. The county is also one of the gateways to Lake Turkana. Loiyangalani Trading Centre, which is on the shores of the lake, is easily accessible through Nyahururu-Maralal-Baragoi Road. Loiyangalani is in Marsabit County and is one of the areas along the lake ideal for fishing. Despite all these potentials, Samburu has remained one of the poorest counties in the country.
All the roads in the county are in a poor state, save for the stretch between Archers Post and Merille River. The stretch was tarmacked to link Kenya with Ethiopia as it lies along Isiolo-Marsabit-Moyale Highway. Presently, accessing Maralal, the county headquarters, is a risky affair, as the road from Rumuruti is not only bandit-prone but impassable during the rainy seasons.
Sometimes motorists’ only count themselves lucky after cruising through the road to Suguta Marmar Trading Centre where the boundary between Samburu and Laikipia is. Some areas such as Naibor and Tingamara are known to be hide-outs of bandits who waylay vehicles along the road.
However, there are still public service vehicles that ply the road, although most of them normally use a different route that cuts through Kinamba to Ol-Moran. It proceeds to Lonyek Location all the way to Mungie Ranch diversion to link up with Rumuruti-Maralal Road.
There is still fear of bandit attacks especially between Lonyek and Ol-Moran, and most motorists prefer the route, though it is not the official one. But during the rainy season, Maralal is usually cut-off from the rest of the country as no road is accessible.
There is also Wamba-Maralal Road, which is passable even during the rainy season but it is only motorists from Isiolo, Meru or Nyeri counties who use it to gain entry to Maralal. And the route only became a choice after the tarmacking of a section of Isiolo-Marsabit Road that passes through Wamba junction. Otherwise the road is too complicated from Nairobi because of the distance.
These are the issues that the candidates are expecting to address during their campaigns. They will also be expected to address the issue of water, which is partly blamed for the unending conflict between the pastoralists.
Samburu has only one permanent river. And Uaso Nyiro River only cuts across a section of the county. Otherwise people rely on water they dig along dry stream beds. Schools and colleges are also another problem. The county does not have enough schools, especially secondary schools.
Pundits argue that such areas like Samburu may remain behind if communities continue taking livestock as a livelihood instead of a business.