Freshly dug graves, deserted cowsheds, lack of barns and undernourished women and children in many homes illustrate the magnitude of the raging Pokot-Turkana conflict. Cattle rustling and clashes over limited resources have left a trail of death and destruction along the volatile border of West Pokot and Turkana counties. The re-drawing of administrative boundaries in the new devolved system of governance coupled with the recent discovery of oil in Turkana have led to violent confrontations over key water and grazing areas. The conflict has displaced thousands of people, prevented agro-pastoral communities from accessing large areas of pasture and water, and hindered the mobility of migratory herders (a crucial drought coping mechanism). Many would expect the region endowed with rich oil deposits to be at peace with itself in anticipation of the multiplier effect the earnings are likely to churn out. Far from it. Turkana is home to Tallow Oil whose explorations are expected to save the region from poverty after decades of neglect.
Regular raids But,
This remains a distant fantasy to residents of Turkana South constituency following regular raids by their neighbours with no end in sight in the foreseeable future. The attacks were hitherto perceived to be traditional cattle rustling escapades but have morphed into boundary disputes and battle for resources with possible political undertones. Residents of Nakwomoru, Kakong’, Kainuk and Kaptir in Turkana South say their Pokot neighbours want to seize their land. “Look at these two graves, I buried my two sons a few days ago after they were killed by armed bandits. My husband died after people who took away his goats also killed him. Now I have no one to depend on. I am only counting days to my grave not knowing when they will strike again,” says an old woman only identified as Paulina, 89. At Kakong’, an area frequented by armed bandits, a pregnant Rebecca Asenyeni, 22 and her two children are mourning the death of their sole bread winner who was killed by armed bandits.
“I have nowhere to go. My husband used to sell charcoal to fend for us. I am also expecting a baby in a month’s time, but who will take care of us?” she quips through a translator because she neither understands nor speaks both English and Kiswahili. At a nearby home, Mzee Michael Lopai, 93, lies haplessly in his dilapidated Manyatta. His family fled the home following recent banditry attacks. The nonagenarian, who only speaks his native Turkana, says his home was raided and animals stolen after his two sons were killed. “I am waiting to die. Where can I go? My sons fled this area and went to look for food and shelter. I am alone, I cannot go anywhere let them come and kill me,” he says as a neighbour supports him to sit, but he falls over. His only property is the “shuka” that serves both as clothing and a sheet to keep him warm at night. With lurched openings from the walls of the manyatta, mzee peeps out and can tell night fall is near but cannot precisely say what time of day it is. Kakong’ has about 6,000 residents, with just two Kenya Police Reservists (KPR). Okure Adakerie and John Lokitrto are the only surviving KPR officers after armed bandits killed five of their colleagues.
“We cannot manage the population here but we will protect our people because we have no alternative,” says Adakerie adding that their work is pro bono. Two of their colleagues are nursing injuries they sustained while fighting armed bandits allegedly from Pokot.
Overpowered, “They numbered about 600 and came attacking from all directions. We were very few and they overpowered us, killing two of our own and injuring two who were recently release from hospital,” said Adakerie adding He reveals that three bodies are still rotting away about three kilometers from the village because residents fear lurking into the forests regarded as pokot hideouts. Lobokat Kainuk Ward representative Nicodemus Eguman said they lived in peace with their Pokot neighbours, albeit with normal cattle rustling, until 1983 when hell broke loose and attacks started taking political and land dimensions.
“After 1983 we were chased from Kainuk Hill and our people killed. We then came to Nakululumeit where we currently live. But our neighbours insist we still live in their land,” said. He said at least 15 people are killed and more than a 1,000 livestock stolen every week. He criticized security agents for often releasing inaccurate figures on the casualties during attacks, adding that the number of police officers is insufficient. “The public has lost faith in security agents and Government officers who blatantly lie on the figures. They can never say the truth because of fear of appearing as sleeping on the job,” he said. Kaptri Ward representative Shadrak Lodong’a says police take too long to respond to attacks even after receiving timely information. He says the area is vulnerable to attacks from the Pokot raiders following a decision by the Government to disarm police reservists. An administration police officer was shot in the area following an attack. He was shot at night after police shot dead a man and injured another when Kakong’ residents staged a demonstration, protesting the raging insecurity in the area. Heavily armed pokot bandits had attacked the village, killed five herders and one KPR officer before driving away over 2,000 goats, leaving owners who depended on their livestock vulnerable to famine. “The bandits attacked our villages and stole cattle and killed our people. But police who should have come to help us pursue the attackers turned against us and killed a man and left another seriously wounded,” said Lodong’a.
He says when Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo visited the area, following the killing of the officer, he ordered the disarmament of all KPR, and something the MCA says has left villagers vulnerable to more attacks. But Turkana South OCPD Kipsang Sangach disputes the claims, saying the police only confiscated the firearms for ballistic analysis in the investigations on the death of the AP officer who was shot at Nakwomuru camp about 7km from Kakong’ town. However, area leaders have questioned why guns were confiscated without replacements leaving the area vulnerable.
Ballistic laboratories “We did not disarm the KPR. They are a crucial component in the security of this area because they are the ones who understand the terrain. We took the firearms to our ballistic laboratories in Nairobi to ascertain whether the guns could have been involved in the killing of the AP officer,” said Kipsang. He says there are enough police officers to man the expansive area despite a few challenges but admitted that the fact that the area did not benefit from the latest batch of security vehicles will have serious consequences.