Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cattle raids and tribal rivalries to blame for perennial conflict

 

By MUCHEMI WACHIRA mwachira@ke.nationmedia.com

To a visitor, the road is an ordinary passageway that people and vehicles use to access the other side of Baragoi trading centre.

But, to the residents, the Maralal-Baragoi-Loiyangalani road that cuts across the trading centre is line between life and death.

The road separates members of the Samburu and Turkana communities who inhabit the area and none would dare cross to the “enemy” side, even to shop.

A report by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights – a government watchdog – prepared after a fact finding mission in Baragoi in 2008 states: “None can cross the road to the other side nor their animals – for this is tantamount to trespass. Trespasser persons are attacked or even killed and animals confiscated never to be seen again.”

This has been the scenario in Baragoi, where a conflict between the Samburu and Turkana has persisted for the last 49 years.

It is in the vicinity of this artificial red line that more than 40 security forces were waylaid by bandits last week and sprayed with bullets.

The attack occurred at Lomerok village — 20km from Baragoi trading centre — which is occupied by the Turkana.

Baragoi, a vast area that lies along the Suguta Valley, is exclusively inhabited by the Samburu and Turkana.

A hotspot

The valley extends from Amaya division at the boundary of Samburu West district and Baringo North district extending all the way to the tip of Lake Turkana.

The entire area, which is a hotspot for cattle theft, has hills and valleys with numerous caves. This makes the terrain complicated and security agents find it difficult to access.

This can perhaps explain why police could not recover 450 head of livestock at Lomerok said to have been stolen by cattle rustlers on October 20.

It is not the first time that policemen have found themselves under bandit attack. In December 2010, police constable Lesas Pendasin was killed outside Baragoi trading centre while on patrol with other officers.

Before his death, the then Baragoi district officer, Mr David Kitheka, had been quoted in the media saying they would launch a security operation in the area after Turkana and Samburu raiders exchanged gunfire at daytime in the trading centre, which is near a police station and the office of the district commissioner.

The government deployed the Rapid Deployment Unit (RDU) officers who jointly with regular and administration policemen tried to disarm the communities. It did not work.

The KNCHR had gone to the region in July 2008 after the Turkana and Samburu complained of violation of their rights during a disarmament operation. Their report captures the genesis of the conflict between the two communities.

The Turkana, who are a minority, are considered aliens by the Samburu, who say they are supposed to leave the area.

The Turkana, on their part, complain of unequal representation as most leaders, including area MP Simeon Lesirma, are Samburu.

In Samburu West constituency the Turkana have only two civic leaders. The have complained of partiality in the distribution of resources.

The Samburu blame the government for failing to resolve the conflict and accuse the Turkana of being interested in having their own MP despite having migrated from Turkana county.

Since the two communities are pastoralists and they keep on raiding each other, they have acquired sophisticated firearms.

During the visit by KNCHR, Samburu Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, which has been working on peace programmes with the two communities together with other civil societies, it emerged that the Baragoi conflict is no longer a case of rustling only.

“It has turned out to be tribal and shoot-on-sight,” KNCHR report says.

According to Samburu CJPC coordinator Evans Onyiego, the conflict has affected learning in local schools.

“Except secondary schools, parents cannot risk sending their children to a primary school on the side of ‘the enemy’,” Mr Onyiego said. He said teachers cannot work in the rival community.

Only the two secondary schools, Baragoi Boys Secondary School and a Catholic church-run girls’ school, where students from both communities mix.

What has complicated the conflict, Mr Onyiego says, is lack of a road linking Turkana South and Samburu county.

Most Turkanas in Baragoi migrated from neighbouring Turkana after frequent raids from neighbouring countries of South Sudan, Ethiopia and the Pokot of Kenya and Uganda. Others fled because of drought.

At times, cattle raiders from Turkana traverse Suguta Valley and enter Baragoi.

“They come to raid the Samburu and when their kin in Baragoi decline to support them, they raid them also,” Mr Onyiego said. The KNCHR report confirms this.

Mr Onyiego said it is impossible for the police to arrest the cattle raiders as they cannot access the harsh terrain inside of Suguta Valley to which the raiders are used.

Travel expedition company Big Earth describes Suguta valley as “one of the hottest places on earth. In the middle of the valley temperatures can reach an eye-watering and energy-sapping 60 degrees. Walking in this heat is a real challenge even for the most experienced trekkers; the amount of water alone needed is phenomenal.”

KNCHR warned the government against carrying out security operations in the Turkana territory jointly with Samburu home guards. And this is what is believed to have triggered the massacre of the security agents at Lomerok last weekend.

In a press conference held last Wednesday at Parliament Buildings Turkana MPs Joseph Nanok, John Munyes and Ekwee Ethuro called for the investigations on nominated MP Maison Leshoomo for allegedly using her State House connections to incite communities in Samburu county.

The MPs told journalists they felt their region was unfairly targeted by the government through deployment of the Kenya Defence Forces for disarmament, yet neighbouring communities of Pokot and Samburu roamed freely with weapons.

“We are sending a stern warning to any leadership that may be keen on politicising the matter for political and sectarian mileage at the cost of peace and harmony between the communities involved,” the MPs said.

In their press conference on Thursday, the leaders appeared to justify the attacks on the slain police officers.

“Those policemen went there with Samburu warriors; a security operation should be done by security operators (sic). You cannot take warriors together with policemen and call it a security operation,” Mr Munyes said.

“And that is why they (attackers) decided they must face them out in the valley... that is what happened and in the valley it is harsh and it is hot, if you have never fought there you cannot fight there. That is why the police were defeated,” Mr Munyes said, accusing the police of having gone to raid Turkana villages while accompanied by the Samburu warriors whose cattle had been stolen.

CID Director Ndegwa Muhoro has said his officers are investigating the three legislators and other leaders from the region over “what they know about the deadly attacks” that left at least security agents dead.

“We want them to come and record statements on what they know about the attacks on police officers,” Mr Muhoro said.

Ms Leshoomo has defended herself against the accusations and said she has no State House connections.

On Friday, Ms Leshoomo appeared at CID headquarters where she recorded a statement. Samburu professionals have praised the government for deploying the KDF to the region.

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