Sunday, January 5, 2014

Tension mounts in Samburu as mop-up of guns is delayed

Administration Police carry the remains of their colleagues from Suguta Valley in Baragoi on November 16, 2012. PHOTO | FILE

Administration Police carry the remains of their colleagues from Suguta Valley in Baragoi on November 16, 2012. PHOTO | FILE  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By MUCHEMI WACHIRA
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A month hardly passes without incidents of death being reported in Samburu where organised killings have turned some parts of the county into a bloodbath.

It is in Samburu where more than 40 security officers were massacred by Turkana bandits in October 2012 and their guns stolen.

During the incident that came to be known as Baragoi Massacre, the officers accompanied by Samburu homeguards had gone to recover livestock that had been stolen by Turkana raiders. But on reaching Lomirok manyatta— 20 kilometres from Baragoi Town, where the animals were— they met their waterloo.

Shockingly, the stolen G3 rifles are still in the hands of the bandits— a situation some politicians are blaming for the current state of insecurity and mounting tension in the county.

“How much amnesty can you give a criminal who has killed police officers on duty?” Samburu West MP Lati Lelelit asks, as he defends himself against accusation by Turkana leaders that he has been behind the killing of Turkanas in Maralal Town since October last year.

For years, Turkanas and Samburus have been fighting in Baragoi in a conflict experts have attributed to competition for scarce resources and lack of good leadership.

For the whole of last year, attacks were being reported on a weekly basis in Baragoi before the war started spilling over to Maralal Town— the county headquarters. As a result, Turkanas, who are the second largest community in the county, cannot do most businesses in this town where they have over the years established themselves as traders.

“Most of us are either butchers or livestock traders but now we cannot access the slaughterhouse due to attacks by Samburu youths,” Mr Paul Chamele says.

The same youths, he says, have also barred them from entering the livestock market in the town. Incidents of Samburu herders and traders being beaten up by their tribesmen for selling animals to Turkanas have been common.

“We have been forced to close down our butchers and it has become difficult for any Turkana trader to operate a business in Maralal Town,” the trader says.

Samburu County Commissioner Wilson Nyakwanga acknowledges that Turkanas cannot access the livestock market and slaughterhouse.

“We are trying to address the issue by bringing leaders from the two communities together and I believe we will succeed,” Mr Nyakwanga told the Nation in a telephone interview.

Politicians are being accused of making provocative statements that sparked violence in Maralal, which has all along been a peaceful town.

It all started in October 28, last year, when police seized a lorry ferrying livestock that had been bought by a Turkana businessman from a Samburu herder in Marti area. The businessman was ferrying the animals to Isiolo.

Police suspected that the animals may had been stolen but after conducting investigations, they established that the animals had been bought in a clean deal.
The issue had sparked tension in Maralal where rumours started circulating that the cows had been stolen by a Turkana from the Samburu herder.

Meanwhile police had detained the animals at Maralal Police Station waiting to hand them over to the businessman.

Before handing them over, a group of Samburu youths stormed the station in a bid to forcefully take the animals and return them to the owner. A confrontation ensued between the community and officers, and a university student was shot dead and another one injured. The officer in charge of the station was also hurt in the melee.

Since then, Maralal has never been the same again as Samburus started staging vicious attacks against the Turkanas. Unlike in Baragoi where Turkanas are heavily armed, in Maralal they are vulnerable as most of them do not possess guns.

ATTACKED BY BANDITS

A group of Turkana MPs who had attended a fund-raiser in Maralal had to be rescued by police after they were attacked by bandits in a hotel.

Samburus have been accusing the government of being soft on their Turkana rivals after it failed to repossess the guns that were stolen from the officers.

“These guns are being used to kill our people and even police working in this Samburu area are demoralised,” Mr Lelelit said.

The government had planned to recover the guns in November last year. But immediately Rapid Deployment Unit, General Service Unit (GSU), Anti Stock Theft Unit (Astu) as well as Regular and Administration Police started establishing camps in strategic areas ready for the operation, the two communities started leaving the area.

By December, some targeted areas were virtually empty. The operation was put on hold reportedly to give Turkanas time to consult on how to return the guns.

But it is emerging that the more the government delays the security operation, the more tension continues to build in the county.

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