Two communities in decade war over land they both ‘own’

Sunday February 19 2017

Women demonstrate against killings in Trans Mara.

Women demonstrate against killings in Trans Mara. PHOTO | RUTH MBULA | NATION MEDIA GROUP RUTH MBULA, Women demonstrate, trans mara killinga

By RUTH MBULA
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It is a pain only known too well by the affected families. The pain of losing their loved ones in ethnic motivated clashes characterised by unending retaliatory attacks where members of two rival ethnic groups hunt down and butcher each other.

And, for two decades, a land dispute has pitted the peoples against each other with debilitating effects.

Such is the situation at Pimbinyiet in Trans Mara West, Narok county, where the Kipsigis and the Maasai have been at war for over a year now.

Priscilla Laboso is a woman in pain. Her 25-year-old son, Charles Kiprotich Mutai, was shot dead and his body cut to pieces two weeks ago.

The 62-year-old widow is at pains to explain the death of her last born.

“My son had gone to his maize farm in Pimbinyiet. He was at a corner of his farm when the assailants struck, spraying him with bullets before cutting his body to pieces with machetes,” said the mother of nine.

Mr Mutai has left behind three children, including a six-month-old baby, and two others aged five and three.

On that same day, Joshua Oreu, a young man in the neighbouring Nagwenyi village, also met a similar fate.

He too was shot dead during what is believed to be a revenge attack. His 59-year-old father, Kimaiyo Mputia is yet to come to terms with the death of his eldest son.

His 47-year-old mother, Lucy Mugie, says what pains her most is that her son’s assailants are still roaming free in the villages.

Ms Mugie says Pimbinyiet area risks a generation gap, owing to the fact that most of those killed are young men.

ASSAILANTS TRUCK

Benson Taya Rongo was herding his father’s livestock when the assailants struck. Gunshots rent the air and his lifeless body was left in the fields about 300 metres from the Pimbinyiet police patrol base.

Women say they bear the brunt of the tribal clashes pitting members of the Kipsigis and Maasai communities.

In a span of eight months, more than 20 men have been felled by the bullet or poisoned arrow.

Most children from the area no longer go to school following the insecurity.

Learning at Tagitech Primary School has been disrupted in the past one year and has been off and on, depending on the prevailing security situation.
The school serves children from both communities.

Pimbinyiet sub-location assistant chief Mr John Rono says the school had a population of over 500 pupils but this has greatly reduced as most pupils in upper classes have dropped out and taken up weapons to defend their communities.

When the Sunday Nation visited Nagwenyi village on Thursday, a Form Four student at Shartuka Boys was armed with a bow and arrows ready to fight.
“I will fight to the end. There is no need to be in school when my colleagues are being butchered,” said the student. Mr Rono says the voter registration did not take place in the area.

“This is because people fear moving from one place to another,” he says.

The tribal conflict has also paralysed transport along the Njipship-Kilgoris road.

The Kipsigis cannot travel to areas inhabited by the Maasai and vice-versa.

“Two motorbike riders were murdered last year as they went to collect milk for sale at Oronkai. We fear using the route to Kilgoris because there are people constantly stalking us,” says John Koech, a boda boda owner.

Mr Koech says they now have to use a longer route to Kilgoris town where the sub-county offices are based.
“We now have to use the Sotik-Keroka road to Kilgoris. This is a very long route, but for our own safety, we have no option other than to spend about Sh1,000 on fare instead of the usual Sh200 on Njipship-Kilgoris road,” he says.

The situation is so grave that the injured from the Kipsigis side cannot be taken to nearby hospitals in Kilgoris.

“We take our people to Longisa and Tenwek Mission Hospital in Bomet County. Our neighbours take their people to hospitals in Kilgoris and Kisii,” says Mr Koech.
But Oronkai location chief Leboi ole Munke says they have warned residents against trailing each other on the roads.

“We are hoping that they will heed our call. Business along the Njipship-Kilgoris road has been badly affected as people cannot move freely,” he says.

Chief Munke explains that in the past, there were rules in such tribal wars and people were not ambushed on roads or when they went about their normal business.
“But in this war, innocent people are killed often,” he says.

Last week, two Kipsigis young men heading to Kilgoris on a motorbike to collect their birth certificates escaped death narrowly after they were ambushed by youths from the neighbouring peoples who were collecting the body of one of their own.

The two youths on sensing danger rushed to a nearby home belonging to a Kilgoris parliamentary aspirant.

The local politician is said to have shielded them from the angry youths who were baying for their blood.

EXPLOSIVES PLANTED

The residents now have to deal with explosives planted by the government in hotspot areas in its latest move to quell the tension between the two communities.
Ms Ann Korinko, a resident, says the use of explosives by security agencies in unwarranted.

“Have we become like al-Shabaab militants where security officers are targeting our children with explosives?” she asks.
But police have defended the move saying they cannot tolerate the violence.

Trans Mara West police boss David Wambua says that they had planted the explosive device at Nagwenyi village to separate the two warring communities.
“Both are armed to the teeth and the use of guns against neighbours has become too common,” he says.

He says the government is taking its crackdown on illegal gun holders a notch higher.

“We are specifically cracking down on the so-called warriors. If you want to separate two men fighting with machetes, you must use something bigger than a machete,’ he says.

He, however, says they detonated the last explosives planted in the area on Wednesday.

Besides the grisly killings, hundreds of residents have been displaced from their homes after their houses were torched.
Women, children and the elderly have fled their homes for fear of their lives.

Twelve houses were razed down on Thursday, hundreds of others have been razed in the past one year.

Mr John Nge’no is now displaced after his house was torched as they fought with their Maasai neighbours.
He says they have been made refugees in their own land.
“We live in the bush. Sleeping is now a privilege and we cannot walk freely in our neighbourhood,” he says.
He says they are in need of tents and other basic supplies.

And as if to mock the authorities’ peace efforts, the warriors late last year displayed their might right in the eyes of Narok County Commissioner Moffat Kangi.
They shot dead a man as the commissioner was addressing a peace meeting at Njipship GSU Camp and torched several houses.

The county commissioner early this year gave a two-week amnesty to illegal gun holders to surrender their weapons.

But a month has passed after the expiry of the amnesty period yet nobody has been disarmed.