From the screen of my tablet I have read horrifying accounts of the plight of villagers in my native Baringo North. There have been harrowing stories of mothers and babies shot by trigger-happy cattle rustlers. Unbelievable! I tell myself. How? The stories look like a work of fiction. Then the accompanying photos flow in. Familiar faces taken against the background of a familiar landscape as well as people and places I know very well.
On social media platforms, equally bewildered Kenyans share the experiences and gory images of bullet-riddled bodies. Video clips of families trekking for kilometres under the scorching sun go viral. Television stations cover the conflict as their lead stories; screens are awash with images of emaciated children standing beside their weeping mothers cuddling babies as the elderly lie, taking their last breaths under acacia trees. A man fighting back tears, calls out in a quivering voice, “Serikali saidia (government, help us)”. Tears flow down my cheeks, and I begin to have murderous thoughts – the urge to avenge the deaths of my kin. Slowly, I begin to understand the sparks that ignite civil wars. “Where is the government?” I add my voice to the thousands already lamenting the failure to provide security. They are disillusioned at the government’s sluggishness in responding to the killings and yet a few days earlier it had promptly dispatched truckloads of security personnel to a ranch into which pastoralists had driven their starving cattle.
Camps for the internally displaced form at shopping centres and quickly fill up with malnourished children who ought to be in school. Their schools closed down years ago because of insecurity. Teachers fled and even if they had stayed, where would they have held classes? The schools were torched and razed by marauding bandits.
Kamwetio Primary School in Baringo North has remained closed since 2010 and the neighbouring Chepkesin Boarding School is a recent casualty. Cattle rustling occurs perennially in northern Kenya, is fervently talked about when still fresh, but forgotten as soon as relative calm returns and only revisited when it reoccurs. Can’t a permanent solution be found? There is no political will. The Oxford English Dictionary defines political will as the firm intention or commitment on the part of the government to carry through a policy, especially one which is not immediately successful or popular. In a political setup like ours where party allegiance seems to matter a lot, coupled with an insecure regime that is ready to do all to maintain current political strongholds as it hunts for more votes, no politician seems ready to take a step that would antagonise potential voters.
No leader has followed up on any paper tabled in Parliament to curb cattle rustling. Despite being classified as an offence deserving capital punishment, only a few cases have been prosecuted. Since independence, Baringo North has voted for the government, but come August 8, I hope the people will choose leaders truly committed to change. That they will pick courageous leaders who will defend their rights.
Jacqueline Kendagor is tutorial fellow, University of Kabianga.