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Kapedo: Where police trucks have been turned into matatus

Friday February 2 2018


Baringo AP Commandant Robinson Ndiwa hands over a bow to a resident at Sandai, Baringo South, on January 3, 2016. He asked them to end banditry. PHOTO | CHEBOITE KIGEN | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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The ageing Administration Police truck was speeding across the open rugged terrain of northern Kenya headed to Kapedo when it suddenly came across a herd of goats crossing the road.

As the driver desperately tried to avoid hitting the animals, he lost control of the vehicle and it rolled several times.

After all the dust had settled, 21 people — most of them civilians — had died, 14 of them on the spot.

Then the big questions arose: Why were so many civilians travelling in an open police lorry?


Were there no public vehicles in the region? If not, why?

The answers to these questions are both simple and complex.

Kapedo is a settlement in Turkana East Constituency near the Turkana boundary with Baringo County, about a four-hour journey by road from Nakuru.

Occupied mostly by the Turkana community, it is in a hot semi-desert area.

There is little agricultural land, so people mainly depend on raising goats and camels for their livelihood.

However, this also happens to be the source of perennial conflict with the neighbouring Pokot community.

The conflict predictably revolves around pasture, water and livestock thefts.

Because of the resultant insecurity, Kapedo has become a second home for a platoon of General Service Unit officers.

It also has an Administration Police camp besides the National Police Reservists.

These security agents, just like the civilians in Kapedo, depend on market centres in the neighbouring Baringo — such as Marigat — for their provisions.

However, there is no public transport in the region because of insecurity.

This is why civilians depend on police trucks for transport. This is the simple answer.

The complex one goes to the heart of how successive governments since independence have been unable to solve the insecurity problem in this part of the country.

In fact, last year’s was one of the most deadly in the region.

Wananchi in the region have for a long time been asking for lifts from police vehicles to travel to their various destinations.

This, according to multiple interviews by locals, is because they are assured that when they travel in police trucks, they will be safe from attacks by bandits.

But 2017 has shown that the bandits do not fear even the police who have been victims of their guns.

“How safe are we if bandits can attack a police vehicle, knowing all too well that there are armed security officers on board?

"The safest vehicles for civilians to use in such volatile areas are police vehicles. When they are attacked by bandits, it worries us,” Mr Kipkemboi Morwess said.

Those who died in the truck accident in Moinonin area on the Marigat-Loruk area in Baringo had asked for a lift in the police truck that was heading to Kapedo from Marigat.

Baringo AP Commandant Robinson Ndiwa, in an interview with the Saturday Nation, acknowledged that wananchi in the region have no alternative means of transport and solely depend on police trucks and security officers’ vehicles to travel from one area to the next.

“The accident that claimed more than 21 lives was unfortunate. But that will not stop people in insecurity-prone areas from hitchhiking in our vehicles because there is no public transport,” Mr Ndiwa said.

“We have however advised our officers to avoid overloading the vehicles and speeding to avoid loss of lives.”

Most of those who ask for a lift hardly take the trucks’ capacity into consideration, oblivious of the dangers because they have no other alternative.

Baringo Governor Stanley Kiptis, and his Turkana counterpart Josphat Nanok have in the meantime called on the government to address the perennial problem that has made the region to lag behind in development.

“Insecurity is the main challenge making locals to hitchhiking in police vehicles,” Mr Nanok said.

“The government should step up its efforts in arresting the armed bandits who unleash terror on locals in the volatile areas. These criminals are few and should be dealt with.”

Because public transport has been paralysed in the volatile areas of Kapedo and Lomelo due to insecurity, police transport remains the only means available to the locals.

To address the problem, Mr Nanok and Mr Kiptis are working with their counterparts in neighbouring counties on the way to reduce insecurity.

It has not been easy, though. During the burial of the 21 accident victims at Kapedo, there was tight security after the convoy carrying the bodies was shot at, leading to the death of one person.

Turkana leaders, who spoke during the burial, condemned the attack, saying it was absurd for bandits to shoot at the dead and the grieving.

“I wonder why armed bandits decide to shoot at hearses… People are yet to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones then you come and shoot at them?” Turkana South MP James Lomenen asked.

Attacks on police and civilians by the bandits were rampant in 2017.

In November, three AP officers and a civilian died in an ambush at Kapedo.

The officers were heading to Lokori after taking food supplies to colleagues camping at Kapedo when they were ambushed.

Rift Valley Regional Coordinator Wanyama Musiambo said the attack occurred near the scene where 19 Administration Police officers were shot and killed in another ambush in 2014.

Wananchi who spoke to the Saturday Nation protested that the government had not done enough to restore security in the area.

“We are appealing to the government to beef up security so that normalcy can return in the volatile areas,” Mr Richard Chepchomei said.

A human rights activist, Mr Amos Olempaka, said the government had not done enough to address insecurity in the region.

“It is absurd in this century for people to hitchhiking in police vehicles just because of few armed criminals unleashing terror on locals.

"The government should be serious in addressing the problem once and for all,” Mr Olempaka said.

The deep trenches in the area, which have been caused by soil erosion, provide the bandits with hideouts from which they ambush security personnel and civilians at will.

Preventing soil erosion would therefore need to be part of a long-term solution to the problem of insecurity.

In the meantime, Kapedo continues to live up to its name — The Valley of Death — because it remains a clear and present danger to those living and working in the restive area.