Fresh bandit and cattle rustling activities have resurfaced in villages along the West Pokot and Turkana border after five years of peaceful coexistence, with local leaders led by governors Josphat Nanok and John Lonyangupuo now accusing security officers of apathy.
It follows increasing insecurity in the region, including more attacks on the Kitale-Kapenguria-Lodwar road recently that have left several people injured.
But local leaders suspect the attacks may not be a coincidence, suggesting possible organised crimes related to the August General Election.
On Saturday, one person was killed in Sarimach village and three others suffered serious injuries in a cross-border daytime attack .
Hundreds of livestock were driven away by suspected bandits from neighbouring Turkana County. The livestock belonged to Siwareng Chumwan, who was killed.
A fierce gun battle ensued between security officers and the bandits, with nonstop shots rending the air for most of the day.
The raiders attacked herders at a grazing field near the Malmalta River on the West Pokot-Turkana border.
Mr Chumwan, 20, was killed and Limanyang Roo, 35, his son Simon Limanyang, 12, and Misto Ng’orok, 8, were seriously injured.
Governor Lonyangapuo, who visited the injured at Kapenguria County Referral Hospital, condemned the incident, calling on security organs to increase patrols along the border.
“We had brought together people from the two communities and they have been staying in peace for almost five years,” the governor said.
“This is not normal thuggery but a targeted one because children have been injured. The bandits ran and hid the livestock in Kainuk forest and surrounded it and they are armed,” he said, calling on the government to bring back National Police Reservists (NPR) and disarm locals.
He added: “We obeyed the government order to surrender all illegal guns and residents gave them out. Later, the NPR officers also surrendered their guns to the government. Our people are now herding livestock with mere sticks.
“Why shoot and kill innocent children? They [tried to lynch] the boy and put a huge stone on his head thinking that he was dead. I don’t want Pokots to go for revenge. We need the fights to stop henceforth.”
The governor called on the Ministry of Interior and Rift Valley Regional Commissioner Maalim Mohammed to contain the situation.
He called on West Pokot leaders and their Turkana counterparts to come together and start peace caravans in the region.
He spoke as his Turkana counterpart urged security agencies to tackle the increasing violence.
Last week, a matatu driver and eight passengers were hospitalised after gunmen sprayed their vehicle with bullets at Kainuk, Turkana South, on the Kapenguria-Lodwar road.
Four of the nine victims were seriously injured.
The victims were in a 14-seater public service vehicle that was heading to Lodwar from Kitale when the gunmen struck a few minutes past noon on May 1.
Said Mr Nanok: “The attacks include the shooting of PSV vehicles along the highway and raids on Kainuk, Loyapat and Lowoi Akwara in Nakwamoru area in Turkana South. Whilst I note that there have been highway security patrols to keep transport open, there could be lack of commitment on the duty bearers because these attacks continue to take place despite the presence of highly specialised police units in the area.”
Security agencies under scrutiny are the Anti-Stock Theft Unit (ASTU) and Rapid Deployment Unit (RDU) in Lobokat ward, and General Service Unit in Nakwamoru and Turkwel Gorge in Kaputir ward.
He too urged the Ministry of Interior to intervene.
“Security and intelligence committees at all levels must fix laxity in response to attacks, pursue the bandits and recover stolen livestock. There is demonstrable commitment of the Turkana kraal leaders along the Turkwel belt on tracking and ensuring the return of Pokot livestock in past [incidents],” said Mr Nanok.
He suggested the rise of possible organised crimes related to the August General Election.
“Aggressive deterrence must be employed by security units as opposed to waiting to respond when attacks occur. I believe that it is not a coincidence that the frequency of the attacks appears to increase as we approach the [elections],” he stated.
The governor claimed insecurity might be used to suppress the participation of voters in elections and as a campaign tool for politicians to mobilise support by inciting the emotions of residents.
“To end this vicious cycle of violence, those responsible for the attacks must be brought to book to face consequences of their crimes. From the financiers, planners, politicians inciting attacks to the hardcore bandits who have made a career from terrorism,” he said.
“When these criminals go scot-free one attack after another, impunity takes root while our people continue to suffer due to loss of livelihoods and live in fear of attacks.”
Escaped death by a whisker
Simon Limanyang, a victim of the latest attack, said that he escaped death by a whisker.
“I woke up in the morning and went to look after livestock. I heard gun sounds then bandits attacked us,” he said.
“We had been living in peace after we surrendered the illegal guns. There is no gun that remains in Sarimach.
“We don’t want anyone to politicise security issues or incite locals. We don't want to know the political party you come from. We need proper security surveillance.”
Pokot Central Deputy County Commissioner Jeremiah Koech Tumo said police officers were deployed to the area to reduce tension.
Mr Tumo said that by Sunday morning, the security team had recovered all the stolen livestock.
Dr Brian Kitili of Kapenguria County Referral Hospital confirmed that one of the victims was pronounced dead after arrival. He was wounded in the chest and upper limb.
The second suffered a gunshot wound in the left upper limb and underwent surgery.
Abraham Domungura, an NPR in Sarimach, said the incident has caused tension, with residents now living in fear that the cattle rustlers might strike again.
Government has failed
Sigor MP Peter Lochakapong castigated the government, saying it had failed to contain insecurity in the Kerio Valley region.
He said insecurity was getting out of hand, noting that the bandits wreaking havoc are well known.
“The government is unable to end banditry and cattle rustling. It should change its strategies,” said Mr Lochakapong, who wondered why the bandits had not been arrested despite residents unmasking them.
“If the security docket is unable to take action, let us know so that we know how to protect ourselves. If residents have named the perpetrators, why don’t you arrest them.”
“We want to see them arrested, dead or alive. We need peace and we have no time for conflicts. We will not allow a few criminals to destabilise peace in the region,” he said.
“We want action taken. Last year, we gave out a list of shame of criminals terrorising residents from both communities.”
North Rift disarmament
The MP also faulted the nature of the disarmament programme in the North Rift region, saying that it was biased.
“We want disarmament to be done in all neighbouring communities. They have done disarmament in Pokot, yet people still have illegal firearms in Turkana, Marakwet and Baringo. We have embraced peace and the government should have equity,” Mr Lochakapong said.
He urged Turkana Peace Committee members to intervene.
“We need peace between the two communities and we should come together as peace mediators to help end the menace,” he said.
Governor Nanok regretted that renewed insecurity had resulted in the forced displacement of communities and interruption of transport along the Lodwar-Kitale road, warning that PSVs may cease operating on the route if attacks persist.
He said interruption of transport along the highway undermines efforts to market Turkana as an attractive destination for domestic and international tourism and as an area with high investment potential.
“I wish a quick recovery to those injured. My government has extended medical emergency services to the victims of the unfortunate incidents,” he said as he thanked the Kenya Red Cross Society for its help in evacuating the injured.
More than 100 people have been killed, hundreds of livestock stolen and residents displaced in the Kerio Valley region since the year began.
This has derailed development and paralysed learning in schools.