What you need to know:
- The economy is literally at a standstill at the abandoned shopping centres
- Women and children 'play' hide and seek with the bandits who enjoy a panoramic view of the plains from their hideouts
- Those affected are suffering and need humanitarian aid
- In West Pokot, Pokot elders want the government to address the long-standing border dispute with Turkana
Other than chirping birds breaking the eerie atmosphere, nothing else welcomes you as you enter the Chebinyiny location at the foothills of the dreaded Korkoron hills, Baringo County- one of the bandits’ main hideouts.
Hundreds of bandits hiding in the hills have driven residents out of their homes, killing and maiming those they come across, besides stealing their livestock.
A spot check on Thursday found the area desolate, houses abandoned, with just a handful of learners still in the surrounding schools.
The economy is literally at a standstill at the abandoned shopping centres.
The situation is the same in areas such as Kapkosom, Lormoru, Kapindasun Katilomwo, Tandar, Arabal, Kasiele, Chebinyiny, and Korkoron.
'Hide and seek'
At Lomulel Hills, women and children now live 10 kilometres away from their homes, playing hide and seek with the bandits who enjoy a panoramic view of the plains from their hideouts.
They leave the hills in the morning to look for food and water before retreating in the afternoon, as the men keep watch.
At Sinon village along the Kapindasum-Mochongoi road, we encounter a group of women and young children who have just come out of their makeshift camps in the hills, to seek food and water.
“We have been alerted that the area is safe for us to come out and go find food before going back to the hills for the night,” Ms Betty Kokoyo, a resident from Seretoin village told us.
This cycle goes on daily until the government flushes out the bandits from Korkoron, “or we get somewhere else safe to settle,” said Ms Kokoyo, who fled her home three years ago.
She said banditry had made their lives hard and their tomorrow was never guaranteed. With farms and businesses abandoned, they have been reduced to paupers.
Since they live in the hills, the bandits have a wide view of the villages. “Even now as we talk, they are monitoring us and they can strike as they please,” Ms Kokoyo said.
“The government should end our suffering by flushing out the bandits to enable us to go back to our homes and live like other Kenyans who enjoy peace and development,” she added, her desperation evident.
Those affected are suffering and need humanitarian aid. Ms Magdalene Chesire said they are tired of empty promises from the government.
“We are being hunted by the bandits like antelopes even though we have our animals and homes. In our hideouts, we lack basic needs. Some pregnant women have given birth in the bushes. There is no access to medical care and already we have sick people,” she said.
Drop out of school
She said children have since dropped out of school because of a lack of fees and the government should give them bursaries.
Schools in areas like Kapkosom, Lormoru, Kapindasun Katilomwo, Tandar, Arabal, Kasiele, Chebinyiny, and Korkoron also have a handful of learners. Many fled with their families and have kept off the learning institutions.
At Sinon primary school, board chairman Mr Sammy Cherutich said just about 100 pupils, from a total population of over 200 learners, have resumed learning.
“When the school opened, we received 208 pupils but regular gunshots from Korkoron hills have scared them away. We closed the school temporarily this week and resumed Thursday where we are witnessing few learners,” he said.
The government deployed two police reservists to guard the school, but they cannot be compared to the firepower and grit of the hundreds of menacing bandits, the school official said.
He said children living less than two kilometres away from the institution have managed to come back.
“Learning will always be interrupted as long as the bandits still rule the hills,” he said.
Mr Zephania Rotich, a local, said the situation was worsening, while they see no deterring action from the government.
“The Armoured Police Carriers patrolling the region cannot go up the hills. When the bandits see them leave for their camps, they unleash their terror on us. The hills need battle helicopters to neutralise the bandits who hide in the crevices,” he said.
A peace crusader in the region, Reverend Richard Ngetuny, said air surveillance was the only option for the government to end the menace.
“No one dares to scale up the hills in search of the bandits unless you are courting death. The bandits continue to displace the population and decisive action needs to be done,” he said.
He asked the government to help banditry victims in paying school fees for their children.
“I equally challenge legislators from the banditry-prone areas to ensure laws against the vice are passed as soon as possible. This will make intervention prompt,” he said.
In Turkana, leaders led by Senator James Lomenen, MPs John Ariko (Turkana South), Nicholas Ngikor (Turkana East), and Kainuk/Lobokat MCA Samwel Aliwo said sustained attacks at Kainuk are fuelled by wealthy expansionists from the neighbouring community who want to forcefully occupy border areas that they settled on for pasture.
"It is a high time the government dealt with bandits once and for all. The security operation must cover all the areas that have been labelled disturbed and dangerous with a swift disarmament process part of the mission," Mr Lomenen said.
In West Pokot, Pokot elders want the government to address the long-standing border dispute with Turkana, saying it has been a silent cause of the perennial conflicts in the region.
The land in question stretches from the Marich Pass area, 194 kilometres to Lodwar town through Kainuk, and joins the Turkwel River, which is rich with fertile soils.
Areas around include Ombolion, Amolem, Nakwomoru, Takaywa, Nyangaita, Alale, Lokiama, Ombolion, Kases, and Lorogon, and the Pokot-Turkana border.
Others are Kapedo at the border of Turkana and Baringo counties.
It is the reason Pokot elders now want the national government to arbitrate the boundary dispute among the neighbouring communities to avert further bloody clashes.
Local leaders from the communities have attempted to resolve the standoff over the boundary disputes without success.
Locals said that the government should involve elders from the three warring communities in dialogue before embarking on the planned disarmament exercise.
“There is a need for dialogue so that locals can be persuaded to give out guns voluntarily,” said a local Musa Cheperer.
He cited the Ugandan government's way of handling cattle rustling without forceful disarmament in recent years, saying it has seen Ugandan pastoralists live peacefully.
Former Kapenguria mayor Christopher Lonyala said that the government should rely on the original maps that were drawn by the colonial government to resolve the boundary row.
“There has been nothing fruitful from the interventions by local leadership,” said Pokot Council of Elders chairperson John Muok.
Mr Muok asked the national government to send surveyors to areas bordering West Pokot and Turkana counties to identify beacons that were erected during the colonial period to help end boundary conflicts.
“The surveyors will help identify the correct boundary between the two communities hence finding a permanent solution to the frequent attacks in the region,” he said in Kapenguria town.
The former paramount chief said clear demarcation of the boundaries between West Pokot and Turkana and Baringo, will reduce conflict by 70 percent.
“The problem will always resurface after some time if the government does not demarcate the boundaries,” he said.
“We want the international community to intervene in the matter. We are ready to give evidence in court concerning the border row. We want the government to set up a special commission to resolve the border row, we are ready to give out maps,” the elder said.
The elders are also rooting for peaceful negotiations to resolve the protracted border dispute, focusing on addressing the land issues.
Further, they want President Wiliam Ruto to meet elders from both communities for dialogue, claiming many of them have been compromised.