Florence Jematia: A lone voice in the banditry wilderness

East Africa Legislative Assembly representative Florence Jematia addresses a Kenya Kwanza Alliance rally in Kabarnet, Baringo County, in February. 

East Africa Legislative Assembly (Eala) member Florence Jematia’s win as Baringo Woman Representative in the August 9 General Election has reaffirmed residents’ faith in her as “the people’s defender”.

This follows her February arrest after she made controversial remarks on banditry attacks in Baringo North and Baringo South sub-counties.

 The politician was detained by the Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DCI) detectives on February 2 after threatening to arm villagers to defend themselves against constant attacks by marauding bandits. She was captured in a four minutes and 40 seconds video during an interdenominational prayer meeting at Lamaiywe Dispensary grounds in Baringo South on January 30 calling for a funds drive to aid gun purchase.

Saying the government had failed to deploy national police reservists to restore order in the troubled area, Ms Jematia added that locals would not “continue holding peace meetings ... yet women and children spent nights in the bushes” due to attacks.

“We need [an M-Pesa] Paybill number to collect funds to purchase guns. If people can afford motorcycles, they can afford firearms as well. Leaders should also allocate funds to [buy guns] if the government is reluctant to heed our cries,” she added.

She spoke in the wake of attacks that saw more than seven people killed and scores injured.

She accused the government  of failing to restore sanity in the banditry-prone region.

Sparked outrage

Her arrest sparked outrage among locals who wondered why police were targeting her instead of focusing on the bandits.

Residents said Ms Jematia, who had announced her intention to vie for the Baringo Woman Rep seat on a United Democratic Alliance (UDA) ticket, was the right person to represent them in Parliament.

“Why is the state putting a lot of energy arresting local leaders advocating for security instead of going for the criminals ? Most of the politicians have been intimidated and can’t speak out on insecurity in the county but Ms Jematia is the only one brave enough to take a stand,” Mr Richard Koros said at the time.

Area residents accused Senator Gideon Moi and then Woman Rep Gladwell Cheruiyot of remaining silent despite the attacks, claiming that they were “playing it safe in order not to lose votes from some communities”.

They claimed the two had turned a blind eye on the runaway insecurity when their counterparts were condemning it.

During the elections, Ms Jematia trounced Ms Cheruiyot with 144,239 against the latter’s 40,302. Ms Rebecca Lomong of Kenya Union Party was third with 25,129 followed by Sarah Kipkogei of Chama Cha Mashinani (4,605) and Naomi Torono (Labour Party) with 2,523 votes.

Senator Moi was also floored by Baringo North MP William Cheptumo of UDA in a landslide victory of 141,777 votes.

Work together

The Kanu chairman, who was defending his seat for a third term, came second with 71,480 votes, while Mr Felix Chelaite of The Service Party (TSP) garnered 3,261 votes.

While being awarded a certificate by County Returning Officer John Mwangi at the Kenya School of Government tallying centre in Kabarnet, Ms Jematia pledged to work with other elected leaders to restore order in the volatile region for development to be achieved.

“Everyone is looking up to us as leaders to solve the banditry menace and unite all warring communities. Whether we like it or not, everything starts and ends with security in this county,” Ms Jematia said.

She urged elected leaders to give insecurity priority “so that all communities can be at par in terms of development, considering that locals are living squalid lives after being displaced from their homes by the violence.”

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