Women in bandit-ridden North Rift unite to end perpetual insecurity

samburu police

Security personnel during a patrol in Samburu County, where bandits attacks have been common.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

For many years, women in the border villages of the North Rift region have borne the brunt of incessant bandit attacks and cattle rustling that have led to loss of lives, livelihoods and the displacement of thousands from their homes over the years.

For many years, women in the banditry-prone areas of the region have known no peace as most of them are left to fend for their families after their husbands, the breadwinners, are killed on the pastures or battlefields in pursuit of stolen cattle.

In the volatile border areas, men have the responsibility of herding cattle to protect them from being stolen by neighbouring communities. They are also tasked with protecting the community from invasion by a perceived enemy, a situation that has resulted in several of them losing their lives.

However, a group of women peace ambassadors from the warring Pokot, Ilchamus, Tugen, Marakwet and Turkana communities have agreed to try and reverse the trend and seek solutions to bring sanity to the volatile villages.

The women's group, which met during a peace forum convened by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) at the Kenya School of Government, Kabarnet campus, resolved to rally the locals in the remote border villages to enrol their children in school so that they are not recruited into banditry and cattle rustling.

Esther Ayepio, from Katilu ward in Turkana County, said that for many years, they had fled the volatile villages several times after an attack, forcing them and their children to sleep in the bush for safety until normality returned.

She regretted that many mothers have given birth in the bush, while children catch common cold and others drop out of school.

"Many women in the porous villages have been widowed by banditry, and to make matters worse, they have been left destitute after all their cattle were stolen by armed criminals. Women have a role to play in ending this perennial vice and that is what we have unanimously agreed to do," said Ms Ayepio.

"In our villages, we have husbands and our sons who are in possession of illegal weapons and we will persuade them to surrender to the authorities. We have lagged behind in development because of banditry, thanks to the proliferation of firearms," she added.

The women also cited high bride prices as a major cause of livestock theft, where communities demand multiple cattle in exchange for marrying off their daughters, forcing some poor families to steal from neighbouring communities.

"Our daughters will not be used to get more cattle. We should come out of the cocoon of silence when our sons steal to get more cattle as bride price. As women from the warring communities, we are going to form groups where we will visit all the neighbouring communities to preach peaceful co-existence," she added.

The women, she said, have also formed empowerment groups where they save money to educate their children and provide for their families instead of relying solely on cattle herding, which is the main cause of inter-communal conflict.

Caroline Kipchumba, from Elgeyo Marakwet County, said the women are also advocating modern livestock farming where they can raise better breeds than the indigenous ones due to limited grazing land and the effects of climate change, which has often led to conflicts between neighbouring communities.

"As women, we want to be at the forefront of peace. If we take the initiative to reverse the trend of inter-communal feuds, our husbands, sons and even the next generations will reap the fruits of peaceful coexistence," said Kipchumba.

Women in pastoralist communities have been accused of fuelling conflict, for example by composing songs to praise their sons after successful raids, while those who do not participate, or those who come back empty-handed are ridiculed as lesser men.

"We will no longer support banditry and we have decided that through our groups we will compose songs that advocate peaceful co-existence," she added.