Fleeing Kerio Valley families seek refuge in Elgeyo hills

Residents of Kapkosom village in Mochongoi, Baringo County flee following attack by armed bandits from the neighbouring community on March 07, 2022.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Hundreds of families are fleeing the volatile Kerio Valley to seek refuge in the hilly Elgeyo escarpment following the deteriorating security in the region.

This follows the Sunday bandit attack in Koitilial, Marakwet West, that left two people dead and six others critically injured.

Two of the critically injured were receiving treatment at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and Eldoret Hospital, with a bullet lodged in the head for one and in the stomach for the other.

MTRH chief executive officer Dr Wilson Aruasa told the Nation on Monday that one of the survivors being treated at the facility was in a stable condition and recuperating in the ward. Four others were recuperating at Iten County Referral Hospital.

Nation.Africa has established that people were fleeing the region in droves, fearing that more attacks could happen.

Many are opting to seek refuge in snake-infested caves in the hilly Elgeyo escarpment, even after the government announced the deployment of more security officers to the region and enhanced patrols.

Leaders, on the other hand, have accused the State of offering lip service in an attempt to restore calm yet lives are being lost at an alarming level.

Mr Leonard Yano, a resident, said the region was deserted as more families left their homes for the escarpment, which is still relatively calm.

“People have been displaced as the raids intensified last year. But the Sunday attack sparked a mass exit of locals from their homes. The attacks have been increasing by the day and people no longer have any animals,” he said.

He said the escarpment is the only place they can find refuge because the raiders cannot scale the hills without being noticed.

“There are snakes in the escarpment and the young and the old ones are suffering the biting cold. We are calling on the government to restore calm at least for people to sleep in their homes even for once,” he said.

Ms Mary Kanda said residents face hunger in the escarpment as there is no food to feed their families.

“We are really suffering and the sooner the government puts this menace to rest the better for us. Where is the government when we are suffering this much? We are not children of a lesser god and we want to enjoy equal rights just like other Kenyans,” she said.

Marakwet West Deputy County Commissioner Mathias Chisiambo said although security teams were on high alert, with increased patrols along the border, people were fearing more attacks.

“People are taking precautions and have moved to the escarpment, which is hilly and offers them a platform to monitor security threats, especially bandits on the lower ground. We have deployed more security personnel to help restore order,” he said.

Area MP William Kisang called on the government to act and stop the anguish the people of the Kerio Valley are undergoing. He said this could be achieved through increasing the number of police reservists in the area.

“We were told there would be an operation, but several months down the line nothing has happened. We believe the banditry menace will be wiped out in the Kerio Valley once and for all only through the collaboration of police reservists and their regular counterparts,” he said.

He said since the government disbanded the police reservists in 2019, the region had experienced an unprecedented series of attacks, which have left a trail of death and destruction.

He said police reservists are familiar with the region’s terrain and can pursue bandits whenever they strike.

“The government deployed a handful of police reservists recently, but we need the number increased to over 100 officers so that at least each sub-location gets four. With this, we are sure of reducing the increasing spate of attacks. Police are just patrolling the highways,” Mr Kisang said.

Locals fleeing Sinoni Village in Baringo South

Locals fleeing from the troubled Sinoni Village in Baringo South to other safer villages due to flare-ups that led to the killing of more than four people in the area on March 4 and 5, 2022.

Photo credit: Florah Koech | Nation Media Group

In neighboring Baringo County, tension is also high, with residents fleeing villages such as Kinyach and Kobot in Baringo North following a bandit attack. The villages were deserted as locals fled for safety.

Since Saturday, there has been tension in the area after bandits suspected to be from Elgeyo-Marakwet County drove away over 230 goats belonging to two families in Koikoi, Tiaty.

“The goats were grazing towards the Koitalial area, having crossed the Kerio River, only to fall into the arms of the bandits, who ambushed the herders. Efforts to recover the livestock were futile,” said Mr Zakayo Komen, a resident of Kinyach village in Baringo County.

Another resident of Kinyach village, Ms Sally Chebet, told the Nation they were living in fear.

“The Tugens have been caught between the two warring communities and it is the Marakwets who often vent their anger on the Tugens. We want security to be beefed up in this region,” she appealed.

On Monday, leaders from the North Rift region called on the government to deploy more police reservists to boost security in the Kerio Valley region.

The leaders, who included former Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet, said 80 national police reservists who were deployed to the region were inadequate and petitioned the government to increase the number.

“I am appealing to the Inspector General of Police Mr Hillary Mutyambai to consider enhancing the number of reservists to support police in providing public safety in the region,” he said. 

“The numbers given were not enough. We plead for more, so that when we have peace, the reservists can revert to regular work,” said Mr Boinnet when he visited survivors of the Marakwet West attack at MTRH.

Mr Boinnet, who is eyeing the Elgeyo Marakwet governor’s seat in the August elections, said home-grown solutions are needed to end perennial insecurity in the region.

“The Kerio Valley has the potential to produce food. What we need is peaceful coexistence among the communities,” he said.

“We need to nurture alternative dispute resolution mechanisms as a long-term solution to this menace.”