The elusive quest for lasting peace in North Rift region

Kenya Defence Forces soldier

A Kenya Defence Forces soldier stands guard at Liter Primary School in Chesegon, Elgeyo Marakwet County, during a visit by Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki for a security meeting in early June.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

It braves the harsh glare of the blazing sun, the blinding light casting shadows over its pockmarked walls where bullets from bandits’ guns have drilled little holes in the plaster.

This is Liter Primary School in Elgeyo Marakwet County, which, for decades, has borne the brunt of banditry attacks.

Teachers told Nation on Tuesday that the area has enjoyed relative peace and tranquillity following the launch of Operation Maliza Uhalifu (OMU) but fresh attacks have sparked animosity between the Pokots and Marakwets. This follows the killings of two people in the past couple of weeks, both said to relatives of Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen.

“These bullet holes you see here are from the attacks in January this year,” a teacher at the school explained.

That same day, Defence CS Aden Duale attended two security meetings in Chesegon and Kabusien, where he declared a fresh disarmament exercise.

“It cannot be that people are killed and nobody gets arrested, that a General Service Unit vehicle can be torched and no one gets arrested. All officers must be accountable as government representatives in their respective regions and inform us who these criminals are or be declared as complicit,” he said.

Mr Duale, who was accompanied by Mr Murkomen local leaders and OMU Commander Brigadier Ahmed Saman, said intelligence reports have zeroed in on some senior police officers who he said are working closely with bandits.

In addition to the officers, Nation understands a powerful politician from the region is complicit in the recent attacks. Bandits hold sway in the infamous Kerio Valley that Mr Murkomen likened to Israel’s Gaza Strip. He called on members of the Marakwet and West Pokot communities to call a truce.

“They must sit and agree to keep peace. Criminals with weapons are not only a danger to the rival community, eventually, they will turn the guns on their kinsmen,” he said.

The national government is planning to turn around the North Rift region’s economic prospects by, among other things, sinking boreholes and building dams, constructing roads and putting up boarding schools. It is part of a proactive strategy to curb cattle raids in an initiative dubbed the “North Rift Marshall Plan”.

“For a long time, this region has suffered the shame of underdevelopment as others benefit from roads, schools, hospitals, and railways. I do not even think that a cabinet meeting can be held here today but we will ensure that we make that possible,” said Duale.

Part of the plan is to ensure that roads and boarding schools by communities living along the border so that a sort of cultural exchange can take place to engender peaceful coexistence.

“This will ensure that children from Pokot, Turkana, Samburu, Marakwet, and Turgen get to study together,” said Mr Duale.

The Ministry of Transport has committed to building 13 roads with Mr Murkomen launching one in Kimnai in Tiaty Constituency that will connect Elgeyo Marakwet and Baringo counties across Kerio River.

The Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) has also embarked on building schools and increasing its presence in the region.

In the first phase of the Sh2 billion plan, markets and boreholes have been earmarked for construction with locals urged to take an active role in the project’s implementation.

Brig Saman will lead in the establishment of two KDF camps in Chesogon and Milimani areas, which are both located along the Elgeyo Marakwet-West Pokot border, as the government looks into setting up more camps if the situation does not stabilize.

“We hope that all the agencies involved will play an active role in the implantation phase so that the new schools get to have teachers, doctors are posted in the new hospitals and so forth. An agricultural scheme benefiting both communities here would also lessen the strife that is at times triggered by hunger,” a local administrator said.