samburu cattle raid 14 dead

Police retrieve charred bodies from the Suyian battlefield in Samburu North on November 5, 2021.

| Geoffrey Ondieki | Nation Media Group

Inside the Samburu killing fields: Harrowing tales of death and survival

What you need to know:

  • Across the length and breadth of the violence-prone Samburu County, evidence of murder is plentiful.
  • In the past two months, 24 people were killed by brazen bandits who seem to be more tactical than trained security officers, going by the manner in which they strike.
  • The most insecure areas are Marti, Mbukoi, Baragoi, Nachola, Suyian, Kawap, Nkoriche and South Horr in Samburu North. In Samburu East, you are most likely to die in Wamba, Lerata and Achers Post. Suguta Mar Mar, Longewan and Malaso are also dangerous.

On November 3, 14 people who had just retired after a long day in search of pasture, were rounded up and shot dead by a gang of about 50 cattle rustlers in Suyian village of Samburu North.

The ruthless raiders, armed with assault weapons, killed indiscriminately and did not even spare women and children; their mission was to leave no life behind before driving away with 1,000 heads of cattle. 

An armed Samburu herder.

Photo credit: Geoffrey Ondieki | Nation Media Group

Some of the recovered livestock in Samburu North. 

Photo credit: Geoffrey Ondieki | Nation Media Group

Although they initially met some resistance from local Morans, they had way too powerful guns that silenced the opposition. In the end, they left a trail of death with surrounding villages devastated and traumatised. 

Local residents were so outraged that they called upon authorities to show up and witness the tragedy that had befallen their community. Yet, this is the routine in a region that bandits and rustlers rule with the gun.

Shock of 14 dead in Samburu shoot-out between residents and cattle rustlers

Brazen bandits

Across the length and breadth of the violence-prone Samburu County, evidence of murder is plentiful. In the past two months, 24 people were killed by brazen bandits who seem to be more tactical than trained security officers, going by the manner in which they strike.

The most insecure areas are Marti, Mbukoi, Baragoi, Nachola, Suyian, Kawap, Nkoriche and South Horr in Samburu North. In Samburu East, you are most likely to die in Wamba, Lerata and Achers Post. Suguta Mar Mar, Longewan and Malaso are also dangerous.

Fear, tension and hopelessness is a way of life in this theatre of death. The bandits strike any time, day or night, and don’t fear security agencies because they are better armed. Some even carry special military weapons used by elite forces. How they get them remains a puzzle.

Several policemen posted to the axis of violence to combat the attackers have also fallen victim, and died in the line of duty. The security situation in Samburu is proving intractable despite the government’s repeated assurances that there are enough boots on the ground.  

samburu cattle raid 14 dead

Police at the Suyian battlefield where 14 people died in a cattle rustling shootout. 

Photo credit: Geoffrey Ondieki | Nation Media Group

To an outsider, Samburu is a marvellous county whose landscape has wonderful plains and perfect hills and valleys that define beauty. From Samburu Central to Baragoi, it’s a couple’s paradise.

Beneath beauty lies wanton killing

But beneath that beauty, beneath that paradise, lies death and destruction. The wanton killing of innocent villagers in endless cattle raids is a clear affirmation of the reality locals live with.

“These bandits strike any time and we are helpless, knowing that death can knock at any time. We have lost our cattle, but every time the government only gives threats and life moves on. We are being hunted down like rabbits,” says Mr James Lekandero, a resident of Baragoi.

Mr Stephen Leekete, a Moran, says they have resorted to use their firearms to protect themselves. “Death stalks us here. All because of the bandits. It seems the government has surrendered,” he offers.

Last month, three people were killed, three children injured and over 500 livestock stolen after bandits attacked Lporokwai village in Porro location. The bandits shot dead a father and his son, who were herding their livestock before they drove away the animals. 

Police, who later recovered over 50 goats, are yet to arrest the culprits. On July 19, two people were killed when suspected armed cattle rustlers raided Marti in Samburu North and stole 521 animals.

The attack came barely three days after armed rustlers raided the same village and stole more than 200 goats. No arrests were made and no animals were recovered.

On October 15, police in Samburu recovered two assault rifles with rounds of ammunition in Parikati area following a failed cattle raid. The two firearms – AK-47 and FN FAL – with 20 and 14 rounds of ammunition, respectively, were recovered when police responded to an attack.

Samburu County police commandant Samson Ogelo says one ranger was killed following a gunfight with bandits. The incident came two days after a suspected cattle rustler was killed by police and an M16 rifle with 25 rounds of ammunition recovered.

samburu cattle raid 14 dead

Police at the Suyian battlefield where 14 people died in a cattle rustling shootout. 

Photo credit: Geoffrey Ondieki | Nation Media Group

On November 24 last year, two people were killed while another was injured in two separate attacks in Baragoi town. A nine-year-old boy died on the spot after he was shot on the chest by armed bandits while herding livestock at Natiti area at around 11am.

A few hours later, a boda boda rider and his pillion passenger were sprayed with bullets. The rider died while the passenger sustained a bullet wound on her shoulder.

Samburu Woman Rep Maison Leshoomo says deployment of police reservists to the region will help end the attacks. She has also urged the national government to find a long-term solution to cattle theft.

“We need to end the continuous mourning of our people because of few criminal elements. Security organs should intervene,” she says.

In 2019, the government disarmed reservists on the grounds that they were behind the insecurity. Ms Leshoomo now wants the Interior ministry to reinstate them because they understand the terrain well and can respond to bandits better than the police.

Rift Valley regional coordinator George Natembeya says bandits carry sophisticated firearms and often outgun elite security forces, including the Anti-Stock Theft Unit and the General Service Unit.

“While our officers are using AK-47s and G3 rifles, they have M16s and other heavy assault weapons, which are usually used by the military in foreign countries. We don’t know how they get these weapons, but it is an issue under investigation,” he observes.

Independent investigations by the Nation show that the illicit weapons come from several sources, including the Ethiopian rebel group, Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
Many are smuggled into the country through the porous borders from Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia and Sudan.

“One of the M16 rifles recovered from bandits last month had a sticker of an Ethiopian flag. It was manufactured in the US,” says a police source.

Commercialisation and politicisation of rustling

Security experts also say cattle raids have turned deadly due to their commercialisation and politicisation. Mr Kiyo Ng’ang’a says the solution is sealing the porous borders.

“Disarmament won’t help; the government must endeavour to stop smuggling of the illegal firearms from other countries,” he notes.

The government claims some politicians supply the guns to bandits.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i says the government has deployed more security officers to Samburu and Marsabit to tackle the rising insecurity.

“We have deployed more security officers to the affected areas and I urge local leaders to talk to the locals and tell them that killing each other is not a solution. Turning guns against each other won’t help. The communities need to live and co-exist in peace,” he offers.

Police spokesperson Bruno Shioso says a major security operation is under way in the region.

“A contingent of security personnel drawn from the GSU is already on the ground going after the bandits to recover stolen animals. Security around the affected areas has been beefed up,” he notes.

“To end the problem, we have approached it in three ways: We have enhanced security, embraced peace-building initiatives through administration and local committees, and direct resource support including infrastructure improvement to open.”

Successive governments have issued edicts against bandits, yet none has had the capacity to end it. It remains to be seen if the Jubilee administration will succeed in ending insecurity here.
 

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