A group of reformed warriors in West Pokot County are relishing riches after abandoning the archaic culture of cattle rustling to venture into small-scale businesses.
The liberated youths have taken up income-generating projects ranging from poultry keeping to crop production which have transformed their lives. Others have enrolled in school.
Among beneficiaries of the culture change are members of the Chepareria-Nasikuta free initiative where more than 100 rehabilitated cattle rustlers have come together to venture into dairy farming, whereby they exchange the traditional long-horned cow for hybrid ones.
“The prolonged cattle rustling activities have earned the community a bad name and we need to discard it and diversify to other activities that will improve our living standards,” said Chetotum Lomadita, a former notorious cattle rustler who traversed parts of the North Rift region and Uganda stealing livestock.
He called it quits after witnessing his colleagues fall by the bullet by either rivals or security agents.
“Some of my agemates who enrolled in school are financially stable after securing employment or starting income-generating businesses but look at me. I have to start from scratch but all is not lost and I am determined to make it in life,” said Mr Lomadita while appealing to thieving youths who engage in cattle rustling to abandon the outdated culture.
The group, which is supported by World Vision International, has introduced drought-resistant pasture for their animals to discourage their members from practising nomadism and motivate their parents to settle at a central point to empower them to concentrate on development matters.
Several boreholes have been drilled by the government and humanitarian agencies operating in the county to facilitate steady water supply for domestic use and animals. This will empower parents who would marry off their young daughters for wealth.
“It is profitable running a small business to generate income to educate my daughters instead of encouraging them to get married where they might end up living in abject poverty,” said Mr Moses Lorekau, 36, and a father of four who has enrolled his children in school after joining the group of reformed warriors.
The group also runs a poultry project which has revolutionised the community's way of living.
“Education exchange programmes, academic tours and counselling have been introduced in most schools to encourage parents to take education of their children seriously,” said Mr David Chetotum, a teacher.
Marry off their children
“Girls are viewed as a source of wealth and high poverty levels among most households forces some of the parents to marry off their children instead of taking them to school,” said Mr Chetotum.
Exposure through education tours has been introduced in some of the schools to motivate parents to value the education of their children.
“There is fear among some parents that educating girls will empower them and that is why they do not want them to acquire formal education,” said Mr Chetotum.
The government has in the recent past launched a forceful disarmament exercise in cattle rustling-prone areas in Rift Valley to mob up illegal guns.
The proliferation of small and light weapons from the Great Lakes region has been blamed for the high illiteracy and poverty levels among the Pokot and other pastoral communities in the North Rift region.
But educational standards in Pokot County have been boosted following the formation of Masol Peace and Development Initiative (MPDI) to promote education and economy of members of the Pokot living on the common border with the Turkana community hit by recurrent cattle raids.
According to the chairman of the organisation Felix Puonyang, their objective is to approach conflicts with a win-win attitude, especially on education matters.
“Cattle rustling has taken us nowhere and needs to come to an end since education is the key. As a community, we need to invest in activities that will improve our living standards,” said Mr Puonyang.
Among those who have benefited from the MPDI programme is Benson Lomadita, a pupil at Chepserum primary school, together with daughter Mary Lomeritimug.
He is married to two wives, has 10 children and the last born one is a pupil at Runo primary school.
Dilapidated roads, inadequate learning materials and teachers are some of the factors that have contributed to declining academic standards in West Pokot and Turkana counties.
Armed conflicts between members of the Turkana and Pokot communities over grazing fields and boundary disputes have adversely affected smooth learning of more than 5,000 pupils.
Schools in Lorongon and Nakwamoru on the border of Pokot North and Turkana South have been interrupted by recurrent fights between members of the two pastoralist communities. The conflicts have claimed human lives and led to loss of property.