Relative peace has returned to the volatile border of West Pokot and Turkana counties after many years of protracted banditry and cattle rustling.
For close to five years now, the troubled Turkwel and Kainuk areas have remained calm, with very few gun sounds being heard in the region previously known as a battlefield for bandits.
The tranquility is the result of peace caravans organised by politicians, professionals and religious leaders and the deployment of a contingent of security officers after National Police Reservists (NPR) were disarmed.
The political goodwill, led by West Pokot Governor John Lonyangapuo and his Turkana counterpart Josephat Nanok, has led to relative calm and reduced crime, with residents surrendering illegal firearms.
Peace and development have been achieved in the region, where residents from the two communities are now involved in legitimate business activities.
Cattle and people move freely and residents have built houses along the roads.
Last year, the two communities reached a peace deal and came up with resolutions aimed at ending animosity and fixing insecurity.
The region had seen protracted attacks, killings, school closures and displacements, delaying development for the last five years.
However, harmony is slowly returning and there are high hopes for sustainable development.
The peace along the border has yielded many dividends. These include improved enrolment of children in school, more health centres and reduced livestock deaths as domestic animals can now access pasture because residents, who would previously be constantly on the move, have settled down.
Most schools that had been closed have reopened and residents who had migrated from the area have returned.
Herders now graze their animals jointly after residents reached a deal on the matter. This has ended the perennial fight for pasture.
Pastoralists now can access grazing fields in Kasei, Ombolion, Takaywa, Sarmach, Turkwel, Lorogon in West Pokot County; and Nakomoru, Narwomoru, Kalimarock, Kalengole, Kadeng’oi and Kotino in Turkana County.
They can also take their animals to Amudat, Achochorcheri, KapkurisAbong’oi, Asiokanion, Karita, Lokales, Ng’rina Kreek, Chepkusinya and Kanyerus in Uganda.
Mr Abraham Domong’ole, a resident, said the good relations between the two governors and MPs from both counties has improved ties between the two communities.
“Governors Lonyangapuo and Nanok are great friends. MPs have also followed suit. The current crop of leaders don’t incite locals against their neighbours. We return stolen animals to the owners,” an excited Mr Domong’ole said.
No need for guns
Ombolion Chief Joseph Korkimul said the prevailing peace means residents now no longer see the need for guns.
He said they willingly surrendered their guns after he held a security meeting to caution them about the dangers of holding illegal firearms and the government disarmament operation that will kick off soon.
“I held a public baraza with people from my area, telling them the government will disarm them by force if they are not willing to come out and surrender the illegally owned guns. That’s when a few who still own the guns decided to surrender them,” he said.
He noted that people still holding illegal guns will be disarmed forcibly and therefore urged them to surrender them before the government starts mopping up the firearms.
Pokot Central Deputy County Commissioner Were Simiyu said the peace has also been attributed to intensified police patrols.
The government official also said efforts by elders to end cattle rustling by conducting ceremonies to “curse” the perpetrators had played a role.
“We engage elders from neighbouring warring communities and the rituals have instilled fear among bandits who planned to stage raids. They fear to die after attacking their neighbours,” he said.
He urged the county government to allocate money for peace building, saying the two levels of government should be at the forefront fighting banditry.
West Pokot County Police Commander Jackson Tumwet noted that peace initiatives led by elders aimed at sensitising locals on peaceful coexistence should be supported.
Boost for education
For his part, Prof Lonyangapuo commended the Ministry of Interior for restoring security along the border, noting that the prevailing peace had resulted in development and boosted education.
“Politics should not be mixed with insecurity challenges. All leaders should come on board and help our community,” he said.
The county boss urged members of the Pokot, Turkana and Marakwet communities to commit to peace by returning stolen livestock when an attack occurs so as to help sustain the relative peace.
He reaffirmed the area leaders’ commitment to ensuring lasting peace along the border of the two counties.
The first-term governor said residents have made resolutions from a series of peace meetings between Marakwet and Pokot leaders that include returning stolen livestock and identifying suspects involved in killings on both sides.
Build an abattoir
“We need elders to ensure that peace prevails in the area. Reform and get saved,” Prof Lonyangapuo said.
He said he, Mr Nanok and Elgeyo-Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos have come together to preach peace in their individual counties.
To move the pastoralist communities away from rustling and provide opportunities for making money, West Pokot County is in the last stages of building an abattoir in Nasukuta, once home to bandits.
President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to open the abattoir in September.
“All cattle will be sold there after being identified,” said Prof Lonyangapuo.