What you need to know:
- Chief Lochodo's peace activism is long and chequered, having started in the early 2000s to end persistent Pokot-Turkana clashes.
- She notes that at the time of her appointment, Kainuk, her area of jurisdiction, was a hotspot for inter-community clashes resulting from cattle rustling.
- Her peace initiative in the region and push to educate girls and protect them from retrogressive cultural practices like FGM has greatly helped to change mindset.
When 48-year-old Sarah Akoru Lochodo joined provincial administration service in 2002 as an assistant chief in Kainuk, Turkana County, she was thrilled. At the back of her mind, however, she knew the task ahead was tough.
She had just resigned as a peace ambassador of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) in pastoralism areas of Turkana and Pokot, a hotspot for cattle rustling.
Ms Lochodo says her peace activism is long and chequered, having started the initiative in the early 2000s to end persistent Pokot-Turkana clashes in the region. Her passion was to see peace prevail.
Speaking to the Nation.Africa Ms Lochodo, who was recently inaugurated as chief, narrates how she was prompted to start the peace initiative nearly two decades ago. She worked with NCCK as a relief food distributor in the pastoralism areas before becoming a peace monitor.
“Before I became assistant chief, I worked with NCCK and I used to distribute relief food. Whenever I took food to a particular area either in Pokot or Turkana, members of either community would keep off for fear of retaliatory attacks. I realised there was a problem sparked by sporadic conflicts in the area. I raised the issue and they appointed me as the peace monitor in Sarmach, Kainuk and Katilu areas,” she says.
Ms Lochodo notes that at the time of her appointment, Kainuk, her area of jurisdiction, was a hotspot for inter-community clashes resulting from cattle rustling.
“One of my most memorable days was slightly over a month after I was appointed assistant chief. Then President Daniel arap Moi was coming to launch ‘Uhuru Project’ in Lodwar, and a member of the Pokot community was killed inside Kainuk Police Post while selling milk,” she says.
"When I arrived, there was panic, women were looking for a safer place and the killers had escaped. I decided to go talk with the Pokot who had grouped up at Kambi Karaya to plan a retaliation. At least 50 men were there and they had held hostage five boys from my area. I mastered courage to go there knowing very well I was courting danger.”
She, however, successfully calmed them down and held dialogue to avert an attack.
Women play a crucial role in peace-keeping, says Ms Lochodo, adding that their involvement is paramount in achieving harmony in warring communities.
“Women have the ability to influence peace. After intense negotiation, I rescued the five boys from the Pokot,” she says and it is from that incident that an idea for a peace initiative was born.
Despite opposition from some local leaders, she continued organising mediation between the warring communities and became instrumental in 2005, when the then Minister for Internal Security the late John Michuki, ordered a disarmament mission in the North Rift region.
Her peace initiative in the region and push to educate girls and protect them from retrogressive cultural practices like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has greatly helped to change mindset.
Her love for peace has also seen her mediate between the Kikuyu and Maasai in Mai Mahiu.
“Through Rural Women Peace Link (RWPL), I camped in Mai Mahiu for days mediating,” she says.
Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. She has won accolades for her persistence as a peace ambassador in a hostile region.
In 2010, the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, University of San Diego, US, recognised her as Woman Peace Maker of the Year.
“When I returned from the US in 2011, clashes between the Pokot and Turkana emerged. I invited the then Turkana MP Josphat Nanok and the current West Pokot Governor Prof John Lonyangapuo, by then PS in the Ministry of Industrialisation, for a peace meeting,” she says.
Against the norm
In 2018, Ms Lochodo led a campaign in collaboration with Rapid Deployment Unit (RDU) that saw more than 40 illegal guns returned.
Her job has come with challenges. She was once ostracized from the community because of going against the norm by engaging in a job perceived to be male oriented.
During her tenure, Ms Lochodo started Potuma Women, which stands for Pokot, Turkana and Marakwet, an empowerment group aimed at spearheading co-existence in the region.