To many who know the topography of Baringo County, the mention of Tiaty conjures images of a killing field, due to the never-ending bandit attacks.
Tiaty is probably one of the most insecure areas in Baringo County and by extension in the North Rift. It is often referred to as the “murder capital” of Baringo because it experiences frequent bandit killings throughout the year.
The county, which comprises six constituencies, is about 11,800 square kilometers and Tiaty alone covers half the area.
Living in some parts of Tiaty is like living on borrowed time as a big chunk of the sub-county is virtually controlled by bandits.
The gunfire has reduced the area to an epicenter of banditry and left hundreds of residents and dozens of police officers dead and others maimed with permanent life-long scars.
Mr Robert Mailuk, a resident, is scared whenever he hears gunfire tearing through the thicket next to his loaf-shaped manyatta.
“Anything can happen. At Paka Hills, we're just a split second from death. Bullets can start raining down,” says the father of six who is profoundly shaken as he explains how he was shot and seriously injured and a herd of his cattle stolen in a bandit attack.
Mr Joseph Simatia, who has visible bullet scars on his neck, trembles when he hears any sound that sounds like gunshots or even helicopters.
“I kind of freeze a little bit,” he says, adding, “every breath here is precious. Once you have a bullet almost piercing through your neck and can smell it burning, then you will know what fear feels like.”
Mr Simatia is not alone in his fears. Today the majority of residents of Tiaty say organised acts of deadly cattle rustling raids pose the biggest safety threat to them. The majority of adults are so stressed by the prospect of cattle rustling attacks that they avoid visiting certain places in the vast sub-county.
“There’re some no-go zones in Tiaty. A guarantee of being attacked while grazing your animals is almost a sure bet there,” says Mr Martin Pturu.
However, the area that has been described as “disturbed and dangerous” is slowly opening up and is set to host its first major development project in the ill-famed far-flung villages of Paka and Silali.
The restless Tiaty is about to become the new investment destination for investors in clean energy as the government, through the state agency Geothermal Development Company (GDC) steps up the drilling of steam in Paka and Silali Hills which have an estimated potential of 3,000MW. The 80 million Euros (Sh13 billion) project is financed by the Government of Kenya, Germany Development Bank KfW, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and the African Union Commission (AUC) the Geothermal Risk Mitigation Facility (GRMF). So far 70MW has been developed at Paka Hills, bringing it close to a target of 100MW.
This will ultimately see the remote area open up for development in a region that has been a hideout for bandits for many years.
As Tiaty rises to a new dawn, the white steam could be one of the solutions to silencing the bandits’ gunfire in troubled Tiaty and unlocking its potential.
A recent visit to Tiaty reveals that the landscape is fast changing and is on the path to becoming the pride of Baringo County.
Already the residents are witnessing history in the making as they have started enjoying the fruits of the multibillion project in their neighbourhood.
As the white steam billows in the sky, upgrading of access roads is taking shape, and to date, over 105km of access roads have been constructed from Lake Baringo to Paka, Korosi, and Silali prospects.
“My wife had birth complication while delivering at home and almost died, but since the roads were upgraded, I rushed her to a hospital in Marigat, where delivered a baby boy,” said Mr Peter Kolem.
"The infrastructural development is a big boost to a region that is largely neglected. It will open the region to the rest of the world," said Baringo Deputy Governor Felix Kiplagat Maiyo.
The state agency has constructed 12 well pads, nine in Paka, three in Korosi, and one in Silali, and installed a water reticulation system at Lake Baringo and four water storage pumps with a capacity of 4.4 million litres. A 156km of water distribution pipeline has brought water for domestic and livestock consumption to the doorsteps of the residents.
“Before GDC put a water point near my homestead, I was torn between hope and desperation. I used to walk many kilometers to Lake Bogoria to fetch water. My children no longer suffer waterborne diseases like cholera, diarrhea, and typhoid,” says Ms Lilian Pkyach, a mother of five.
A shipping container that has been converted into a modern clinic has brought hope to hundreds of residents.
The underground steam power at Paka Hills and Silali is also dispensing hope to local youth and is giving Tiaty a new face as the young men are slowly discarding the cattle rustling activities.
“I’m employed at GDC as a guard. I’m happy I get a good salary and my son goes to a nearby nursery school,” says a guard at one of the installations at Paka Hills.
Taking a road trip in Tiaty on upgraded earth roads and meeting youthful boda boda riders carrying goods is a clear testimony that the era of inaccessibility of the tough terrain, known for hiding stolen livestock as a base to plan brutal attacks is finally coming to an end as the area prepares to open up for energy investors.
“The arrival of GDC in Paka Hills is godsend. It’s now easy and faster to respond to bandit attacks and other emergencies,” said another police officer.
Energy Cabinet Secretary Davis Chirchir said the government is set to invite investors to bid for the construction of geothermal power plants at Paka Hills.
“The discovery of steam at Paka Hills is a significant milestone that is bringing Kenya close to lowering the cost of power. It’s a moment of pride for Kenya,” said Mr Chirchir soon after witnessing a powerful well discharge at Paka Hills on August 4.
“By the end of this year, we should be going to tender and invite investors to convert the steam here into electricity,” the CS announced.
He also said that the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (KETRACO) will start to work on the modalities of evacuating the power from Paka Hills to the national grid. The GDC managing director and chief executive officer Paul Ngugi noted that hitting such great geothermal wells is significant because it saves on time and costs.
“On average, a geothermal well would produce 5MW. Therefore, hitting one well at Paka with a capacity of 22MW is like drilling four wells at a cost of one which is a terrific achievement,” said the GDC boss.