Fate of learners in bandit-hit North Rift hangs in balance as schools remain closed

Banditry hit North Rift

Empty beds and lockers in dormitory which is also a classroom at Cheptulel Boys Secondary School. 

Photo credit: Oscar Kakai | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Locals leaders are now asking if the promise by interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki who visited the area last year was a public relations exercise.
  • Forced relocation of students could make no sense of the government’s move to rehabilitate vandalised institutions. The government allocated Sh100 million to restore the infrastructure and purchase of new facilities in the schools.
  • The schools also lack the promised specific National Police Reservists to man them.

The fate of hundreds of learners in institutions that were affected by banditry in West Pokot County hangs in the balance despite the government’s announcement to rehabilitate schools vandalised by bandits.

The situation raises doubts on preparedness to receive learning after most were relocated seeking refuge in neighbouring schools.

Some seven institutions in troubled areas of Chesegon and Turkwel were shut two years ago due to runaway insecurity.

Affected schools are Cheptulel boys, Samplomoi, Lonyangalem, Kour Primary Songok, Karon primary schools in North Pokot Sub County and Tirap, Cheratat primary schools in Pokot Central Sub County.

Locals leaders are now asking if the promise by interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki who visited the area last year was a public relations exercise.

At Cheptulel secondary school in Chesegon learners are still at Surumben primary school in Masol ward, more than 50 kilometres away.

The schools also lack the promised specific National Police Reservists (NPRs) to man them.

Villages in the area remain deserted after locals migrated fear of perennial attacks.

Pupils at Kapindasum Primary School in Baringo South lie on the floor for safety after bandits attacked near the school on October 24, 2023.

Photo credit: Florah Koech | Nation Media Group

Chesegon Technical Institute that was under construction stalled due to attacks and now houses security personnel.

Kelvin Mweutich a local of Cheptulel area said the government did shoddy and substandard work in rehabilitation of the schools.

“No proper renovation was done. There are no toilets. The dining hall, dormitories were not touched and windows that were vandalised by bandits have not been replaced. They only painted the face of the school. We want to know where the funds for renovation went and who was responsible,” he said.

He said that this week, 27 livestock were stolen from the area.

James Koitilo the Principal Cheptulel Boys Secondary School said there is no water in the school after pipes were vandalised, kitchen demolished, teacher’s quarters looted and iron sheets removed by bandits while toilets were damaged by termites.

“We are receiving students. We have 52 Form One students. Last year we didn’t have many as we only had eight. The school opened in March last year before we got a temporary hostage at Surumben,” he says.

He said the school is insecure without a good fence adding that it population shrunk but is picking up.

Leaders who visited Cheptulel boy’s secondary school on Thursday led by West Pokot Senator Julius Murgor, Sigor MP Peter Lochakapong and West Pokot women Representative Rael Kasiwai said institutions are not yet ready to host learners because rehabilitation was ongoing.

They same have been exposed to danger after the Kenya Defense Force (KDF) officers who were stationed at Cheptulel area were moved to the neighbouring Elgeyo Marakwet county.

“Nothing happened in the staff room and laboratory. The schools need more renovations and it has not reached the level where learners can come,” said Mr Lochakapong.

He called on the CS to come back and assess the situation,

“The schools need more funds. Flooring and painting was only done in four classrooms. Books were spoiled and littered on the floor. Only Sapulomoi primary school is on,” he said.

The legislature said the government also promised to feed learners with their parents but it is not happening. “We need Defense CS Aden Duale and Kindiki to come back here,” she said.

VIDEO: Inside six-hour siege by bandits at Kapindasum school

West Pokot County commissioner Khalif Abdullai said the matter was under ivestigations.

In Baringo County some schools re-opened in January 23, following a directive by President William Ruto to have learning resume in all institutions that had been closed in the volatile villages due to spate of attacks.

Among those that were re-opened after being closed for a year include Arabal, Kasiela, Sinoni in Baringo South and Chepkesin and Kapturo primary schools in Baringo North.

Some of the schools planned for reconstruction in Baringo county include Kapindasum, Ruggus, Kasiela, Arabal, Sinoni, Ng’elecha and Ramacha primary schools.

Kapindasum primary school head teacher Elijah Kiptoon confirmed that a group of engineers from the military led by Major Joseph Wire had visited the school and took an inventory on what was needed to be done in the institution.

The scenario has forced all the 112 girls to sleep on the floors, despite the area being prone to snake bites. Due to congestion, a makeshift timber structure has been improvised adjacent to the dormitory by the school to serve as a changing room, with the two openings serving as doors closed with a sheet for privacy.

The dormitory was supposed to host only 60 girls.

Due to lack of a boys’ dormitory, the 148 learners have also been forced to convert their classes to serve the purpose.

“The classes are used for learning during the day, and serve as dormitories for the 148 boys at night. We keep the pupils' personal effects outside the classes, including metal boxes to ease congestion during the day, and we return them back in the evening. The girls are not comfortable either because they also sleep on the floors after their beds were destroyed and carted away by bandits,” said Mr Kiptoon.

The bandits suspected to have been from the neighbouring Tiaty Sub-County struck the school in 2012 when learners were in class shooting indiscriminately.

Three pupils died and one seriously injured in the incident, prompting a mass exodus of people in the area who fled with their children to safer villages such as Embosos, Mochongoi and Kabel for fear of their lives. The school was also closed for more than five years until 2017 when it partially re-opened.

"For safety, all our teachers have learnt how to get to safety when bandits strike. It is also a necessity to learn the basics of using a firearm here," said the head teacher.

Following the exodus, some structures which were once a trading centre, a dispensary nearby and people’s houses have been completely vandalised by attackers.

bandit attacks baringo

File photo of a bullet hole in a window at Kapindasum Primary School in Baringo South Constituency, Baringo County, as pictured on May 11, 2023, following bandits attacks.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Some few remaining buildings, including what used to be a cattle dip and a chief’s office have been overgrown by shrubs, an indication that the area has been left desolate for years. In 2017, the institution was re-opened after a general service Unit (GSU) camp was set up close to a kilometre away, as a buffer zone against the bandits. More than 10 security officers were also deployed to man institutions round the clock, which was still a boarding school at the time.

In February the same year, armed criminals staged another attack some few metres from the school when learners were going home after the afternoon classes, killing one of their teachers.

Whenever bandits strike, tension builds up and parents and their children flee, thus the school is closed for some time till normalcy returns. This has been the norm since 2012 and the institution has remained closed since 2017 after a teacher was shot dead. Locals here are yet to come back.

Two years later, the school reopened but allowed only pupils from standard five to eight, so that in case there was an attack, they would be able to take refuge rather than having the younger pupils from lower classes.

For safety reasons, most of the schools in the border areas are guarded by security officers day and night, just to ward off the criminals from harming children.

“This is an area where we rely on security officers in virtually everything including taking children to fetch water in the river. Our operations are only done inside the school compound and you cannot choose to walk alone due to insecurity,” said Mr Kiptoon.

The scenario is the same at the neighbouring Arabal primary School in the same Sub-County where more than 14 solar panels and the entire charging system were stolen by the armed criminals

Ng’elecha primary school has also suffered the same fate after all structures were flattened by bandits, after turning the classes as cowsheds for years.