Displaced by banditry: The haunting realities for mothers at Moinonin IDP Camp

 Nelly Chelanga with her children in the rickety structure they call home at Moinoin camp, in Baringo North.

Photo credit: Wambui Kurema | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Suspected bandit attacks in Baringo County have forced thousands of families, particularly women and children, to flee their homes and seek refuge in the Moinonin IDP camp.
  • They face dire living conditions, lack of food, and exposure to the elements.
  • Despite the resilience of the women, the humanitarian crisis remains a forgotten ordeal, with displaced families calling for urgent intervention to avert a potential disease outbreak.

Nelly Chelanga sits inside her small tent, holding her one-month-old baby boy. The worn-out tent serves as her home for now, a fragile shelter from the harsh realities that forced her to flee her village in Kagir, Baringo North, after suspected bandits ambushed her neighbourhood in March.

“Bandits surrounded our village and killed a primary school teacher. There was so much tension, that we fled our homes,” she says, her voice heavy with trauma.

Heavily pregnant at the time, she and her five children walked several kilometres to Moinoin, a camp for the displaced. They arrived tired, hungry, and without any possessions.

“I developed labour pains while in the bush but persevered. Upon arrival at the camp, I was rushed to the hospital by a nearby police vehicle. I gave birth to a baby boy,” Chelanga tells Nation.Africa.

Families who fled violence after a series of attacks and killings in Baringo County have been living a tale of a worrying humanitarian crisis at the Moinoin camp since February. The 80 displaced families have sought shelter in fragile structures that they now call home, where scenes of utter devastation unfold daily.

When we arrive, the camp portrays a grim reality. Women sit outside small tents, their chins in their hands, wondering where the next meal will come from. Many slept hungry, surviving on a single meal a day for the past three months amid a shortage of food and non-food items.

A few metres from Nelly's tent, 21-year-old Melvin Kibet sits on a white plastic chair, cradling her one-month-old baby, whom she calls a “miracle baby”. She fled her home in Kagir village when she heard gunshots. This is her second month in the camp.

“When I heard gunshots, we left the house with the children to go and hide in the bush. In the evening, when there was a lull, we came back and found that our house had been looted,” she recounts.

Lactating mothers and their children at the displacement camp in Moinoin, Baringo North, on May 2, 2024.

Photo credit: Wambui Kurema I Nation Media Group

The next day, she left, walking for more than five hours in the scorching sun, arriving at the camp in an advanced stage of labour.

“I was almost due, running was almost impossible. I was helpless. Luckily, Good Samaritans took me to the hospital where I delivered," she says, her voice a testament to the resilience of motherhood in the face of adversity.

The living conditions at the camp are far from ideal. “My baby doesn't have warm clothes, it's always raining, and it gets cold at night,” Melvin explains, her eyes heavy with concern for her newborn’s well-being.

For Hildah Kiptui, the journey to the camp was equally harrowing. Among dozens of mothers who fled their homes in Ng'aratuko village, she had just given birth when bandits struck. Confused and helpless, she was left stranded.

“My baby was a few weeks old, I heard gunshots and grabbed my children. We lay down until the guns went silent. There was so much tension. I packed my few belongings and left with my children," she recounts, the memory still fresh in her mind.

The mother of six says life is getting unbearable.

“The makeshift tent is too small for me and my children. Nights are cold, and many times my children get sick," she laments. “I have nothing to cook. My children, too, have not eaten anything today.”

Displaced families sleep inside worn out tents in Moinoin. This is the place they currently call home. 

Photo credit: Wambui Kurema | Nation Media Group

The weather adds to their woes. It's been raining heavily, and the last few weeks have been a challenge for the women and children who have to brave the cold nights.

“Inside the camp, there are no nets, blankets, and mattresses, and with the freezing cold at night, people's health has been deteriorating," says Jennifer Chesaru, chairperson of Moinoin IDP camp.

Lactating mothers and children sleep in one tent. Some mothers are breastfeeding while shielding their children from the cold.

“We live in plastic tents. We are in the rainy season. Our children are exposed to cold weather. Mosquitoes are on the prowl," Nelly says, her voice heavy with resignation.

Etched in their hearts is the fear of losing their children to the cold hands of death ravaging their camps, as healthcare is a scarce service.

“All the babies are coughing, while others have the flu. Our children are sleeping on the floor, which is uncomfortable," Hilda Kiptui tells Nation.Africa, her eyes glistening with unshed tears.

The fear of a looming cholera and malaria outbreak hangs in the air, a consequence of the overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions caused by the downpour.

“We have camped here for three months, but the situation is getting worse each day. We only have two toilets, shared among the 80 families,” Jennifer laments.

A mother with her baby at the camp. The living conditions here are far from ideal.

Photo credit: Wambui Kurema | Nation Media Group

At least five women have given birth at the camp in the last two months. Access to basic reproductive health services among women of reproductive age, including the availability of sanitary towels, is a challenge.

Women are forced to cook together as children await by the fire, which could be the only meal for the day. Four months since they moved to the camp, they only receive food aid from non-governmental organisations and the county government, which barely lasts a week.

For many years, women in the banditry-prone areas of Baringo North have borne the brunt of incessant attacks and cattle rustling that have led to the loss of lives, livelihoods, and displacement of thousands from their homes over the years.

“It's unfortunate that even with police presence, bandits always strike causing mayhem,” Nelly laments.

Four locations in Baringo North are deserted, with 2,700 families displaced and 17 people killed since the beginning of the year. So far, 20 schools have been closed. The displaced persons fear that the situation could worsen with continued rains, calling for the government to intervene with speed to avert a disease outbreak in this forgotten crisis.

The majority of the women in the camps say they would love to get back home and resume their lives.

“Bandits looted our homes, they have been seen roaming around our villages. There is no way we're going back unless we are assured of security,” Hilda Kiptum says, her voice a mix of defiance and resignation.