Kerio Valley

Residents protest over the increasing insecurity in the Kerio Valley region.

| Fred Kibor | Nation Media Group

How banditry is ruining lives in Kerio Valley

The empty goat shed was an ideal place to drown her sorrows.

With a sack spread under an iron-sheet structure that used to house dozens of kids, she sat gazing at the magnificent hills. Though it was a view to behold, for her it wasn’t - it rekindled bad memories.

On Tuesday last week, her entire livelihood was wiped out by armed criminals who descended on the village in the evening just after herders had returned home with their animals, after walking dozens of kilometres in search of water and pasture.

She wailed, bitterly pouring out her sorrows to whoever could listen.

She had nothing else to depend on because the animals were the sole source of income for her and her extended family, the region being an arid area not suitable for crop farming.

She lost more than 70 goats in the raid, all taken on a single evening when she was preparing supper for her family.

Gunshots rent the air for about an hour as the raiders, who had divided themselves into groups, drove goats out of every house.

At a dilapidated mud-walled hut a few metres away sat an elderly couple, sitting on the bare floor as they waited for some black tea that was boiling at a fireplace under a tree. That is what they could afford to get for their hungry stomachs.

Children sat in a group under a shade. At their age, they would be playing around but this is not the place for such. They stay alert so that they can dash for safety when bandits strike.

Sote Kipsetim, 60, from Kagir in Baringo North on the boundary with Tiaty sub-county, said she had nothing to live for anymore because she could not bear the suffering of leading squalid lives, depending on well-wishers to get their basic necessities. She was just fed up.

This is what befell 10 families on the volatile border after armed criminals suspected to be from Tiaty struck on January 18 and made away with more than 463 goats and disappeared towards Kositei village.

None of the animals had been recovered, though the raid happened a few metres from a Rapid Deployment Unit camp.

“I don’t have anything to live for, I have lost virtually everything. The goats, including their kids, were driven away in the attack and that was our only source of income,” Ms Kipsetim said amid sobs.

“I have more than nine children and two elderly people in the house that may soon starve to death.”

That was not the first time she had lost animals to armed bandits. More than 60 of her goats were stolen four years ago in an attack that saw several houses razed, turning many villagers into paupers.

“A relative donated three kids to me, which had reproduced over the years but it seems the criminals were just waiting for the numbers to increase so that they would come for them,” she said.

“I have children in school and I don’t know where I will get the money to pay their fees.”

Her neighbour, Jennifer Chesaro, was not spared either in the 6pm attack, her family’s 42 goats also driven away.

The mother of nine, who has four children in secondary school, said she was now a miserable woman, with nothing left to sell to get money for their education and other basic necessities.

On Friday, two of the children had been sent home to get their fees balances, but they may have to stay home longer, because the livestock that would have been sold to get the money had all been stolen.

“I was cooking supper when I heard some gunshots a few metres from the house, When I turned to look, I saw several armed criminals shooting indiscriminately as they opened the goat shed. We lay still on the floor as the shootout continued for about one hour,” Ms Chesaro said.

“By the time it stopped, more than 460 goats belonging to 10 families had been driven towards Tiaty. As we speak, even young children have no milk to drink, only depending on black tea for their survival.”

The bandits, she said, found her six-year-old son trying to lock up some baby goats in a hut near their shed and he was ordered at gunpoint to surrender them as well.

“There were more than 50 criminals and they said they wanted to wipe the village clean. True to their threat, they did. I am just grateful they spared the life of the young boy,” she added.

Gladys Kipkech, who has a two-week-old baby, survives on porridge as her 73 goats were among those stolen by the gun-toting criminals.

Her mud-walled house, near the goat shed, was riddled with bullets.

The mother of seven and her baby sought safety under the bed, staying there until the bandits crossed the hills bordering Tiaty.

The area is not suitable for farming, and locals mostly depend on livestock keeping, though it is a dangerous venture because the armed criminals always prey on them, not only stealing but killing people including security officers deployed to bring calm.

Spent cartridges were strewn all over the homesteads where the raid occurred, with labels of the government-owned Kenya Ordnance Factories Corporation on them, raising questions about where the bandits got the ammunition.

Before the attack last week, another raid had been staged on January 11 and more than 300 goats in the same village were driven away by bandits suspected to have come from the neighbouring community.

Crowded dilapidated grass-thatched huts are mushrooming close to the Kagir, Yatya and Chemoe shopping centres, where locals have fled for safety, because it is near security camps, while adjacent villages have been deserted.

Locals now live at shopping centres for security, leaving behind farms that supplemented livestock keeping.

A hill in Kagir has earned the name ‘Kismayu’ (for the city in Somalia), with locals claiming that hundreds of people from the Pokot and Tugen communities fought in the area in 2006 for the entire day while trying to recover stolen livestock.

The exchange of fire claimed the lives of several people and hundreds of livestock were driven away towards Tiaty. The hill is said to be a watchtower for criminals, who survey where locals graze as they prepare to strike and steal their livestock.

The situation is the same in Lamaiywe, Baringo South, where more than 3,000 locals have not only been impoverished by stock theft but also displaced from their homes after bandits razed their houses.

Three months ago, armed bandits suspected to be from Tiaty staged an attack and drove away thousands of livestock.

“We have been left at the mercy of these armed bandits from the neighbouring community who rob us of our livestock and property whenever they feel like it,” said Benjamin Kangogo.

Hundreds of armed criminals ambushed herders in grazing fields and fired their guns in the air to scare them away before driving away the livestock from Lamaiywe and Korkoron villages towards the Ng’elecha hills

Bartabwa ward MCA Reuben Chepsongol and his Mochongoi counterpart Kipruto Kimosop have called for humanitarian assistance for the affected locals, who are in urgent need of food and non-food items.

“As we speak, we don’t know how parents will survive here because most of them have already sunk into depression. Who will pay school fees for their children? posed Mr Chepsongol.

Several attacks have been launched in the border areas over the decades. Most of the villages in a radius of hundreds of kilometres have been left desolate after the occupants left for good.

Locals also attributed the increased attacks to the disarming of police reservists. They said the reservists were more conversant with the terrain than the security officers deployed in the region.

Mr Chepsongol said the affected people are on the verge of starving to death due to a lack of food, coupled with an outbreak of respiratory diseases blamed on the biting cold.

“The government should come to our rescue before the situation gets out of hand. Residents live in the bush, raising concerns about their safety. Young children, expectant women and the elderly are also at risk of contracting diseases and starving to death,” he said.

Baringo North MP Wiliam Cheptumo has demanded that the government compensate the families who have lost their property and their relatives to banditry over the years.

He raised concerns that the situation had increased poverty levels and school dropouts.

Victims of cattle rustling continue to live in abject poverty, he said, and many of them are paupers after all their livestock were stolen by armed bandits.

Parliament, he said, had passed a motion to compensate victims of banditry and the government should put it to effect to help them.

Mr Cheptumo moved a motion in Parliament in 2016 that sought to have cattle rustling declared a national disaster.

In his motion, Mr Cheptumo also wanted the House to establish a special fund to compensate victims of cattle rustling and resettle the displaced.

Cattle rustling, he said, had greatly affected pastoralist communities socially and economically.

“Cattle rustling is a major menace and security threat in the North Rift region that has impoverished many families,” he said in his motion.

He blamed insecurity in some parts of the country on the proliferation of illegal firearms.

He warned that this will greatly hamper economic growth in the troubled regions.

The problems of banditry and livestock theft in the pastoralist communities in the North Rift region dates back decades, with the archaic practice causing havoc in terms of loss of human lives, destruction of property and displacement of people.

The new forms of violence are suspected to be caused by multiple cracks in the administrative structures and social norms, making criminals more militarised and destructive in their operations.

Without effective state security, illegal small arms are naturally seen as a guarantor of security.

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