gun

In Baringo South and Baringo North, knowing which gun is being fired is part of the essential life skills taught to school going children.

| File | Nation Media Group

Kerio Valley: Inside Baringo Schools where learners dodge bullets

What you need to know:

  • For safety reasons, most of the schools in the border areas are guarded by security officers day and night.
  • The education sector has been adversely affected in the region, with some schools in need of reconstruction.

Learners in this part of the country can tell if gunshots are from a G3 rifle or an AK47; they can also tell the distance from which the guns are being fired.

And no, they are not in some sort of military or police college; these are regular primary and secondary school students in one of the most volatile areas in the country.

Knowing which gun is being fired is part of the essential life skills taught to children in Baringo South and Baringo North, because it can tell them whether the shooters are security agents or bandits that roam the region, leaving death and destruction in their wake.

If you take a walk at the deserted Kapindasum Primary School in Mukutani ward in Baringo South, you will see holes on window panes, water tanks and on walls in some of the classrooms.

But, unlike at other schools in Kenya, these are not holes poked by truant pupils. They are actually bullet holes fired into the institution by armed criminals who invaded in broad daylight.

The bandits suspected to have been from the neighbouring Tiaty sub-county struck in 2012 when pupils were in class, and started shooting at them indiscriminately. Pupils and their teachers fled.

Sadly, three pupils died and one was seriously injured, prompting a mass exodus of people in the area who fled with their children to safer villages such as Embosos, Mochongoi and Kabel.  The school was closed for five years until 2017, when it partially reopened.

The education sector was adversely affected in the porous regions since then, with many classrooms in need of reconstruction after they were vandalised by the armed bandits.

To date, villages adjacent to the school remain deserted after locals fled at the time due to runaway insecurity, with the nearest being Chemorong’ion, more than four kilometres away. 

No one can dare walk to the school unless under the escort of security officers.

Shot dead by bandits

In 2017, the institution was reopened after a General Service Unit (GSU) camp was set up close to a kilometre away, as a buffer against the bandits. 

More than 10 security officers were also deployed to man the institution round the clock. It was still a boarding school at the time.

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

Philemon Kemei was shot dead by the bandits while walking to the neighbouring Chemorongion trading centre.

According to the headteacher Maria Mursoi, the school has been opening and closing due to the attacks. Bandits have also carted away desks and more than four solar panels.

“Whenever bandits struck, there is tension, and parents and their children flee, prompting the school to be closed for some time till normality returns. This has been the norm since 2012 when three pupils were shot dead. It was also closed in 2017 after a teacher was killed. To date, the villages are still deserted and where houses once stood, are thick bushes -- hideouts for the criminals,” said Ms Mursoi.

After the killing of the teacher, people fled the area with their children. The few who remained went to school at Chemorongion and were being hosted by families there.

“Children in this area have endured a lot, especially seeing their colleagues killed by bandits in broad daylight,” Ms Mursoi said. 

She said the school reopened for Standard Five to Eight only in 2019.

Armed bandits

Nearby, some structures that were once a trading centre, a dispensary and a cattle dip have been completely vandalized by the armed bandits and the only signs of life in the area are chirping birds and monkeys taking water in the Kapindasum river.

When the Nation team toured the school before it was reopened, it was greeted by an eerie silence in the compound that only has a few GSU officers deployed to man the school.

Shrubs and grass compete with the buildings, and people have to wade through the grass to access the compound which has been deserted for more than two years.

The semi-permanent lower classrooms has no roof and the floors, which were cemented, are now earthen, after bandits ripped off the iron sheets.

Termites have eaten most of the wooden structures in the institution and the doors and windows were completely destroyed.

In most of the classrooms, the blackboards are destroyed, teaching charts torn and books strewn all over the floor, an indication that the occupants left in a hurry without taking their belongings.

The situation is the same at Mukutani Primary School in the same ward, an area that is synonymous with frequent attacks, forcing locals abandon their homes each time the gangs attack.

In 2017, the area was in the headlines after 11 women and children were killed in a single day, in what was suspected to be a retaliatory attack between the warring Pokot and the minority Ilchamus community residing at the disputed border area.

In the evening attack, seven women and four children were killed and three others who were playing in the school compound were seriously injured, prompting the government to evacuate the villagers to Eldume, more than 70km away, where they lived in temporary camps for more than a year.

Among the injured was a seven-year-old girl who was playing with her friends at the school field. A bullet was lodged in her head, but she survived after being in a Nakuru hospital for months.

Massive disarmament

The attack prompted the government to roll out a massive disarmament led by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) in the area that was also gazetted as a dangerous and disturbed area.

Mukutani chief Benjamin Lecher said whenever bandits strike, they target schools, mainly to instill fear among the community and force people out of the area.

“Children in the banditry prone areas have become accustomed to gunshots and have been trained on what to do in case the bandits come. For instance, they know that they are supposed to lie still when they hear them, and not run aimlessly, to avoid being shot at,” said Mr Lecher.

At the school compound, the Nation established that bunkers have been reinforced so that when there is an attack, children have a safe place to hide.

“They know how to dodge the bullets and they can even discern if they are being fired at by the criminals or security officers; if the gunfire is from a G3 rifle or AK47; and they can also estimate the distance at which they are being fired from as a precautionary measure. It is survival for the fittest here and such details are very important, no matter the age,” noted the administrator.

He told the Nation that during the attack that claimed 11 women and children in 2017, a teacher at Mukutani Primary School escaped death narrowly after the bandits shot at the staffroom.

“He got into the ceiling as gunshots rent the air and hid there until the following morning when calm had been restored, only for him to learn that the evening attack had claimed more than 10 people, including children. To date, the teacher is still traumatised following the harrowing incident,” said Mr Lecher.

For safety reasons, most of the schools in the border areas are guarded by security officers day and night, to keep the bandits from arming children.

At Kamwetio Primary School in Baringo North, Grade Three pupils learn in a mud-walled makeshift class with worn out iron sheets.

The institution was transferred from the banditry prone Kamwetio village in 2012 to Kesumet village after bandits torched all the classes and made away with desks and solar panels.

Low enrollment

According to Mr Paul Yatich, a teacher there, they had to move the school after parents and their children fled the insecurity-prone area, fearing for their lives.

“To minimise dropouts compounded by insecurity, we moved the institution to safer place in Kesumet village where locals had moved to. We started with a makeshift mud-walled house to teach Standard One and Two pupils,” said Mr Yatich.

The institution is still grappling with low enrollment after parents moved to the neighbouring Boruyo and Bartabwa Primary School.

“When bandits strike, we are forced to close and move to safer places, affecting learning. In 2017, a teacher was killed by armed bandits in the neighbouring Chepkesin Primary and we had to also close for fear of our lives,” he added.

Kagir Primary school headteacher Thomas Kibet said the situation in the border schools has been compounded by dilapidated structures that expose learners to danger during attacks.

“We have trained our pupils that if the bandits invade the school or villages, they should take cover in a mud-walled or a permanent structure where the bullets will not penetrate. But it is a sad reality that some of the schools are made of iron sheet walls, which make them susceptible to attacks. Some schools also have no perimeter walls, making it easy for bandits to get in,” said Mr Kibet, who was also blinded after he was shot four decades ago while herding livestock at the border.

The education sector has been adversely affected in the region, with some schools in need of reconstruction after they were vandalised by the armed bandits.

Some schools in the banditry prone Baringo North and Baringo South are yet to be reopened since 2005 owing to the series of attacks that pushed the community out of the area for good.

Some of the primary schools that have been completely shut for years due to the attacks are Ramacha, Ruggus, Kamwetio, Chepkew, Loromoru, Barsuswo, Tandar, Katilomwo, Karkaron, Ng’elecha, Chepkesin and Chesitet.

Some other schools have been on and off; closed when inter-community fights erupt and reopened when normality returns.

These include Kapindasum Primary, Kasiela, Sinoni, Arabal, Chemorong’ion, Mukutani, Noosukro, Yatya, Chemoe, Kesumet, Kagir, Loruk, Kosile, Barketiew and Kapturo.

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