Misery as bandits hold sway in valley of blood and death
In Noibor-Nkare Village in Samburu West lays the fresh grave of Andrew Kamain. A conspicuous brown cross with his name written in white stands tall on the mountain of soil sitting on top of his body buried underneath.
The cross only bears the year of birth, 1999 but has a date of the day he died, October 18, a clear reminder of a death that saw area member of Parliament Naisula Lesuuda break down in tears as she addressed Interior Cabinet Secretary Prof Kithure Kindiki as he appeared for approval to the important docket.
It was another sad and grieving day in the north. Another bandit attack had occurred, another life had been lost and livestock stolen, it was yet another tormenting moment for desperate residents.
“When will one life be too much to lose in northern Kenya?” asked a teary Ms Lesuuda. She went on: “I am tired. We are all tired. What do you intend to do differently, away from the usual threats and bravado? Perhaps you need to come and live in Kurkur, Longewan, and Losuk for only one week so you see what is going on there. What strategy do you have to end this menace once and for all?” Ms Lesuuda asked.
She demanded urgent action, as her voice broke, before she wiped tears from her eyes. Mr Kamain’s killing gripped the country’s attention.
He was violently uprooted from this world by bandits’ bullet at the age of 23. The victim was with his elder brother Joshua Lenchalote when the attackers who were hiding in the bushes opened fire on them.
The two were among search party that was tracking down cattle rustlers from a neighbouring community who had raided their village the previous night and made away with at least 40 goats belonging to their neighbour.
Whenever a raid occurs, it’s the duty of all young men to gather and pursue attackers and recover stolen animals, which are their economic mainstay. According to Joshua, his late brother, with whom they were walking side by side, received a phone call which coincidentally called him to the next world.
But Joshua’s attempt to ask him not to talk on the phone to avoid attracting attention came too late. As soon as the phone ringtone went off, he was gunned down, forcing Joshua to scamper for safety in the thickets as bullets were fired his direction.
He survived, but the younger brother was not lucky to live another day.
Inside his one room house, which has a shop at the front, is 18-year-old Josephine who had just married Kamain and were now settling down to start a family, but that was not to be.
Her 23-year-old husband had just finished his secondary education. She sits on the bed, looking lost in her thoughts with her white eyes darting across the room throwing glances at visitors who have come to condole with her.
Josephine has been widowed even before she started enjoying life in marriage. She is just one of the many women, both young and old, who lose their husbands whenever ruthless cattle rustlers roaming freely in the Suguta belt strike. Mzee Samuel Lenchalote shakes with rage as reality sinks his younger son is no more.
He says that, upon arriving at the scene where the son was killed, his advanced old age notwithstanding, he was determined to pursue his son’s killers but was restrained.
He is worried the Samburu community could be staring at extinction given the never-ending killing of middle aged men, as the older population continues aging and dying.
He says soon there will be no young men in the community if something is not done urgently.
As you cross through thickets and open fields to Longewan village, you are shown another grave of yet another young man. A Form Two student who was also killed in October while grazing animals. His parents, who are steel reeling in shock weeks later, are too emotional to speak.
He was buried in a bush in the outskirts of that village as per the culture for young men who die before getting married.
In the outskirts of Maralal town is another survivor, Morgan Lekishorumongi, who is nursing gunshot wounds inflicted on him by bandits from a neighbouring community. He now depends on crutches to move in a lot of difficulty and excruciating pain.
His injured right hand cannot hold or support anything. He was attacked on October 17 at 3pm in Pura village in Loosuk while grazing cattle.
The bandits, who made away with their 37 cattle, were aiming for his head but somehow missed and short his hand.
“I lay on the ground and pretended to be dead, which saved me,” said Lekishorumongi. Locations on the border of Samburu and Baringo counties are the hardest hit by the perennial banditry attacks. When we visited the area, a crisis security meeting had been convened at the Loosuk chief’s office. Senior Chief Philip Lerno told the meeting chaired by Ms Lesuuda that the situation is getting out of hand.
“We have now lost over ten people between in about three months,” Mr Lerno says. Most businesses in the area have been shut with owners escaping to safer zones like Maralal town. Regular attacks have seen residents flee their manyattas to seek refuge in Loosuk shopping centre as others moved even further away.
During the day, morans are tasked with the responsibility of providing security for the elderly, women and children as well as keeping an eye on the few remaining animals.
They usually gather under a huge tree in Nooikera village armed with speakers,bows,arrows and machetes.
Every morning, few morans detach from the bigger squad to act as lookouts and raise the alarm should they spot the enemy.
Nasur in Amaya location is the last village sitting on the border of Samburu West and Tiaty constituencies. Residents vacated this area a long time ago and, as a consequence, Amaya Primary School was forced to close down.
The school has been vandalised. It was a mixed day and boarding school but now what remains are just abandoned, dilapidated structures.
Area chief Benjamin Lengapien tells us the school has produced senior government officials in the past, among them a senior human resources officer now working in Parliament, a Kenya Defence Forces colonel and the current Uwezo Fund chief executive officer.
Perennial conflict has rendered that village a no-go zone, and our arrival here in the company of local chiefs and rangers from Ltungai Conservancy was a shock to some members of the neighbouring community.
A woman quickly emerged from one of the houses and, after establishing our mission, offered to pray for our safety. Last month, Ltungai Conservancy was raided by bandits who left behind a trail of destruction.
The conservancy has four camps and a total of 23 rangers, meaning about six officers per camp work in two shifts. On that day a meeting been convened to decide whether or not to have the camps merged to bolster numbers. There’s no taking chances anymore.
“In Lolmolok location, there no police officers from the anti-stock theft unit. Its only we the rangers who also provide security to few remaining residents here and Longewan,” said Mr Francis Lakono, the conservancy Warden. In Pura village, pin-drop silence at mid-day tells it all.
The tranquillity here, though desirable, is a result of the devastation of cattle rustling and banditry.
Scared villagers had to flee the fertile place and the absence of livestock sums up the sad situation of the locals here. Pura , Loibor-Nkare and Malaso villages have fertile, arable land where farming thrives but only a handful have been lucky to till their lands. And, like them, it seems, the desperation has also sucked in local leaders, who are now all demanding action.
Baringo Woman Representative Florence Jematia has repeatedly called out Tiaty MP William Kamket, claiming he’s shielding the criminals from his backyard.
“Even if MP Kamket has come to Kenya Kwanza, we demand that he comes out and says what is going on. He knows but he is doing nothing,” said Ms Jematia. However, Mr Kamket has dismissed the allegations, saying, Sugata Valley is inhabited by bandits from Pokot, Samburu and Turkana communities.
He says the government should act instead of blackmailing civilians and a section of elected leaders.
But, amid the accusations and counter-accusations, women in the troubled villages of Samburu West gather in church to seek divine protection and pray for the souls of their husbands, son, brothers, and in-laws.
Apart from livestock theft that threatens to impoverish the Samburu community, elders are more worried that the community might start facing extinction due to the senseless killings. Young men continue to be wiped out as elders continue aging. It is a tormented region where banditry reigns supreme.
President William Ruto has ordered massive crackdown to eliminate criminals. He has threatened to deploy the military to pacify the Sugata belt should the violence continue.
In the meantime, in the unforgiving terrain of Samburu, it is simply another day, another regime, another executive threat.