Nairobi — Hundreds of animals stolen in Trans Nzoia and West Pokot districts are sold at a market in Uganda. Investigations by the Nation revealed that the animals are ferried to Kapkata market in Uganda's Kapchorwa District, where a grade cow can fetch as much as Sh60,000.
Affected Kenyans blame the Government for the insecurity both in the area and on the Kenya-Uganda border, saying this has encouraged cattle thefts.
"We are in a very dangerous situation," the Rev Joseph Murpus of the Reformed Church of East Africa said in Kapenguria yesterday.
Government officials are aware of the sale of the animals in the neighbouring country.
"We know animals are being taken there. We have even recovered some from there," Kwanza DO Otieno Kwach said on Wednesday.
Many of those interviewed said cattle traders were recruiting idle young men in the area to steal animals for them. More than 10 people have been killed and more than 5,000 animals stolen since the new attacks started about a month ago.
The renewed violence has spelt doom for people displaced in the 1992 ethnic clashes, some of whom had started returning to their farms.
Every day since 1992, Kakai Kisaka comes out of his rented room at the Kolongolo trading centre and gazes across the valley below at Biketi farm, where he once had a home. His is only one of the more than 40,000 acres of prime land that have been abandoned.
Security forces in the area are either unwilling to stop the thefts or are ill-equipped to do so, residents say.
"The raiders are highly motivated. One grade cow is fetching as much as Sh60,000. In addition, they are armed with very sophisticated weapons, more powerful than those our security forces have," political activist Emmanuel Chedotum said.
Police in the area say that besides poor logistics, they have a problem with their seniors who, apparently, issue the wrong orders.
Residents claim the animal thefts are sponsored by a cartel of cattle traders. The high levels of unemployment and poverty in the semi-arid district and the hundreds of school dropouts offer fertile ground for those seeking recruits for illegal activities.
"They have nothing to lose. When they go out for raids, they've taken oaths to get the animals or die. Our security forces, on the other hand, are people with families and they're asking why they should take risks," another political activist, Musa Muyaudi, said.
Pokot leaders discount claims that the raids are part of a grand Pokot plot to steal animals and evict other ethnic groups from the region.
"There is nothing like Pokots wanting to evict others. All the communities are involved," Kapenguria Mayor Jacob Samuli says.
On August 26, he says, leaders from the affected communities - Pokot, Nandi, Luhya, Sabaot and Sengwer - met at the Kitale showground and resolved to form a committee of 15 people to petition the DC to help end the raids by stopping the sale of animals.
"We agreed that every community contributes a goat for food and Sh500 for transport for the delegation and that we meet again on September 4 to make the journey. But the Nandi delegation pulled out and the trip
aborted," he said.
The Nandi community pulled out of the talks when attacks against them intensified.
Land politics have complicated the issue.
Kanu politician Stephen Moroto Krop and Councillor Christopher Lonyala, who say they are the leaders of the Pokot Indigenous Group, want the Pokot settled in ADC farms in Trans Nzoia.
"If the cattle raids help us achieve that objective, then why not?" said Mr Krop.
The ADC farms they are targeting include Katukei, Namandala Nai, Cholim and Sabwani.
They said the Pokot had been marginalised in the allocation of land in the district "even though we used to own land up to Kamukuywa in Bungoma and Soy in Uasin Gishu districts before the colonialists grabbed it".
Mr Kwach said the Government had taken a number of measures to improve security in Kwanza. They include training and arming more police reservists and setting up peace meetings between elders of the communities involved.
"We're training up to 10 people per farm," he said.
The DO said the situation on the ground is not as bad as it has been made out to be.
However, just minutes after talking to him, we saw people from Kapomboi Location fleeing with their animals.
Mzee Kiprono arap Chumba who was herding 20 animals, said he was taking them to Ngonyek in Cherangani, about 50 kilometers away.
"I've already lost 53 animals. I don't want to lose any more," he said.
Fleeing people could be seen all the way to Kapkoi from Namanjalala, Senda, Kwanza, and Kolongolo trading centres.
Many of those interviewed said it was unusual for Pokot raiders to steal grade animals. "They normally want animals for traditional ceremonies, like paying dowry."
The DO said the theft of grade cows had crippled the dairy industry, adding that those who still had animals were moving their animals to places as far away as Uasin Gishu and Bungoma districts.
Chiefs and assistant chiefs in West Pokot who have tried to crack down on the thefts, have been targeted by the raiders. Chief Lokorinyang Chekasang of Kanyarkwat Location was shot and injured while the chief of Adorkoit Location, whose name we could not immediately establish, was also attacked.
Many people said there was a political motive in the attacks since some people who did not own animals have also been attacked and their houses set ablaze.
"They are not just after animals; they want to evict us," Mr Samuel Ogati, who has lost 37 animals, said at Kapkoi trading centre, where scores of those displaced have set up camp.
Mr Kwach assured residents that security would be boosted and that no one would be evicted from Trans Nzoia. "They'll only leave when Jesus Christ comes back!"
This was echoed by Cherangani MP Kipruto Kirwa, whose constituency has become a refuge for many fleeing people.
"No community in Trans Nzoia is in transit. We're all here by right and those thinking they can evict others are dreaming," he said.
At Kolongolo, resident said they needed more guns to defend themselves.
Mr Mukonyole Mukoto, who comes from Lukhokho area, said he would not leave his farm. "If the Government cannot protect me, then I'll just die on my farm because I have nowhere else to go," said the retired veterinary officer.
The attackers' daring tactics area astounding. Last week, an administration police camp at Sibanga farm was attacked and, while the officers were confined to the camp, another group of raiders stole animals in the neighbourhood. Witnesses claim the attackers were ferried in a lorry belonging to a prominent family in West Pokot District.
Learning in schools has suffered. At Keese Primary School, the student population has dropped from 300 to 200.
Other schools affected are Bondeni, Murram Bikeri and Muungano in Kwanza and Kanyarkwat in West Pokot.
In Kapkoi, a police reservist, Jacob Wanyama, said their weapons could not match those of the raiders.
"There are only 11 of us and only three are armed with SLR rifles.
The rest of us only have Mack4 rifles. In addition to that, we do not have vehicles and so cannot chase the raiders. They are usually armed with AK-47s and HK-21s, which are very powerful guns," he said.
Among those killed are John Mathenge, who was killed on August 8, and Benson Wamalwa, killed at Biketi farm on September 2. His wife was critically wounded and is admitted in hospital.
On the same day, John Kibor, a police reservist, and a Mr Lumuria were wounded. Other casualties were named as Samuel Muindi, who was killed with his son Ambai Muindi. A woman, Patroba Jumba, was killed and her husband, Joash Jumba, wounded. Mr Pius Chep tarar was also killed.
On the night of September 2 alone, raiders stole 40 animals from Mr Zacharia Shimechero of Sisi farm, 58 from Mr Stephen Soy, and 30 from a Mr Kiondoo.
Mr Wafula Nalianya, a Ford Kenya official in Kapomboi, said influential people were financing the raids. Names of people from a prominent family in Sigor and a senior Special Branch officer from Baringo were mentioned. People said their lorries were being used to ferry the animals to the Uganda market.
Lax security at the Kenya/Uganda border was blamed for the insecurity, as many guns were coming in.
Some residents said the raiders went away at leisure as security personnel did not chase them.
"Many times animals are not followed. Raiders are not even shot at," said Mzee Wamukata at Kapkoi.
Mr Rasto Lusweti, who displayed three bullet wounds said: "We've complained to everybody, from the assistant chief to the DO and the DC, but no one has come to our aid."
Until security is improved and the economic standards uplifted in the region, it will take people like Kisaka much much longer to return to their farms.