As schools countrywide reopened on Monday, the fate of more than 1,000 learners in the insecurity-prone Baringo South is still unknown after six institutions remained closed due to the incessant banditry attacks and livestock thefts in the area.
More than 10 attacks have been reported in the volatile Kiserian, Chemorong'ion, Arabal and Mukutani villages in the last one month alone. This has resulted in the killing of two people, including a military officer.
Hundreds of livestock have also been driven away from the area by armed criminals despite an ongoing security operation to disarm them.
Schools yet to reopen
Institutions which are yet to reopen include Mukutani and Embosos secondary schools as well as Rugus, Kasiela, Mukutani and Arabal primary schools.
Other institutions in the porous area reported low enrolment due to fears of attacks from armed criminals suspected to be hiding in the villages. Among those that have reopened but with low turnout are Chemorong'ion, Chebinyiny, Sinoni and Kapindasum primary schools.
At Kasiela Primary School for instance, none of the 150 learners reported to school on Tuesday.
According to the school's headteacher William Kandie, following a spate of attacks in the area, most of the parents fled the villages with their children to safer areas like Nyimbei, Sinoni and Mbechot.
Most non-local teachers are also yet to report to the said schools, fearing for their lives.
"We do not know when learning will resume because most of the villages here are deserted after locals fled with their school going children. They have insisted that they will only come back when normalcy returns. Non-local teachers are yet to report to school as well," said Mr Kandie.
The scenario is the same at the neighbouring Arabal, Mukutani and Rugggus primary Schools.
Despite the efforts by the government and multi-agency teams to restore order in the troubled regions, banditry attacks continue to be reported in Mukutani, Kiserian, Kasiela, Chemorong'ion and Arabal villages in Baringo South with locals being forced to flee from their homes and seek refuge in security camps.
Tension is still high in the area following a banditry attack on Friday last week in Chemorong'ion village that saw an unknown number of livestock being driven away by armed criminals suspected to be from the neighbouring Tiaty Sub-County.
Parents in the affected areas raised concern of the security of their children who were expected to report to school from Monday, claiming that their security was not guaranteed owing to the spate of attacks and livestock thefts.
Mr Paul Kipyemat, a resident of Arabal, said the security officers deployed to restore order are being attacked and wondered how safe the children who are forced to walk several kilometres in deserted villages to get to school are.
"If this is the situation, then how safe are our children now that even parents fear to go about their normal duties. We fear that learning will be paralysed in this region if no urgent measures are taken to tame the incessant banditry attacks," said Mr Kipyemat.
Mr Richard Chepchomei, an elder from Chemoe in Baringo North, appealed to the government to deploy security officers in all the volatile schools at the border areas so that learning can go on uninterrupted.
He noted that most of the villages adjacent to the affected schools have been deserted and it is risky for the learners to walk for more than five kilometres from where they relocated to to access the schools.
"The government had deployed security officers in some schools in the volatile borders to beef up security but they were withdrawn with no clear explanation. As we speak, the institutions may not reopen as learners fear to learn in a deserted, troubled area with no security," said Mr Chepchomei.
Escaped to police camps
Another resident, Mr George Lechuta from Mukutani, complained that they have been forced to flee their homes and put up in police camps in the area for fear of being attacked by bandits.
"We cannot move more than 500 meters from the security camps without being escorted by police officers as bandits are still attacking the camps we fled to. Our normal activities have been virtually grounded and we have been forced to depend on well-wishers for our survival. Then, how safe are our children who are needed to report to school? posed Mr Lechuta.
According to locals, the perennial insecurity menace has impacted negatively on school enrolment in the affected areas over the years, with several learners dropping out of school after parents flee from the volatile border areas with their school going children.
Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Baringo Branch Executive Secretary Joshua Cheptarus has demanded that the government guarantees security to learners and tutors in the banditry-prone areas before they resume learning.
"The lives of our children and teachers are paramount. The government should beef up security in the banditry-prone areas and guarantee our teachers and learners of their security because we have lost lives in the past and we cannot take risks. It is better the institutions be closed until normalcy returns," said Mr Cheptarus.
Baringo County Commissioner Henry Wafula has, however, assured locals in the affected areas of their security, noting that the government will provide food to the institutions to boost retention and enrolment.
"Our aim is to ensure that all school going children in the insecurity-prone areas go to school in a bid to boost literacy levels and end the perennial banditry and livestock theft. Enough security personnel have been deployed in the said areas with others putting up in schools to ensure safety of our learners and teachers," said Mr Wafula.
Baringo County experiences periodic ethnic conflicts related to livestock theft and banditry attacks, which have a huge bearing on education, often leaving pupils displaced and schools vandalised or closed altogether.
The spiral effect of conflicts is massive school dropout, teenage pregnancies, child labour and pressure or strain on facilities in neighbouring schools that have to accommodate displaced pupils.
Some of the schools also act as refuge centres, not just for pupils, but also for adults fleeing volatile areas.