This is a Guest Opinion Post by Eli. The Author was born and raised in Baragoi, Samburu North.
Prior to 1994, close to two decades ago, the only guns available to the Samburu community were the old Mark IV Rifles, which were operated by Home Guards, most of whom were older men. The Samburu Morans preferred the more fashionable twin spears (Mao). On the other hand, our neighbors, the Turkana, had already started acquiring newer guns and other arms from the Sudanese SPLM rebels, ostensibly to protect themselves from their other more aggressive neighbor, the Pokots. However, there are historical incidences of illegal arms among them from as early as the 1920s. Despite this, there was genuine PEACE in Samburu North. The Samburu would graze their animals as far west as Suguta Valley as well as go for water at Lokalaale. Similarly, cattle belonging to the Turkana would graze as far east as Lkerei. There was little or no animosity between the two tribes. In fact there were strong family friends among them and would visit each other on occasion.
The first ARMED raid in Baragoi, in my reckoning happened somewhere around the 28th May,1994, when heavily armed raiders from the Pokot Community came and raided villages occupied by the Turkana in Baragoi. Everyone (Turkana and Samburu) was aghast in the face of the new menace! However, there was no immediate repeat of this event, and it was thought to be a one-off incident. We went back to our old and usual peaceful co-existence and there was PEACE…
It is into this PEACE that a mixed group of herders from the Samburu and the Rendille communities from Marsabit District came to the plains of Baragoi in search of grass and pasture. Suddenly, thousands of cattle dotted Baragoi plains, stretching from Soito e Lkokoyo, Lamiroki, Suyian, to Ltepes Aare! They had come hundreds of kilometers , for many months, and through countless hardships. Finally they found a bit of respite. The innocent Rendilles and the youthful “Lmooli” sold their plentiful milk in the streets of Baragoi town for close to nothing, just to buy a bit of snuff, sugar and tea leaves. Still, there was PEACE!. Our neighbor, the Turkana, started to covet all the new wealth sprayed on the Baragoi plains. It were the days the sun was to set on PEACE in Lbarta!
One morning mid 1996, hundreds of men from the neighboring Turkana community conducted a morning raid on the Rendille and Samburu Livestock that occupied Baragoi plains. With chilling precision and military ruthlessness they killed dozens of people and drove away thousands of cattle. The battle was fought the whole day. There were heroes as well as tragedy, foolishness and courage. The thieves were well prepared and their strategy was well thought out, which delivered victory in the end. The cattle was lost and more than 15 Rendilles/Samburus men killed. The reaction from the Government of Kenya was NIL.
The group of pastoralists from Marsabit went back home, hundreds of kilometers empty handed – one day rich and the next completely poor. So begun the conflict that has ravaged Baragoi and the entire Samburu North for close to two decades!
Throughout the remaining months of 1996, hardly a day would go without an incident of theft and armed robbery from our neighbors, the Turkana. Not a night would pass without the rattle of the AK47 as yet another raid came to pass. Livestock was stolen, people were killed and entire villages were fled. In fact, people would live at home during the day and flock to the town to be housed in the churches at night. Others would sleep in the bushes.
In 1997, there was a raid from the Samburu community, during which, regrettably, the former Senior Chief Silale was killed. It was also during this period of wanton lawlessness that raiders from the Turkana community shot down a military helicopter, in which one of the passengers was the Samburu District Commissioner. The government of the day sent in the Kenya Army which did little in terms of conflict resolution. Such was life in Baragoi for close to two years, where the Government of Kenya did absolutely nothing to mitigate the conflict.
It must be stated that the Samburus were not the only victims of lawlessness. In fact our tormentors in chief had their fair share of insecurity. Raiders from Pokot would conduct raids so close to town that people would climb the highest buildings to watch as Hollywood was re-enacted with brazen terror and ruthlessness. The raiders from the Pokot community would attack the “Kijiji” inside Baragoi town for the better part of the morning, while singing and calmly counting the livestock stolen. They would then drive them away without any fear of reprisals, and leave in their wake fear, abject poverty and death. It was also in 1997 that raiders from the Pokot and Samburu Community raided a Turkana village in Lokorkor, where lots of livestock were stolen and close to a hundred people killed.
This went on, to and fro, and eventually mutated into highway robberies and assassinations. The number of fatalities rapidly rose. There were Lawyers, Doctors as well as prominent businessmen and innocent “wananchi”. Travelling to Baragoi became dangerous business while living in Baragoi became a calamity. Many people opted to move to safer areas like the Loroki highlands of Samburu County while others went to Isiolo, Rumuruti and other down country areas.
Slowly by slowly the balance of power equalized as both communities became equally ARMED and raids became a lot less sporadic. Tactics evolved, new generations came and those who used to be Morans became Wazees. Although conflict persisted, it wasn’t as regular as during the 1990s.
Northern Kenya Blog would like to invite sober debate on the issue of conflict and cattle rustling in North Kenya, especially in Samburu North, where the situation has recently gotten out of hand. How have you as a reader been affected by this conflict. Please observe decency in your comments. Those comments that contain hate or abusive language will be purged
Part 2 of this article will be published tomorrow…