By Osinde Obare
When Michael Matere Ngeywo escaped to Uganda seven years ago fearing for his life, he had hoped to return to his Mt Elgon District home in Kenya after peace was restored.
Ngeywo, 49, alongside his family members and village mates, moved to Greek area of Kween District in northeastern Uganda after the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) made life for residents of Mt Elgon unbearable.
Recently, Ngeywo thought of returning home. As he entertained the thought, sad news reached him – heavily armed gangsters had butchered four people at his Kapkoyot home.
“What was disturbing was the fact that the gangsters executed the victims in a manner similar to that of the SLDF members,” he told The Standard recently.
As he mulled over this, worse news reached him. More than 100 people had been slaughtered in the ethnic conflict between the Pokomo and Ormo communities in Tana Delta.
This expunged the thought of returning home and he started cultivating his piece of land – allocated to him and other refugees here by the Ugandan Government – with vigour.
“The signs back home are not good...the violence is coming just a few months before the 2013 General Election. It is an eerie reminder of the events prior to the 2007 elections,” he says, his voice fading away.
James Ndiwa Kiplagat, who is Ngeywo’s neighbour in exile, says although their new home in Uganda is inaccessible due to bad roads at least there is peace.
Eyes well up
Kiplagat’s eyes well up when he recounts how he narrowly escaped death during skirmishes that rocked Mt Elgon from 2006 and climaxed in 2008 after the General Election.
He says he is not returning to his Chepyuk home soon.
Kiplagat, 40, was a successful transporter until his business was disrupted by the clashes. We found him clearing his parcel of land to plant maize and beans.
“I can only return to Kenya when I am assured of my security. I would rather stay here in Uganda and persevere all sorts of problems than go back and lose my life,” says Kiplagat, his face assuming grave seriousness.
Ngeywo and Kiplagat are among some 7,000 members of the Sabaot and Luhya communities who sought refugee in Uganda at the height of the Mt Elgon District clashes, which were triggered by land dispute at Chepyuk Settlement Scheme.
After receiving them, the Ugandan Government responded to their needs by donating relief food and allocating some parcels of land for subsistence farming. The relief food was discontinued a while back.
Pamela Chelagat recalls a gun-brandishing gang that descended on her in Kopsiro in 2006.
They killed her husband, but spared her life and that of her three children.
“It was horrible. The gang armed with guns and machetes dragged my husband from the house before shooting him outside the compound,” said Chelagat, who is still traumatised by events of that day. She has rented a grass-thatched house at Riwo trading centre.
Misery around her
She is obviously struggling to provide for her children given the misery around her.
“We have no food here. We received a tin of maize from a Good Samaritan and it is over. I have no flour to prepare them porridge,” laments Chelagat, who does menial jobs for upkeep.
As we talk with her, a Uganda People’s Defence Force soldier arrives and offers a mandazi to Chelagat’s crying child.
“This child needs food, but her mother cannot provide. Go and ask your Government to restore peace and facilitate the return of these families,” says the soldier, who identifies himself as John Nteeba. Being a refugee in a foreign land is challenging.
They lack sufficient food and this has pushed some children to busaa drinking dens to consume the residues of the brew.
“They better eat any kind of food, including busaa residues than starve. We cannot stop them from eating the leftovers; that is the only way they would keep alive,” says Chelagat.
Besides scarce food, the refugees have to live without clean water, while health services are far away and even in their land of refuge, there are ripples of insecurity from the Karamojong and Pokot bandits.