The Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) has suspended its operations and withdrawn all its staff and volunteers from the troubled Baringo County, effective February 25.
KRCS cited a confrontation with residents that led to looting of relief food and harassment of its staff and volunteers on Friday at Kambi Samaki.
The unfortunate incident took place 12 kilometers from Marigat town, towards Chemolingot where a convoy of seven KRCS vehicles carrying 96.8 metric tonnes of relief food comprising maize flour, pulses, cooking oil and salt meant for Kapedo and Lomelo areas in Turkana County, was blocked by the residents and forced to turn back to Marigat.
"It is with a heavy heart that the Kenya Red Cross Society announces the suspension of our activities in Baringo County, as we can no longer guarantee the safety of our staff, volunteers and resources,” stated KRCS Secretary General Abbas Gullet.
He continued, “Our staff and volunteers were threatened by residents despite our assurance that the consignment was headed to Turkana county, and had nothing to do with the current inter-clan conflicts in Baringo County.”
The decision comes just a day after Deputy President William Ruto visited the county and also directed security agencies to act decisively with the bandits.
Leaders from the region have been engaged in a war of words after the senseless killings of a teacher, a Member of the County Assembly and an aspirant for the Parliamentary seat last week.
KRCS expressed disappointment that even its efforts to negotiate their safe passage faced stiff opposition from the irked locals.
"At the first roadblock, KRCS staff attempted to negotiate with the residents, majority of whom were young people, but they were adamant. After one hour of negotiations, the convoy had to turn around after residents pounced on one vehicle and threatened to burn it down, only to meet another roadblock 4 kilometers from the first one," noted Dr Gullet.
He continued, "The second crowd directed the convoy to use a nearby detour back to Marigat, through a nearby small center, where crowds from the first and second roadblocks, as well as those at the center trapped KRCS staff."
According to KRCS, the confrontation escalated, as the residents who are from the Tugen community accused it of giving food support to the Pokot community. KRCS was forced to present the waybill that clearly indicated the food was destined for Turkana County, triggering some order.
“At the time, a police vehicle arrived from Marigat and in no time the youth approached one truck that had 8.5 tonnes of maize flour looting it clean, claiming they had fresh orders.”
"Never in the history of the Society, have we ever been held hostage. We have always had access to all areas due to our neutrality and impartiality, during all crisis and emergencies," said Dr. Gullet.
Baringo is affected by both drought and conflict, where KRCS has been supporting residents with monthly cash transfers, non-food items, rehabilitation of waters sources and medical outreaches in Baringo North, Baringo South and Tiaty sub counties.
In addition, KRCS has been evacuating those wounded in conflict, and supporting displaced mothers and children.
"Kenya Red Cross Society may only resume operations when the Baringo County government guarantees the safety of our staff, volunteers and resources. I also request the central government to intervene and shield the vulnerable residents from the suffering we continue to witness," stressed Gullet.