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Residents in troubled Kerio call for State action as three killed

Mourners during the burial of primary school teacher Simon Cheserek in Kabetwa, Kerio Valley on May 21, 2022. [Stephen Rutto, Standard]

It is one of the country’s leading mango-producing regions, but Kerio Valley still remains the most disturbed by unending fatal shootings.

Fears of attempts by armed groups to forcefully evict locals, and the discovery of a mortar-propelled explosive device in a village have added a new twist to the rising insecurity.

Residents in the fertile, pasture-rich Kerio Valley now want intervention from the international community after attackers suspected to be bandits continue killing, maiming, and in many attacks, making away with livestock.

According to locals, there is more than meets the eye in the attacks that have destabilised several parts of Marakwet East and West in Elgeyo Marakwet County.

On Monday and Tuesday alone, three men were shot dead in a span of 24 hours. 

Last Saturday, a 53-year-old primary school teacher, Simon Cheserek, was shot along the Chesongoch-Tot road, moments after leaving his work station.

 

In another attack on Monday, armed assailants believed to have laid ambush along the busy Arror-Chesongoch road in Marakwet West ambushed Kiprop Loyoloki, 20, who was riding his motorbike back home from Kapsowar town.

After killing Kiprop, the armed men suspected to be from Tiaty in Baringo County attacked 17-year-old Kelvin Kimutai, who was herding his father’s goats some metres from the scene.

Police reports indicate that at least 40 people have been shot dead in the troubled valley since January. Cumulatively, more than 125 deaths have been reported since June last year in parts of Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo, West Pokot and Turkana due to banditry attacks.

David Kiprotich, a resident of Endo in Marakwet East, claimed that herders from neighbouring Baringo and West Pokot could be aiming at displacing local herders to secure a larger grazing field.

According to Kiprotich, the tactic by armed assailants to kill without stealing livestock is reinforcing suspicions that unknown forces are making attempts to displace populations living and herding near borders.

“We have asked the government to use its machinery to investigate this unending cycle of violence in Kerio Valley, but security agencies have been quick to promise enhanced patrols, a decision that has never stopped armed groups from raiding, killing, maiming and stealing livestock,” the resident explains.

James Kiptoo, another resident, who is a livestock and fruit farmer in the now-volatile region, chided government officials for failing to arrest perpetrators of the attacks.

“It is puzzling that bandits have enough ammunition and guns to attack every day and the level of criminality is not disturbing the government, said Kiptoo.

He added: “An explosive device was recently found in a village in Kaben. No one knows who abandoned the device in the village. Locals are asking questions and no one is answering. They wanted to know why a device that is only in the hands of the military was found in a village.”

Rotuno Lomerinyang from West Pokot claimed that bandits from all the counties could be trying to force people out of the valley to continue lawlessness.

“Activities along the borders of all affected counties in the Kerio Valley have been paralysed. Bandits will completely control the area if the trend is not reversed,” Lomerinyang said.

Elgeyo Marakwet Deputy Governor Wisley Rotich also claimed expansionist groups could be on the loose in the troubled Kerio Valley.

“Armed groups are attacking every week, and the huge supply of bullets reinforces our suspicion that this is no longer cattle rustling. Is someone attempting to expand their territory?” he posed.

Mr Rotich is now asking President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene immediately, saying the attacks have turned Kerio Valley into a graveyard.

“It remains a mystery where Bandits get the confidence and the bullets to kill and maim in broad daylight and leave scot-free. It was only on Saturday that we were burying a teacher,” he said.

Kisang said the government was yet to reinstate National Police Reservists who were withdrawn in 2018. He said upon inquiry, the government says it is still vetting for suitable officers.

Kenya National Union of Teachers John Cheberi says no teacher is willing to teach in the Kerio Valley following the shootings.

He said more than three teachers have been killed in the last one year, with many others panicking as bandits turned areas near schools to battlegrounds.

On Thursday, Gender Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Linah Kilimo, who comes from Kerio Valley, met women from the region who had requested a meeting with her to discuss rising insecurity.

According to Marakwet West Deputy County Commissioner Mathew Chishambo, the motive of the Kerio Valley attacks has changed from cattle rustling to indiscriminate killings of travellers along the roads crisscrossing the region.

The administrator said the fatal shootings could be retaliatory attacks.

“These attacks seem to be guided by some intelligence. It appears like the bandits have been spying on certain areas before striking. It is something that is puzzling security officers,” he said.

Elgeyo Marakwet County police commander Patrick Lumumba described the claims of armed groups in Kerio Valley expanding territories as speculations and called for calm.

Lumumba further said the explosive device collected in the valley was taken by special units for analysis.