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Residents of northern Kenya are not citizens of a lesser god

By Billow Kerrow | December 11th 2016

An attack by bandits on Puspusion village along Turkana-Baringo counties border earlier in the month left 14 villagers, including children dead. A week later, their bodies continued to rot in the sun. Their death did not raise any political heat locally, nor has there been public outcry on the brutal massacre of our citizens. Last year, in Nadome village along the same border, dozens were massacred in the same way. Their bodies were similarly left to rot, to be scavenged by wild animals. It has been the trend in the arid northern counties where pastoralist communities dominate.

American writer, Negley Farson wrote about the region in 1960s; “there is one half of Kenya about which the other half knows nothing and seems to care even less [about]’. In the colonial days, the British referred to the inhabitants as ‘hostile tribes’ and banished them to the periphery. Up until 1997, two separate legal regimes applied in Kenya; to the northern frontier districts of this country, successive regimes applied emergency laws that gave the Executive extensive powers to ostensibly preserve security of the country, leading to degrading treatment of residents, legacy poverty and a policy of exclusion that denied the region economic development. Collective punishment by security forces often ended up in brutal massacres, such was committed in Wagalla in 1984. Often such brutalities are preceded by calls for forceful disarmament and security operations.

Little has changed in terms of the official treatment of issues in the region, particularly on security matters. Conflicts continue unabated, bandits kill at will, cattle rustlers perform their barbaric rituals under the very noses of the security agencies; lives of these poor Kenyans have little or no meaning, and hence do not merit national uproar even when a massacre is perpetrated. Government rituals of disarmament and dreaded security operations are still the norm. Kenyans have been psyched to accept that these are lesser mortals who are steeped in barbaric traditional of conflict and banditry, and hence should be ignored.

Official discrimination against pastoralists in the north is still being pursued. Only a few days ago, the government has ordered 60,000 cattle of ‘illegal herders’ out of Laikipia county. ‘Illegal herders’ is a term used for nomadic pastoralists from the neighbouring Samburu. It matters little that these people are Kenyans driven by the desire to preserve their source of livelihoods in times of drought. Vast rangelands that were hitherto the grazing pastures of these people have been converted into private ranches and farms. In 2014, over 200,000 animals belonging to Somalis were similarly forcibly driven out of Voi area by the government to protect the farmers. Yet, the same protection against ‘herders’ to the other Kenyans is not extended to the pastoralists. Constitutionally, any Kenya can move to, and settle, in any part of the country. Not so fast for pastoralists.

Last year, the President announced at a gathering of pastoralists leaders in Isiolo that the government would address their key demands on operationalisation of the Equalisation Fund, establishment of Livestock Marketing Authority, privatisation of Kenya Meat Commission, among other things. A year later, the Equalisation Fund is still on paper six years after it was established. No penny has been disbursed yet. More importantly, there is a bold attempt by the Treasury to circumvent the law by accounting for some ongoing projects as Fund projects. The Livestock Marketing Authority too is still born. 

Despite all the talk, the region is still largely inaccessible because of poor infrastructure, or lack of it.  There is a lot of rhetoric about plans for this or that but little has happened in reality. We live in one nation but live two different worlds.  

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