For years, Kainuk town has been a traveller’s worst nightmare. The town evokes chilling memories for many who have plied the Kitale-Lodwar route.
“We used to alight at Marich Police Station to be escorted by the police. Passing Kambi Karaya and Lami Nyeusi was hell on earth,” says David Lopetekwang, a regular traveller on the route.
The town, which lies at the border between West Pokot and Turkana counties, has been a battlefield for bandits who would target travellers at the Kainuk bridge as vehicles slowed down to navigate the dilapidated road.
Occasionally, the daring bandits would spray Kainuk Police Station with bullets just to make their presence felt, sending residents and the police scampering for safety.
However, for months now, the guns have fallen silent giving way to peace and calm. The peaceful interlude has lured residents who had moved out of town back.
With the guns silent, traders and investors are back in town to tap into the growing number of travellers and transporters who use Kainuk as a stopover on their way to and from Lodwar and South Sudan.
The vast potential of Kainuk, with boasts Nasolot National Reserve, which is a stone-throw away from the town, is just beginning to show.
But the scars remain
John Lokwamosing, a resident of Kainuk says nearly every building in the town has been poked with bullets.
“At the height of these attacks, even young children could tell the type of gun the shots were coming from with as much ease as reciting ABC,” says Lokwamosing.
He blames cattle rustling between the Pokot and Turkana communities for the fighting that cost so many lives and livelihoods on both sides.
“During this time, herders watched over their stock with a finger on the trigger. The gun was the law,” he says.
Security personnel had marked the stretch between Kainuk and Kakong as a banditry zone.
Here, heavily armed bandits crouched in the bushy hills, picking out their targets on the road below. With the road all cratered, drivers could not speed to escape the gunfire. Every one plying this route was a sitting duck.
But things are looking up for Kainuk. The gunshots have faded away, replaced by the soft hum of business and the roar of heavy machinery.
“Business is booming in Kainuk. The construction of the Kitale-Lodwar highway at Kainuk is ongoing without any disruption. Kainuk bridge is now complete and has quickened movement of vehicles along the way,” says West Pokot County Commissioner Apollo Okello.
According to Okello, the entire Turkwel corridor has been peaceful for the last two years now, with only a few cases of cattle rustling reported.
Kainuk is slowly but steadily coming back to life.
Peter Lokiru has reopened his eatery at the town after closing it in 2018 due to frequent attacks. Now with a truce between the Pokot and Turkana holding, he is back in business.
“Things have completely changed in Kainuk. We are now enjoying some peace,” he says.
John Lochom, a resident of Turkana South, attributes the rebirth of Kainuk to voluntary disarmament.
“It has started to bear fruits. The hostility has subsided allowing everyone to engage in business,” he says.
The return of peace has also been attributed to the sobering up of leaders in the area. Residents say politicians have been stoking the flames in the bloody confrontation between two communities that heavily rely on livestock for subsistence.
“Some leaders have over the years used perennial clashes over water and pasture to heighten hostilities between the two neighbours. This stopped development in the area,” says Stella Lochodo.
With the newly found peace at the troubled West Pokot-Turkana border, the community activist is confident that Kainuk will rise from the ruins.
“I wish it would be like this forever. This is the time to compensate for all the time we lost by concentrating on development,” says Lochodo.
But the biggest game-changer for Kainuk has been the tarmacking of the Kitale-Lodwar highway, which has handed a lifeline to Kainuk and other shopping centres along the road, feeding them with fresh deliveries every hour.
Now residents of Kainuk are no longer interested in cattle rustling; making money is the new ‘rustling’ in town.
“Things have now changed in Kainuk. Everyone here is now looking for money,” says Lokwamosing.