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IDPs: Kenyan pastoralists lose animals, camp out in the cold

BUSINESS
By | February 17th 2010

By Vitalis Kimutai

As darkness overlaps the dry plains of Karameri in Pokot North District, Joseph Loremongole, 70, his four wives and some of his 28 children huddle under an acacia tree to sleep on bare ground.

Loremongole hardly sleeps, he lies awake gazing at the stars and a crescent moon rising from the western horizon, the direction of the Kenya-Uganda border. He would later tell The Standard that he keeps thinking of what he calls the ‘biggest loss in his life as a Pokot herdsman’.

A woman collects wild fruits near one of the camps in North Pokot District where families kicked out Uganda have been camping.

Loremongole is among groups of more than 3,000 members of the Pokot community who were kicked out of Uganda three weeks ago by soldiers of the Ugandan Peoples Defence Force (UPDF) and left behind about 10,000 head of cattle.

The families have since camped in desolate conditions in the open at Karameri, Kodich, Napitiro, Kunyao, Oroiwo and Losam areas in Pokot North District.

Starvation

They have been living on the edge of starvation after they returned to find the areas where they once had manyattas completely deserted. Those they had left behind demolished the manyattas and moved out to other more hospitable areas.

Details of why and how the Kenyans were kicked out and their livestock confiscated are yet to fully emerge but the Ugandan side claims some of them were involved in cattle rustling.

An exercise to mop up illegal guns has been going on in Uganda and the Kenyan Pokot herders, who had camped there for two years to escape drought at home, were accused of resisting the exercise and staging raids.

In Uganda, the families had sojourned at Losidok, Cheptabuyo, Alabat, Karida and Kotobok areas in Moroto and Nakapirpirit districts which have plenty of pasture.

Ugandan security officers moved in at night three weeks ago, arrested over 100 young Pokot men, accusing them of habouring arms and stealing livestock from the Karamajong community. It followed an incident where raiders suspected to be Pokots on the Kenyan side of the border struck at Namalu in Uganda and stole 3,000 head of cattle.

"People were beaten, about eight Kenyans were killed and others detained by the UPDF soldiers during the disarmament exercise twinned with a move to rid the area of cattle rustlers," Loremongole said.

"We were forced to drive all livestock into a military enclosure and to ordered to go back to Kenya the same day," Luremongole said, tears coursing down his wizened face.

"We had nothing to do with the attack, yet the officers demanded that we produce the stolen animals. They confiscated all our livestock, beat us up and we fled fearing for our lives," Loremongole said.

The UPDF soldiers have kept the animals confiscated from the Kenyans at Karita area.

Provincial administrators from both countries have met to resolve the issue but the affected herders say there is little progress.

The Ugandan soldiers released 13 Kenyan herders last weeks who had been among those detained, after an intervention by the Pokot North District Commissioner Mr Joseph Motari.

Cattle rustlers

Motari said 500 head of cattle had been stolen by rustlers suspected to be both from Uganda and Kenya, leading to the operation by UPDF.

He said he was not aware if any Kenyans had died during the UPDF operation.

"The truth of the matter is that a few Kenyan Pokots participated in the raid but most of the suspects were Ugandans," Motari stated.

"We have managed to recover 37 head of cattle on the Kenyan side," Motari said, adding that most of the animals stolen were suspected to be in Uganda.

Motari said the Ugandan authorities are still holding cattle belonging to Kenyans and negotiations were ogoing to have them returned.

Some of the makeshift tents where some families sleep. [PHOTOS: PETER OCHIENG/STANDARD]

The Resident District Commissioner (RDC) in charge of the Nakapirpirit region in Uganda, John Napaja, said on phone the animals were being detained in a military enclosure and would be released if the stolen stock is recovered.

Napaja said Kenyans migrating to Uganda to graze their cattle would in future undergo screening to prevent illegal firearms from being smuggled into that country.

"We are urging the Kenyan government to co-operate with us in disarmament exercise which is ongoing," Napaja said.

The sojourn by Pokot herders in Uganda begun two years ago when they crossed the border in search of green pasture. They claim they had never carried out any raids in Uganda, saying they knew the consequences of such an act are grave.

"We should not be blamed for raids carried out by other groups, we have been very peaceful immigrants, we don’t even have any guns as they claim,"

Makutano, in Kapenguria District, more than 70 kilometres away, is where those who have some money travel to get supplies.

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