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Locals enjoy peace as guns go silent in Kerio Valley

By Stephen Rutto | July 9th 2020

Before July last year, Cheserek Kilimo, 72, spent countless cold nights in snake-infested caves on the Kerio escarpments.

Back then, his farm in Kabishoi village in Kerio Valley was a bandits’ battlefield. Every time the bullets started flying, Kilimo and hundreds of villagers, including the elderly, women and children would flee to the caves.

Today, the guns have gone quiet, and the rich fields of Kerio Valley are coming back to life.

“I am now busy in my millet farm," Kilimo says.

Kerio Valley, which cuts across parts of Elgeyo Marakwet, West Pokot, Baringo and parts of Turkana counties, has been ravaged by conflict since 2016 earning it the infamous name 'the valley of death.'

For years, bullets ricocheted off the escarpments as the Marakwet and the Pokot squared it off in a deadly battle for livestock, water and pasture.

Today, after years of intense talks between Marakwet and Pokot elders that culminated in the signing of a peace pact at Chesegon on the border of Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot last year, the guns have gone quiet.

"We have made peace with our Pokot brothers.

"The Marakwet freely walk to Kolowa market on the Pokot side, and our Pokot brothers mingle freely with us in Tot,” he says.

Tot is in Elgeyo Marakwet and Kolowa is in Baringo. With a year of peace, goat-trade in the two markets is booming.

A student exchange programme established in December has seen children from the Pokot and Marakwet studying side by side, which was impossible when they parents would not see eye-to-eye.

Herders from the two communities now graze together along the pasture-rich River Kerio -- which was another battlefield until last year's peace pact.

“It is difficult to differentiate a Pokot and a Marakwet herder. Their livestock mix freely and no one is stealing from the other. We hope this continues forever,” Kiptoo says.

Yesterday, the elders, through their regional inter-counties peace coordinator, Samuel Chemweno, said they are determined to make the peace last.

There is only one hurdle for now: Covid-19.

“We had plans to extend the peace meetings to Samburu but Covid-19 restrictions halted the process.

"Despite this, the elders from both sides are still talking,” Chemweno said.

Bishop Dominic Kimengich of the Catholic Diocese of Eldoret said one way of making the peace last is for both national and county governments to roll out more projects in the form of roads, agriculture and education.

This, he says, will end the region's over-reliance on livestock -- a major trigger of conflict over the years.

“Kerio Valley has been neglected for a long time," Bishop Kimengich said.

Elgeyo Marakwet County Commissioner Ahmed Omar hailed the peace process spearheaded by the elders.

"Traders who had avoided the region have returned," he said.

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