Boundary disputes are the fuel stoking fires of banditry in north

Turkana leaders have blamed their Pokot counterparts for inciting their heavily armed kinsmen to raid areas like Ombolion, Kainuk, Katilu and around South Turkana National Reserve like Amolem in Turkana South and Kapedo in Turkana East which they claim are part of West Pokot county and former East Pokot sub county.

In February, days after the security operation began, Pokot herdsmen attacked and killed six police officers at Kaakong, also a disputed section near the game reserve in Turkana South.

Pokot South MP David Pkosing later told the media that a confrontation arose after police officers sprayed bullets on about 200 cattle the herdsmen were grazing in the disputed Turkana South territory.

It is common for herdsmen in the region to roam far and wide in search of water and pasture but the bone of contention is the long dispute over land ownership.

Turkana Woman Rep Cecilia Asinyen is among leaders who have repeatedly demanded that Pokot herdsmen be restrained from freely roaming with their herds of cattle in Turkana South and East constituencies.

"I disagree with the notion that banditry in the north is caused by marginalisation. It is about land, because when they invade Turkana, they come with chiefs and elders to occupy our areas," Asinyen told Parliament.

She further claimed Turkana County was initially 77,000sq kilometres but has significantly shrunk because of alleged encroachment by their neighbours.

Her Samburu counterpart Pauline Lenguris has also demanded that the Pokot should respect boundaries of their neighbours.

Lenguris told Pokot leaders to restrain their people in their territory and stop them from trespassing into other people's land.

"When you are told this is the boundary of West Pokot, please respect that and remain in your area instead of forcing people who have title deeds out of their land just because you are pastoralists," said an agitated Lenguris.

Leaders in Laikipia have also complained about the invasion of Pokot herdsmen who forcefully drive their cattle into farms destroying crops and sometimes attacking land owners.

As expected, when question time returned to Parliament this week, Cabinet Secretary for Interior Kithure Kindiki was hard pressed to explain the ongoing killings despite the multi-agency security operation.

Among the answers he gave was that the government is in the process of acquiring three helicopter gunships to help police deal with the problem that the country has grappled with since 1977.

From the questions raised by MPs from the region it emerged that the bandits are making a mockery of the operation as they continue with the unabated mayhem across the Baringo-Laikipia, Pokot-Samburu, Pokot-Marakwet and Pokot-Turkana borders.

Turkana South MP James Lomenen described to Kindiki how bandits raided Katilu area last Tuesday three times, while his Marakwet East counterpart Kangongo Bowen narrated how bandits raided a GSU police camp in Tot Sub County and took off with seven cows last Friday.

Parliament was further puzzled by a daring attack last week where 10 bandits stormed Iten Sub County hospital and took off with an injured colleague who was under police guard.

No question was asked about what the government is doing to resolve the boundary conflicts across the region, although Mbalambala MP Farah Maalim called for a soft power approach in dealing with the killings and banditry.

Maalim beseeched the CS to consider using elders from all affected communities for pacification and to also create education opportunities for Pokot children to go to school.

Pokot leaders and elders have at many peace meetings raised the boundary issue and made it one of their demands in a 35-page memorandum presented to the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission on April 18, 2002.

In that directive, they claimed that the whole of Trans Nzoia County was part of Pokot ancestral land that was forcefully taken by European settlers and that it was time it was returned to its rightful owners.

They also called for the use of colonial-era maps to end the boundary dispute between West Pokot, Turkana and Baringo counties, further alleging that land from Marich-Pass that is 194km from Lodwar and across to the Turkwel river was part of West Pokot.

Areas around the disputed boundary include Amolem, Takaywa, Nyangaita, Alale, Lokiriama, Ombolion, Kases, Lorogon and Kapedo, in Turkana South and East along the Turkana and Baringo borders.

Like in the demand for Trans Nzoia, they claimed the Pokot community was driven out of their ancestral land.

Before she left office, former Lands Cabinet Secretary Farida Karoney tabled a report in the Senate over the boundary disputes but declined to clarify whether Kapedo was in Baringo (East Pokot section) or Turkana.

"Kapedo trading centre is on the common boundary but it expansion has spread into to Turkana County, thus creating some confusion given that the settlement itself is a reference for the boundary," she said.

During his first term as Turkana governor in 2014, Josphat Nanok, urged the government to form a commission to review the land demarcations to avert conflict in the region.