Cattle rustling plunges locals into utter despair

Samburu Governor Moses Lenolkulal addressing a security meeting in Marti, Samburu north constituency following the killing of four people during two separate cattle rustling incidents in the area. [Michael Saitoti, Standard]

Former Meru MCA George Kaliunga was a hands-on person. The two-term MCA for Antubetwe-Kiongo Ward who had also been a councillor before the advent of devolution, was a popular man in his Igembe home turf and, indeed, the rest of Meru.

When cattle rustlers raided Malaene on the night of April 29 and drove the livestock away, Kaliunga (pictured) was among the locals and police officers who pursued the rustlers in a bid  to recover the animals.

It was not the first time the leader, who died at 55, was responding to distress calls. Cattle rustling has been a thorn in the flesh for many communities in the five sub-counties collectively called the Nyambene which form northern Meru.

Livestock keeping is one of the main economic activities but unfortunately, so are common cattle raids mounted by attackers from neighbouring counties. The group pursuing the raiders caught up with them and in the ensuing exchange of gunfire between them and police, Kaliunga was shot.

He was buried in an atmosphere of grief and anger as his family and friends blamed the government for letting the insecurity exist for decades. Interior CS Kithure Kindiki agreed with locals that his killing was suspect and he vowed the government would work hard to arrest the perpetrators.

Be that as it may, his family and other families that have borne the brunt of cattle rustling have had their livelihoods turned upside down and there seems to be no respite. "Kaliunga cared for the people. When he was killed, it was not the first time he was responding to help people," said Florah Kaliunga, his elder sister.

"We wonder how long we have to wait before the killers are arrested," she said.

Two weeks ago, rustlers crossed into Meru and raided Njaruine village in Mutuate, Igembe North, killed five people and made away with about 100 heads of cattle. Japhet M'Imiemba, 49, was among those killed.

The family of Samson Laibuta is still bitter, more than a year after he was buried. Laibuta was among seven people who were killed by attackers suspected to be from a neighbouring county around Mweronkoro in Tigania in January last year.

Gerald Mitheo, Laibuta's firstborn, says: "He was just a livestock keeper. The killers were never caught and charged."

A forlorn Janet Karimi’s blank stare into space illustrated the pain she and her seven children were facing after cattle rustlers killed her husband.

Armed cattle rustlers raided Stephen Kariithi’s homestead at Nkengechia in Tigania West, dragged him out and made away with his five cows. The rustlers hacked him to death.

A tour of the vast area illustrates a neglected community. Many homesteads and shops have been abandoned after locals fled. 

Igembe North MP Julius Taitumu said the loss of lives and thefts of livestock had brought much suffering to the people. "The attacks have for a long time disrupted the livelihoods of hard-working families," he stated. 

Inspector General of Police Japheth Koome led a high-level security meeting in Igembe last week, where he said the government is determined to end insecurity.

“We will not allow anybody to interfere with the security of the people of this region. We cannot let criminals kill residents day and night," he said.