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Is defeated Sabaot Land Defence Force plotting a comeback?

By Standard Reporter | October 12th 2013
SLDF leader Wyclife Matakwei is burried after being killed by the army. [Photo: File/Standard]


KENYA: He is bright-eyed and looks more nervous than I am.

He is dressed in army camouflage. From our correspondences, I knew ‘The Terminator’ was a huge man, perhaps over 6-foot-1 inch.

But I am struck by how bony he is, with bony wrists.

His firearm is partly rested on his lap and two knives dangle from his webbed belt. Beside him is a stone-faced, bare-chested man, in his early 30s, holding a semi-automatic rifle and a shotgun.

He regularly disappears into the bushes before re-emerging, possibly keeping watch of any infiltrators.

The Terminator, whose name is borrowed from Bosco Ntaganda, a Rwandan soldier who first helped overthrow the Hutu-led government after the Rwandan genocide, says the dreaded Sabaot Land Defence Forces (SLDF) is not dead.

“We were aestivating; we are almost back. We have to have our land back,” he said with a husky voice.

“We regret the killing our kin. But we are not ashamed of our call to have historical land disputes in Mt Elgon solved.”

SLDF is accused of killing over 600 people and displacing over 66,000 people between 2006 and early 2008.

Under the control of Wycliffe Matakwei, the guerrilla militia said to possess over 35,000 soldiers was also accused of torture, rape and destruction of property. Its members were drawn from the Sabaot community, a Kalenjin sub-tribe whose kin are also in Western Uganda.

“The late Matakwei was a figure-head. The actual engineers of the offensive included former security personnel,” said The Terminator.

The Mt Elgon land conflict can be traced back to the colonial times when Africans were alienated from their lands to create room for white settler farms.

Historians say Trans Nzoia County was initially the community’s grazing land before it was taken away from them in the early 1930s.

This resulted in intra-community hostility.

Oathing ceremony

The Mosop, meaning people of the highlands, relocated to Chepkitale, a trust land, on the slopes of Mt Elgon. The Soy, people of the lowlands, settled on the lower part of the mountain.

In 1965, a plan was launched to resettle the Mosop away from Chepkitale, a water catchment area that needed to be conserved.

The establishment of a game reserve in 1968 further catalysed the resettlement plans. Ultimately, the Mosop were moved to Chepyuk in 1971 through Legal Notice No. 35 of 1968.

The first phase of the resettlement, known as Chepyuk I, was carried out between 1971 and 1974. But some families missed out on this allocation. They petitioned the government, and in 1979, the government set aside some pieces of land in Cheptoror and Kaimugul, later named Chepyuk II, to settle them.

This new home proved hostile to the Mosop, the traditional herders, who were used to vast chunks of land in the forest.

Some attempted to relocate back to Chepkitale; others sold their pieces of land to the Soy. The Soy ended up dominating the scheme that had been created for the Mosop. Ironically, some Mosop complained about illegal acquisitions of the land by the Soy.

A hot dispute emerged compelling the government in 1988 to order re-evaluation of the allocation. The audit saw all allocations withdrawn.

Fresh applications were invited but the committee could not manage the huge number of applicants.

As a way out of the muddle, the committee introduced balloting. It also limited land size to two hectares per family.

In the end, a group of Mosop was settled in Cheptoror and Kaimugul areas, while applications from members of other communities, including the Soy who had already settled in the area, were omitted.

In 1993, the government issued a directive to resettle the affected Soy people. Additional land at Chepkurkur and Korng’otuny was set aside for what would become the third phase of resettlement, referred to as Chepyuk III. This was intended for 1,732 families with two-hectare allocations.

The process was delayed until 2006 in a bid to avoid preceding allocation blunders.

The politics of the 2005 referendum, fuelled the building tension.

“This was the genesis of the SLDF,” said The Terminator. 

He says while SLDF may have lost the community’s support in its quest to have the region’s land problems addressed, but in the background reconciliation and cleansing is ongoing to have them accepted back.

“We apologise for the grievous mistakes committed. But we will cautiously apply force against our enemies who do not want the land issue ironed out.”

Security insiders say it has proven difficult for Kenya to hunt down the SLDF commanders and soldiers, who are in hiding in the volatile Northern Uganda, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mr David Sichei, believed to be the militia’s training commandant and strategist, for instance, is still at large.

Speaking exclusively to The Standard On Saturday at an undisclosed location in northern Uganda, The Terminator explained the SLDF’s strategies.  “We had a vibrant chain of command. There were three separate divisions: A military, a spiritual and a political wing,” said The Terminator.

Despite the rich presence of former security personnel, the military wing of the SLDF was headed by the youthful Matakwei.

The spiritual division was crucial to SLDF’s military strategy. It was led by Jason Manyiror, according to The Terminator. It administered oaths, encouraged youth to enrol in the militia and promised them supernatural protection.

“The divine arm was very important in our work; we needed them to predict what to expect in our operations, and how best we could avoid our enemies,” he said.

But the force driving SLDF was the political wing whose captains were the community’s elite. The only known person was self-proclaimed spokesman, John Kanai.

Police patrols

This is the arm that funded key operations of the militia. It also generated propaganda to cement their cause. Around November 2006, for instance, it is the political wing that called for territorial expansion to the border of West Pokot and Trans-Nzoia.

“The political division still enjoys the discipleship of some senior members in the government,” said The Terminator.

Even as the interview ended, The Terminator was not willing to share his real name. “You will hear of it when we liberate our land,” he said.

Police spokesperson Zipporah Mboroki, however, said that Mt Elgon residents should not be worried of the alleged SLDF resurgence. “Security officers are on the ground carrying out normal patrols; there should be no fear of insecurity,” she said.


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