Address police bias claims at Sondu border town

A victim of ethnic lashes in Sondu recuperating at Sigowet sub-county Hospital. [Nikko Tanui, Standard]

There have been two clear improvements along the 103km Kisumu-Nandi-Kericho counties border. The first is decision by voters of a ward in Tinderet Constituency, Nandi County, who rejected a leader for financing them to commit ethnic violence against their neighbours.

The second are the brave police officers who arrived in Songhor after the 2017 killings, and whose honest work has reduced ethnic violence. The improvements prove it is possible for the Nandi, Luo, and Kipsigis communities to defeat limited thinking from their politicians and maintain peace.

All three Nilotic communities are probably aware that “ang’wen” is the Dholuo word for the digit Four, and its equivalent in all the ten sub-communities that comprise the Kalenjin is “ang’wan.”

Bill Rutto and Kipng’etich Maritim’s book, Kipsigis Heritage and the Origin of Clans (2016), tells us that the accident-prone ‘Sachangwan’ near Molo is so named because four Kipsigis clans dispersed there in 1897 after battle with the Maasai.

The same Maasai contributed Koitalel Arap Samoei’s lineage to Nandi political heritage. That’s how close the Luo, and Kalenjin (which Kenyan politics invented only in 1979) really are. But the most important point in the book is that a good number of the over 200 Kipsigis clans are actually assimilated Luo clans. The Kipsigis clans remain aware of their Luo origins in the same way the Kameji clan of Rongo are of their Kipsigis roots.

These are some historical facts most black-hearted politicians exclude when they misuse colonial borders to fuel ethnic violence between the Luo and Kipsigis. The one-sided narratives hide the interesting irony that the related Luo and Kipsigis communities rarely fight the Bantu Abagusii community in Nyamira County on the other side of Sondu-Miriu River.

One thing we can blame the Kenyan state for and not such politicians is the either weak or skewed police presence along the two counties’ border. Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o refers to this in his circular on the current Sondu violence that “of great concern to me are reports that the police from Kericho are partisan and shielding those committing atrocities against those from the Kisumu side.”

Kericho Governor Erick Mutai has disowned politicians who sponsor border violence. Police bias is not a myth in ethnic conflict along the border, although we cannot wholly blame it on the current government. Its history runs to colonial times.

Colonial settlement and bad politics is such that the few police stations along the border hotspots are found on the Kalenjin side.

Songhor Police Station, for instance, was built on the Rift Valley side around 1950s to secure the white rancher who owned the neighbourhood before the late Achieng Abura’s mother bought the over 1,000 acre Kipsitoi Farm.

I have written that we should give a thumbs up to the new police station in Songhor because it has enhanced peace. What I am unsure about is whether this improvement is due to cross-county assistance between the two police stations.

I ask because we didn’t see such cooperation during the February 1992 attacks on Songhor. The police waited for uniformed attackers to burn down Luo cane fields and huts, kill Carrilus Odoro, and only repelled the teenage warriors after we had all fled to the next village. 

Border conflicts are not a light matter. The tens of fathers who have lost their lives on both sides over the years leave widows and orphans who must live with the burden of trauma throughout their lives. 

Most Kenyan communities are one people. Even the political differences specific evil politicians inscribe between Luo and Kalenjin for narrow-minded reasons can’t hold because 22 Luo MPs saved a Kalenjin president from possible impeachment in 2000, and both communities voted together in 2007.

The state should ensure safety for the two communities in Sondu by ending biased police practices.

-The writer is a scholar