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VAS

Residents cry for assistance as bandits kill, steal animals

RIFT VALLEY
By James Munyeki | May 29th 2019
Mr James Kiprotich checks on her mother Lucy Chemutai at Nyahururu county referral hospital after she was shot by suspected bandits two weeks ago.

Margaret Muthoni stares at the grave of her 30-year-old daughter and struggles to fight back tears.

Muthoni, a resident of Survey in Laikipia West, vividly remembers the night of February 2 this year.

It was about 9pm when three armed men raided her home and ordered her to surrender the keys to her cowshed.

She set off to search for the keys but while at it, one of the attackers shot at her daughter, Jane Wanjiku, on the head. She died on the spot.

“They later took away my three sheep before fleeing while firing in the air.This was the most traumatising thing in my life time. How could they kill my only daughter just because of my three sheep?" she posed.

Just like Muthoni, many Laikipia residents have been forced to cope with this kind of life.

Bandits strike with impunity, kill, steal livestock and flee — never to be seen again.

For most residents, peace has evaded them for the last three decades.

Hundreds have lost their lives, livestock worth millions of shillings stolen and crops destroyed, subjecting many to poverty.

Conflict between various communities living in the area has largely been attributed to a fight over water and pasture for livestock of pastoral communities living in and outside the county.

The epitome of the conflict was witnessed in 1998 when some 56 people were killed at Ol Moran after communities clashed over pasture.

This is the same region that has of late been experiencing conflict. More than 300 cows were last year allegedly killed by police officers carrying out an eviction operation to wipe out illegal herders in the area.

But it is this year that the conflict over pasture has once again come to disrupt the uneasy peace in the region.

Tension has since hit the area after the 300 cows were stolen at Matwiku area two weeks ago.

Now, farmers who have been hurt most by the violence want disarmament exercise to be launched so the region can regain peace.

They claim that private ranches and lodges have been burnt, dozens of people killed and their livestock stolen and that was why they wanted the operation launched.

At the Mwai Gitumbi ranch, a lodge was burnt last year and an excavator destroyed. Herders are now grazing on the land with impunity, with Mwai forced to vacate the ranch in Rumuruti town.

At the adjacent Jennings Ranch, hundreds of illegal grazers have invaded the ranch, destroying an electric fence and settling on the grounds.

“This is the worst kind of impunity that I have witnessed so far. How can illegal grazers settle on your farm and yet there is a government in place? They have destroyed my electric fence constructed two months ago and yet the government is doing nothing” said its owner Lucy Jennings.

Ms Jennings regretted that illegal grazers were all armed, making it difficult for her to drive them out.

Jennings says that she has been forced to employ private security personnel to guard her property.

Also most affected were Sossian, Mugie, Laikipia Nature and Conservancy, Kifuko ranches among others.

But last month's decision by the Government to disarm National Police Reservists in the region is one that has hurt residents most.

Githiga ward MCA Peter Thomi claimed that some nine police reservists in the region were disarmed without any apparent reason.

This he said has exposed residents to bandit attacks.

“There is no single day that passes without our livestock being stolen.Why would the Government expose residents to criminals just by taking away firearms from the reservists who were protecting them? We want the government to explain this” he said.

Three weeks

Mr Thomi claimed that in the last three weeks, more than 500 cattle have been stolen from Kamwenje and Matwiku, leaving one police officer seriously injured.

“They have gone to an extent of even shooting police officers during the day.The Government must come to the rescue of residents,” he said.

Laikipia County Commissioner Onesmus Kyatha said that only those reservists who were suspected of not doing their work had been disarmed.

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