The heifer that Narok South would rather forget about

The cause of the mayhem in Narok South. [File, Standard]

As the heifer above chews the cud oblivious of the fresh graves around it, grieving families in Narok South wish they had said: "After all it is only a cow."

Too late. Eight people have died, 15 maimed and more than 20 houses burnt in ethnic violence that started after a family reported the Sh20,000 heifer stolen.

The mystery cow is like the golden calf which in biblical times caused misery to the entire nation of Israel.

 Never has so much blood been shed for so less. Narok South has not known peace for days. Scores are sleeping out in the cold. They have no homes. Eight people are dead, 15 will be scarred for life. All this because of a heifer.

It all started last Saturday morning when Mzee Philip Patum in his 50s woke up, strolled to his cattle shed and found his favourite cow missing.

Alarmed, he raised alarm causing his neighbours to regroup believing the cow had been stolen.

According to officers pursuing the matter, Mzee Patum described his ‘stolen’ cow, which is now at the epicentre of the ethnic fighting, as a cross-breed heifer.

"That cow was my life, it provided me with milk and was able to breed and bring me more cattle," says Patum.

 The Standard visited the area to get at the bottom of the matter that has rekindled animosity whose current phase dates back to 2018.

Skirmishes started at Olooruasi village then spread to the neighbouring villages of Ololoipang’i and Kaplulekule where the two communities fought with bows and arrows, spears and even guns.

Following a tip-off from members of the public after the flare-up, Mzee Patum and a neighbour were arrested, driven to Ololung’a police station and arraigned at a Narok Law Court where the police sought more time to investigate the matter before preferring charges but the court released them for lack of water-tight evidence.

Area Deputy Commissioner Felix Kisalu calls the heifer angle a myth as the narrative around it changes by the day.

According to Kisalu,  Patum insists that his cow was stolen but criminal intelligence indicates that the man’s wife and son had connived to hide the animal at their neighbour's, which neighbour is from a different community,  to save it from being sold by the man of the house.

“When we arrested the owner of the cow and a neighbour, the rest of the family failed to turn up raising suspicions,” says Mr Kisalu.

Mr Kisalu says  Patum's wife and her teenage son went into hiding immediately they heard that their cow had caused ethnic violence and the head of the family had been arrested.

Residents privy to the incident intimated that the missing cow infuriated members of the Kipsigis community who invaded the neighbouring villages to recover the cow.

As to whether the cow was ever recovered or not remains unknown. And, the county security committee led by County Commissioner Samuel Kimiti appears to be at sea.

“I would also like to see this cow that has caused us these bloody conflicts. Which kind of cow is this?”  wondered Mr Kimiti in a recent briefing on the security situation in Narok South.

The mysterious cow also forced the  Rift Valley Regional Coordinator George Natembeya to fly all the way from Nakuru to the Narok South.  He condemned the violence and ordered the communities to stop it and surrender their weapons.

  The government has raised concern over the reappearance of illegal firearms in the volatile Narok South.

 At Ololoipang’i, Natembeya said some of the locals had started acquiring illegal firearms in readiness for a face-off with their neighbours.

“From our intelligence, we have come to learn that one of the two communities have started getting guns which is very dangerous. We, therefore, ask those with those illegal weapons to surrender them immediately or we come for them,” warned Natembeya.

He said an illegal arms mop-up operation would be launched entailing door-to-door searches should locals fail to surrender the weapons.

Natembeya said a majority of those killed in the ongoing clashes succumbed to gun wounds thus raising concern over the presence of the illegal arms.

Mr Natembeya reiterated that they were investigating some politicians who they believe could be funding the violence.

The bad blood between the two communities started in September  2018 when a Maasai herder was killed at Nkoben area and his goats stolen.

What followed was retaliation from his community leading to violence that left another eight dead.

Narok Governor Samuel Tunai has called on the two communities to shun the retrogressive culture of cattle rustling and live together as brothers and sisters.

“These two communities have been living together since ancient times and theft of one cow should not divide them,” says Tunai of the cow that is best forgotten in Narok South.

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