Exposed: How county dumped street children in Baringo

Some of the 41 street children who were dumped by Nakuru County enforcement officers at Sawich area in Chemususu Forest on the Eldama Ravine-Torongo road in Baringo County on February 7, 2019. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Senate Standing Committee on Labour and Social Welfare has put Nakuru County on the spot over alleged rounding up and dumping of street families into a forest in Baringo County.

The committee chaired by Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja on Wednesday tabled its report before the House, indicating that county staff and vehicles were involved in the February 6, 2019 incident.

Among its recommendations was that conferment of city status to Nakuru town be suspended until the county government demonstrates steps it has taken to address the plight of street families.

The members held eight sittings after Senator Susan Kihika petitioned the Senate to investigate the matter, which attracted national attention over breach of human rights for the 41 homeless persons.

Statements taken from four street children indicate that county enforcement officers rounded up and locked up the 41 at their offices at 8pm under the leadership of the then enforcement commander, Gennson Sifuna.

“We were hounded in two pick-up vehicles by an officer who I later came to know as a Mr Sifuna. They were driven in the vehicles for four-and-a-half hours and then the officers started forcing us out in small groups,” a victim told the committee.

Another victim said that one of the vehicles used was a white pick-up from which they were forced to disembark in groups of four at half- or one-kilometre intervals.

At dawn, the street families, except five members, managed to regroup. The five, said to be mentally unstable, were accosted by villagers who thought they were criminals.

“They later came to learn they were in Chemasusu forest in Baringo County after they were joined by Sawich area chief and ward representative who facilitated their return to Nakuru but they were not allowed to proceed beyond the gates of the county headquarters,” the report says.

Nakuru street families chairman Charles Opiyo told the committee that the transfer was aimed at “cleaning the town”.

He said the number of street children in the town had become alarming, thus raising security concerns.

Former Naivasha MP John Mututho took in the homeless persons at his rehabilitation centre, JOMEC, where they underwent counselling. The majority have been discharged and a few absorbed to work at the facility.

As pressure mounted on the county government to explain the incident, Mr Opiyo claimed that the administration, through three proxies, bribed the affected and other street people in cash and kind.

In its findings, the committee reported that the matter has remained inconclusive, citing a lack of cooperation by the county executive and the assembly, which also conducted an independent probe but has never released its report.

“The County Assembly of Nakuru refused to appear before the committee during its fact-finding visit on the matter. The executive also declined to appear before the committee. The governor neither gave any reason for non-attendance nor sent a representative,” the report says.

The report dealt a blow to Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui after the Senate adopted it, especially after it recommended suspension of Nakuru town’s elevation to city status.

“The committee recommends that the Senate suspends the process of conferring Nakuru City Status until the county government demonstrates plans and efforts it has taken in addressing the plight of street families and making sure it has provisions for children in need of care and protection,” the report says.

But in a statement, Mr Kinyanjui dismissed the recommendations of the report, claiming it smacks of political witch-hunt by his political detractors like Nakuru Senator Kihika and Mututho who participated in the committee’s proceedings.

The quest for city status for Nakuru has been Kinyanjui’s pet project, which his political nemesis Ms Kihika has been publicly opposed to, terming it “too early”.