Christmas usually marks the peak of the festive season, followed by a period of financial squeeze as children go back to school.
But for residents of Kimalel, Marigat sub-County in Baringo County, this period reminds them of the good old days when the late President Daniel Moi would lead a high-powered delegation of government functionaries, political and corporate world to participate in the much-publicised goat auction.
At the auction, farmers would sell the best of their livestock to the highest bidders.
The event, which the late president started in 1986, used to take place on December 24 every year.
The money raised from the auction would be used to pay school fees for thousands of children from the semi-arid region.
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Thirty four years later, the event is now a thing of the past.
A rugged tarmac road that extends into the market from the main Marigat-Kabarnet road is deserted, with no sign of any viable economic activity.
Baringo County, led by Governor Stanley Kiptis, says it is unfortunate that they could not hold the event this year.
“As a department, we had no money for the activity since we spent a huge sum of county funds on dealing with Covid-19,” said Winnie Bore, the agriculture, livestock and fisheries chief officer.
She, however, said some influential individuals had privately reached out to farmers and purchased goats.
The Standard independently established that a senior government official was in the county on Monday and purchased 600-odd goats, which he said had been ordered by a politician.
Local farmers turned their focus to butcher shops and restaurants to sell their goats.
“Goat prices at Kimalel are good. The sales helped me pay my children’s school fees and buy my family foodstuff,” Jackson Kiptanui said.
Last year, 2,000 goats were sold at Kimalel auction compared to 2,600 in 2018. Sh20 million was collected compared to Sh26 million in 2018.
Each goat sold at Sh10,000 compared to Sh12,000 the previous year.
When Moi started the auction project in 1986, the idea was to improve the living standards of Baringo County residents.
It was supposed to help turn around the economy of the semi-arid area whose mainstay is livestock keeping.
However, livestock keeping started collapsing in 2002 after Moi left office.
Besides being an event to raise funds for families in Baringo, the auction was a lively one that attracted leaders from all sectors.
Mzee Justus Kiptanui, a resident of Baringo, recalls with nostalgia how the auction turned into a funfair that brought joy to the people.
In particular, he recalls the master auctioneer, the late Ezekiel Barng’etuny.
“Barngetuny was a master storyteller and the late president’s “funny man” known to tickle the former Head of State to tears with his antics as he helped sell goats to the highest bidder,” Kiptanui recalls.
Barng’etuny organised most of the auctions during the Moi era. He would help sell over 8,000 goats in just one day.
And it was in the bidding that Barng’etuny would be at his best, moving from person to person, taunting and jeering Moi allies until they outdid competitors.
Kiptanui says people used to come from various parts of the country for the auction.
“Everyone in the villages was assured of a sumptuous Christmas meal because we were sure that people would always come to buy our goats. But since the collapse of the project, such festivities pass without fanfare,” he says.
Politician Andrew Yatich says the Kimalel goat auction was also a time for politicians and top civil servants to show the then president that they supported him.
“Some of the guests who accompanied the late president were just curious to see where the country’s Head of State came from.
“It was also a time to show loyalty to the president,” Yatich recalls.
After the events, those who could not carry live goats would have them slaughtered at the Koriema slaughter house and carry the meat, while others would purchase the goats, leave them behind for the community to feast on.
The meat from the goats reared in the region and sold at the auction was good. Residents attribute to the vegetation the goats eat.
But for now, parents from Baringo, who have over the years depended on the auction to raise school fees and meet other financial needs, will have to look elsewhere for help.