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Chebilat town’s steady growth 13 years after post-election violence

RIFT VALLEY
By Eric Abuga | July 10th 2021

Chebilat town is one of the fastest-growing border towns in the region. [Eric Abuga, Standard]

Located between Bomet and Nyamira counties, Chebilat town has had it all; from post-election violence to one of the fastest-growing border towns in the region.

The administrative and business town has expanded to accommodate businesspeople from both the Kalenjin and Abagusii communities, who have enjoyed relative peace and co-existence since the 2007/08 post-election violence.

Ninety per cent of the town is shared equally among the two communities. The remaining 10 per cent has been allocated to the Abagusii community where a police post was built after the 2007 chaos.

The Kisii-Sotik-Bomet road cuts through the middle of the town.

For more than two decades and in nearly every election until 2007, the town had experienced ethnic violence, with hundreds of fighters shooting arrows and hurling sharpened sticks at each other and torching buildings.

The town has been the epicentre of the Sotik-Borabu border conflicts and fights that led to the death of hundreds.

Cattle rustling and politics have been the trigger for ethnic conflict among the two communities living in the town.

In a meeting held by the Partnership for Peace Divisional Community leaders in Borabu in February 2012, it was realised that the conflicts along the Sotik-Borabu border were politically instigated. Opinion leaders said in the past years, cattle rustling was a dependent variable linked to the politics of the region.

There are two communities that live in the town and either side of the road; Abagusii and Kipsigis.

The two communities share some form of a common history as seen in the various clans among the Kipsigis that have Gusii origin. This indicates that the two communities had interacted other than through warfare.

Richard Rotich, 55, says the town started with three shops.

“Kenya Power later put up a sub-station that started to attract some local businesspeople into opening up more shops,” says Rotich.

He says the town has two sets of administrators, one for Mainaret in Bomet County and the other for Mekene on the Nyamira side.

“We started realising our economic growth in the early 80s. Locals from both sides sold land along the road. We put up shops on either side of the road that created a barrier during the fights,” he says.

Rotich says the town’s economic growth has been advanced by the presence of four tea estates in the area and the nearby New Kenya Co-operative Creameries.

“Workers from those factories would shop at Chebilat and some rented residential houses,” he says.

The main business ventures in the town are bars, hotels, groceries, milk bars and boutiques.

“No doubt that there are more chances for one to have a thriving business here than at any major town in either Nyamira or Bomet. I started my wholesale business in 2009 and I am glad I have opened two more shops that deal with groceries and a boutique,” says Mary Kerubo.

Despite the co-existence between the two communities, there are some differences on how business is conducted on either side of the road.

Kerubo says traders pay Sh25,000 to Nyamira County for business licence to operate a shop. On the Bomet side, however, one pays between Sh18,000 and Sh20,000 to operate a similar shop.

The cost of land is also different. Due to high demand on the Bomet side, a 25 by a 100-feet piece of land in the Bomet side could go for up to Sh2.5 million while a similar parcel goes for up to Sh2 million on the Nyamira side.

Those on the Bomet side buy a litre of milk at Sh40 while the same quantity, less than 20 metres apart on the Nyamira side, goes for Sh50.

Araka Matundura, the Chairman of Gusii Council of Elders, and an elder from Kipsigis, Josphant Kirui, say the two communities have no option but to continue living together. “Border conflicts are primitive. There is always a way of solving conflicts. The bad blood is long gone,” says Matundura.

Kirui buttresses, “There is more to having a peaceful society than trying to create ethnic barriers. We will never go back to fighting. We have intermarried and it will be bad to attack each other.”

In connecting the town to other major markets in the region, the government constructed the Chebilat–Ikonge–Chabera road that starts at the junction with the Sotik–Kisii road, crosses the Kisii–Chemosit road at Ikonge and terminates at Chabera where it meets the Kisii-Kisumu road. The road traverses Nyamira County a total length of approximately 45km.

The road has enhanced connectivity and facilitated faster transportation of goods and services as well as changed the economic landscape of Nyamira and Bomet counties.

Residents, however, say the town lacks basic amenities. There is no bank or supermarket in the town.

Those seeking banking services have to travel to Sotik or Keroka; a distance of more than 25km.

The nearest public primary school is Sotik. There is no piped water or public toilets in the town. Illicit brew is also a menace among the youth.  

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