Clashes erupt in Rumuruti as more schools reopen in Ol Moran

Scenes in Rumuruti town, Laikipia County on September 14 after groups of pastoralists and farmers clashed following invasion of illegal herders into private homes and ranches in the area. [James Munyeki, Standard].

Chaos erupted in Rumuruti town, Laikipia County today after pastoralists reportedly released their livestock into private farms.

The groups hurled stones at each other and lit bonfires on the roads before the police moved in and restored order in the town in Laikipia West constituency.

The protests came just days after a police operation to flush out illegal herders from Ol Moran and nearby ranches and conservancies was launched. It followed two months of attacks that left eight people dead and many others displaced from their homes.

Rumuruti Township MCA Joseph Suge said Marura village was the most affected as the area is inhabited by both farmers and pastoralist communities.

"The government should intervene to ensure the rights of all communities in this area are preserved. We also don't want to see our people losing their sources of livelihood. We also don't want to witness this kind of clashes in this area, they are very destructive," he said.

Fredrick Njuguna, a member of the Rumuruti business community, said they have incurred heavy losses over the past two weeks due to rising tension in the area.

“For two weeks, the farmers have not been able to harvest their crops. Transport business is also grounded,” said Njuguna.

The clashes are said to have started after farmers detained herds of cattle they had found in their properties.

“The farmers only released the cattle after the police intervened. After a while, the herders attacked some of the residents who had detained their animals leading to the clashes. The attackers are well-known people to us and we are asking the police to take action against them," said Njuguna.

One of the victims sustained deep cuts was taken to Rumuruti sub-county hospital.

A bodaboda rider narrowly escaped death after the herders blocked his way and tried to attack him using machetes. He fled but his attackers burnt his motorcycle.

Charles Mbatiah, accused the police of not doing enough to calm the situation even after the clashes were reported to them. 

He said the police and local administrators refused to intervene as their farms were being invaded.

"We are surprised that the police are using live bullets on protesters and doing nothing to stop the invasion of our farms. We demand equal treatment and protection from the government,” said Mbatiah.

Gathua Gichuru said: "The government must not turn a blind eye on the invasion and clashes being witnessed in Rumuruti. The situation may get worse and that is why we are asking the government to step in."

“Is the government waiting for people to be killed and displaced as was the case in Wangwaci and Ol Moran for them to act?"

Laikipia West Deputy County Commissioner Hezron Nyaberi who led an operation to quell the chaos assured the residents that the government would ensure the issues raised are adequately addressed.

“The government has the duty to protect the lives and property of its citizens. Whoever has invaded private property must be evicted. We will not allow the insecurity in other parts of Laikipia to spill over here,” he said.

Meanwhile, Laikipia West Sub County Director of Education Josephine Thuranira said many students have reported back to school in Ol Moran and Githiga. Most schools had been closed due to skirmishes that erupted after herders invaded private ranches and conservancies.

Later, the government directed that schools must be reopened starting Monday after the violence that left at least 400 families displaced.

“Today, we have seen a remarkable increase in the number of children reporting back to school. The report we are getting is that nearly 80 per cent of learners are back in class. The remaining few are likely to be from families that fled to far areas,” said Thuranira.

Ms Thuranira assured parents that their children would safe in school. Police officers and National Police Reservists have been deployed to guard the schools.

Laikipia county commissioner Daniel Nyameti said they will continue guarding schools. Teachers and learners will also be accompanied by police to and from school until the situation is fully restored, he said.

Governor Ndiritu Muriithi noted that some of the residents have started moving back to their homes even as the county and national governments continue to coordinate the construction of 29 houses for families whose homes were razed down.

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