Several herders who fled Uganda last month following an order by President Yoweri Museveni have vowed to return to the neighbouring country complaining over the lack of water and pasture on the Kenyan side.
The herders said they fear that their livestock would starve to death which would render them economically incapacitated.
They said they are ready to risk arrest by Ugandan authorities for the sake of their livestock.
Since they came back to the country, the livestock keepers have been relying on pasture and water within the Turkana South game reserve. However, their situation became complicated after they were ordered out of the area as part of government plans to flush out suspected bandits who have been attacking residents and motorists before retreating into the thickets to hide.
Most of the herders who spoke to the Standard maintained that they have made up their minds to return to Uganda. This came amid fears the pastoralists may be arrested if they go back to Uganda.
Eyanae Loregae, a herder, said he fears that his cows would die from starvation after moving them from the game reserve.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki declared Turkana South game reserve a crime scene last week following rising cases of highway banditry along the Kitale-Lodwar road.
“With the ultimatum to move out of the game reserve, we have decided to go back to Uganda and face arrest there rather than sit and watch our livestock die,” Loregae said on Tuesday, July 11, 2023.
Eyanae Lokiru said President Museveni’s ultimatum, which is set to expire later this month, has exposed them to arrest. Their livestock will also be seized by Ugandan authorities.
Lokiru said efforts to secure pasture and water in Turkana proved futile. "The only hope we had for the survival of our livestock is the game reserve," said Lokiru.
He added: “I came back from Uganda a month ago. We face a major risk after President Museveni directed that all Turkana herders found in Uganda should be arrested. However, I will just go back to save my remaining cattle and goats.”
John Ekidor said: “The only hope was in Turkana South area. Now that it is an operation zone, we have no option but to return to the neighbouring country to save our animals.”
Local leaders are divided on whether the herders should take the risk of returning to Uganda or find an alternative as they await for the operation in Turkana South to be concluded.
A section of leaders said it would be necessary for Kenyan authorities to engage their Uganda counterparts on the possible return of herders to the neighbouring nation.
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Another group of leaders warned herders against going back to Uganda, saying they were at risk of being arrested and jailed.
Several Kenyan herders had been arrested and jailed after a geologist was killed in Uganda earlier this year, prompting Museveni to issue an ultimatum for Turkana pastoralists to leave Uganda.
Area Governor Jeremiah Lomorukai warned herders against returning to Uganda, noting authorities in the neighbouring nation have been aggressive against them in recent months.
“A number of our people were arrested and charged in a court-martial, yet they are civilians. We are urging our people not to return to Uganda as we look at ways of saving their livestock,” Lomorukai said.
Former Petroleum CS John Munyes said diplomacy can be employed to allow the herders to graze in Uganda.
"Let us tell the herders seeking to return to Uganda the truth about the conditions set by authorities in the neighbouring country. The herders were instructed to comply with the requirements which require them to go to Ugandan territory without illegal firearms. The only challenge is our people's disobedience to the laws of Uganda," Munyes said.
He added: “Leaders should exhaust all the available options in negotiating with the Ugandan government and as a community, we should own up to the problems and apologize and submit to the conditions set by the Ugandan government for our people to graze in Uganda.”
Turkana South MP Ariko Namoit said it was possible to use diplomatic means to foster cohesion among Kenyan herders, their neighbours in Uganda, and authorities across the border.
His sentiments were echoed by Turkana West MP Epuyo Nanok and Woman Representative Cecilia Ng’itit.
Many members of Turkana communities have moved to Northern Uganda in search of water and pasture for livestock owing to long drought periods in the arid and semi-arid county.
At least 5,000 herders returned to the country, following a directive by Ugandan authorities, and settled in Turkana South, a region endowed with pasture. The region has however been declared, by the government, as a disturbed and most dangerous place following many cases of banditry.
More than 30 herders are being held in Ugandan prisons. In the meantime, security agencies are currently carrying out operations in the volatile Turkana South region to restore calm.