Desperate Turkana herders vow to return to Uganda despite risk of arrest

Herders watering their livestock in Turkana. [Courtesy]

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.

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.

A herdsboy in Turkana. [Courtesy]

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.