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Bloodthirsty bandits leave a trail of death and desperation in Baringo

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By Kiprotich Chepkoit | February 28th 2017
A section of residents displaced by the ongoing insecurity in Baringo County at Kapkomon village, Baringo North sub-county on February 26, 2017.Baringo Senator Gideon Moi visited them and donated some food stuffs .PHOTO: KIPSANG JOSEPH

Death. Destruction. Fear. Tension. Hopelessness.

These words best describe parts of Baringo North and Baringo South where thousands have been displaced, scores killed and injured and hundreds of livestock stolen by suspected bandits from East Pokot.

Over the past 10 days, the killer bandits have been at it again, spreading panic far and wide.

A journey across the region reveals the harsh reality of the long-running conflict. The level of destruction wrought by the conflict is frightening, just as is the hostility between Pokot and Tugen communities, which have been hunting each other with all manner of weapons in the valleys, mountains and hills that dot the region.

But the Tugens, it appears, have resigned to fate. Mention the word Pokot and tears start welling in the eyes of the Tugens.

Theirs are tears of emotion for lives lost. Tears of anger for being uprooted from their homes. Tears of hopelessness borne out of the knowledge that there is little they can do. They are tears nudging them to revenge.

"Men are shedding tears in front of their wives and children because they can no longer protect their families," reveals Sibilo location chief Joseph Chemitei.

Cattle theft, which was once part and parcel of the cultures of pastoralist communities, has now taken an evil twist. For the residents of Sibilo, Bartabwa, Yattia, Kagir, Chemoe, Ng'aratuko, Loruk and Chepkewel in Baringo North, Arusei, Nyimbei and Kirim in Baringo South, even the fittest are not assured of survival.

"These people are just waiting to die but they will not go down easily," said George Cheboi.

He said locals are being hunted down like rabbits, but things have now reached a tipping point.

"We have been pushed to the wall and enough is enough," he says.

"Will you just wait to die?" he asks with a trembling voice as he is overpowered by raw emotions. There is muted talk that Tugens in those areas have discreetly acquired arms, and that the conflict could get even bloodier.

"We are all men and eventually we will all die. They (bandits) have embarrassed us in front of our women," Mr Cheboi adds, and walks away as his anger boils, causing his voice to break.

The ruthlessness of the attackers is best illustrated by the killing of Josephine Kiptoon at Natan. She had just given birth two days earlier and was suckling the infant when the criminals struck. They shot her and killed her child and then strode away.

"What kind of a person kills such a woman and her baby? It is  unbridled callousness," said Mary Chelugo, a mother of five currently taking refuge at Kapkomon Primary School where those displaced are camping.

A man in his 20s who only identified himself as Saddam from Yattia said he lost his father last year and his neighbour was killed last week.

"I escaped because I know how ruthless they are. They kill, go and come back to finish those remaining," he said.

Lilian Anthony, 21, is among hundreds of mothers huddled together in classrooms after fleeing their homes with their remaining livestock following relentless attacks from the suspected Pokot raiders.

Lilian left her home at Barsuswa on Wednesday last week after the attacks intensified.

"My husband was not around. He is far away looking for pastures for our animals. I just moved with my five-month-old baby and the first-born, who is one-and-a-half years old. Life here is terrible," she said.

She added: "We have nothing. We just spread gunny bags at night in this classroom and try and get sleep. Of course there is no sleep but we have to pretend we can sleep."

Lilian, who threatened to board our vehicle unless we gave her a blanket—part of the donations Baringo Senator Gideon Moi was giving out.

"Death stalks us here. All because of the bandits. It seems the Government has surrendered and we are at their (bandits) mercy," she says.

At Koiboware, Yattia, Chepketew like other areas where residents have fled, The Standard noted that some of the homes were left unlocked, an indication that their occupants left in a hurry to escape the bandits' bullets.

At Taimon, a shabbily dressed Moses Chebii, a village elder, was raving mad.

"They have killed our people. Our children are not going to school," he said amid racking coughs, which made his feeble body to shudder.

He counted the number of people who have been killed over the years by the bandits, sweat trickling down his forehead. We couldn't quite tell whether the sweat was triggered by the sweltering heat of the sun or the anger boiling within him.

Asked if police were not pursuing the bandits, he says: "They (police) are cowards. Our children are better. They only come out to collect the dead and not even at the scene where our loved ones are killed, but at a point where they feel safe. We carry our dead," he said.

And true to his word, we did not come across police doing patrols during our visit. They are only spotted, the residents said, when Government officials visit and disappear as soon as the leaders leave.

But even in the presence of the VIPs, the bandits rule. On Friday, while Deputy President William Ruto was addressing IDPs in Bartabwa, the bandits brazenly shot in the air a few kilometres away, leading to a near stampede as people scampered for safety.

"See for yourself. They are a government on their own. They have no respect for the legal government," remarked a Kenya Police Reservist (KPR) in jungle uniform clutching a bow and arrows in his hands.

The reservists are expected to pursue bandits whenever they strike. Together with other men and even young boys, they take turns at night to keep vigil with crude weapons that are a far cry from the bandits'.

Raphael Cherweta, a KPR, said: "We know the arrows most of the villagers have are no match for the cattle rustlers' weapons but in such hopeless situations, you derive comfort even clutching at a straw," says Cherweta.

He was enlisted in 2012 as a KPR and was issued with uniform and told to assist in securing the region - with absolutely nothing! He resorted to his poisoned arrows.

But the cattle rustlers are usually armed to the teeth with guns and bullets. It's still a mystery where they get their weapons from.

"They just shoot and shoot without fearing that they may exhaust the bullets," said Cherweta.

As we moved from one homestead to another where attacks have taken place recently, we counted hundreds of bullet shells.

"We understand they exchange the livestock they steal from us for bullets and that's why they can waste so many bullets on hopeless residents like us. It is a show of might," said Felix Kiptum.

The hopelessness of the situation has made many to despair.  Many fear the conflict will soon turn into a civil war.

"Let the Government know that we are tired. Just give us time," said a man who ambushed us with an AK47 but after informing him about our mission, he offered to be our guard.

From the look of things, it is only a matter of time before a civil war breaks out in Baringo County.

The Tugen community is silently acquiring arms and anyone passing the region they occupy is vetted by marauding AK47-wielding youths, thirsty to fire a bullet to avenge the deaths of "our people".

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